The Orpheum opened its doors in 1927, boasting a light bulb sign emblazoned with the words “New Orpheum”—the theatre was one of a few, part of a vaudeville and movie house chain called the Orpheum Circuit. Touring acts on the Orpheum Circuit would perform at Orpheum Theatres across the United States and Canada.
The theatre faced big changes as the Great Depression hit in the 1930s. New entertainment technology shifted the focus from vaudeville theatre to the movies. As a result, the Orpheum started primarily operating as a movie house for first-run shows. Orpheum manager Ivan Ackery was known for cleverly devising schemes to attract a diverse clientele to the theatre, including innovative children’s programming to draw in local families. A neon sign was installed in 1948.
Today, the Orpheum is a popular live music venue and the home base of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
“You’d walk that long, majestic corridor up to the theatre seating, and that was pretty impressive when you saw that corridor and all the carpet and all the sculptures and paintings.
It was very exciting, going to the Orpheum when I was young. And when I heard that first opening overture of the Orpheum Theatre Orchestra, I just about leapt out of my seat!”
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— Dal Richards, saxophonist, big-band leader
“There have been so many bright stars that have gone through this theatre that we didn’t even realize they were stars at the time.
I talk about Peggy Middleton, who was a dancer, who just put on little shows on the stage. Well, Peggy Middleton turned out to become Yvonne de Carlo in the U.S., and was voted the world’s most beautiful woman at one time.
Who would have known when you came to see, perhaps, the movie Blue Hawaii, and there she was, before the show started, doing a hula dance? You’d think, oh, who’s that?
And yet there was a gem. There was a star, a little tiny star that grew into a very big star.”
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— Rob Haynes, retired actor; president, BC Entertainment Hall of Fame