Thursday, August 12, 2010

Driving History

I decided not to wander too far from home today and walked the Drive. I have spent quite a lot of time since I got home researching facts about this area. And this is difficult. Not because I can't find information but because there is so much!

To some this may appear to be just a run down theatre. Closed and soon to be torn down. But I beg you to think again. This structure was built in 1913 and named the Alcatraz. It seats five hundred and  from 1923 until 1977 it was known as the Vancouver Little Theatre, virtually the only place that live theatre could be performed. Stars such as Bruno Gerussi of Beachcombers fame and David Broadfoot got their start there.

In 1941 it became the York Theatre then in the 80s it was home to a punk establishment. The Raja Cinema, showing Bollywood films, took over after that. There was talk about demolishing the building and that energized a group of citizens to start a movement to save the old theatre. It took 27 years but the goal was realized when Vancouver developer Bruno Wall purchased the building last year and agreed to spend 12 million dollars on restoring it to its former glory. I don't live far from there right now and I will be interested in seeing what happens.

This interesting place is at the corner of Venables and Commercial. I found that at one time this was a place to go dancing, I don't know if it still is though. I find the building intriquing..

This area was originally a skid road for dragging logs to the harbour that were then transported to Hasting Sawmill. The area started to boom though when the Vancouver-New Westminster Interurban, a streetcar line, was established in 1891. Just like the city of Vancouver became incorporated five years earlier when the railway was slated to come to town.

And it is still helping to encourage the area with two commuter train stations at the corner of Broadway and Commercial. It is also a busy area for buses.

This development encouraged businesses and residences to grow along the Drive. (The barefoot contessa isn't that old, but I doubt that the  building is new). The Interurban was discontinued in 1954 but modern day remnants of it can still be seen around the city in the form of trolley buses.

In the 1920s Commercial Drive was prosperous with market gardens, sash and door factories, light industrial, rooming houses, dairies, orchards and open fields. The Great depression of the 1930s hit the area hard and it wasn't until after World War II that the area began to pick up.

After the war immigrants came to Vancouver and many settled in this area. It was once known as Little Italy for it's profusion of Italian immigrants. Today you can still see the Italian influences and hear the language of romance being spoken among some of the older residents.

Portugese immigrants also settled here about the same time, the Portugese club is a main stay of this area. During the 1960s immigrants from Asian countries began to take up residence and in the 80s it was Latinos. The 80s also attracted a large assortment of counter-culture citizens like political activists, hippies, lesbians, punks, artists and of course writers.

I lived here in the 80s while going to college in Gastown. I always had fond memories and when I moved back in 2003 it was like coming home. The bakery where I used to get my bread back then, freshly baked and sliced, was still there. It isn't now but that's okay. I will always remember it.

This is an interesting part of town. Police officers patrol on bike, foot or horseback. Long time residents cry out against things like redoing a local park - claiming it is the yuppies in the new condo developments that are demanding the area be 'sanitized'. (I guess the activists of twenty years ago are still here! Or at least their spirit.)

The park I mentioned in an earlier post has been blocked off and there are people working inside to change it. It doesn't worry me, change can be good.

Grandview-Woodland, Commercial Drive, Hastings - it is an area filled with different types of people, different influences and cultures, different beliefs. It is rich in history and helped Vancouver become the city it is today.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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