Monday, May 7, 2012

An Entertainment Architect

B. Marcus "Benny" Priteca was born in Glascow, Scotland on December 23, 1889. Why is this important to Vancouverites? Because by the age of 20, Priteca had become an architect and he received a travelling scholarship to study architecture in United States. It was in Seattle that the young artist met a Greek by the name of Alexander Pantages.

Pantages was frustrated because he couldn't seem to get any adequate designs for a new theatre he wanted built. The 21-year-old architect thrilled the Greek and he was commissioned to build a theatre in San Francisco. The finished theatre pleased Pantages that he hired Priteca to design all his theatres from then on. This business relationship lasted 18 years.

Now here is something interesting that I was not aware of. Priteca designed a Pantages theatre that work had begun on in 1914. Due to World War I, it wasn't completed until 1918. This theatre was at 20 West Hastings Street and was demolished in 1967 to build a parking lot. The Pantages theatre that has recently been demolished, that was the oldest vaudeville house in Canada, was built in 1907.

The Pantages organization became the largest privately owned vaudeville circuit in the world and Priteca was part of that. His design for the 1917 Pantages theatre here was apparently considered to be the 'most richly embellished and efficient theatre of the Pantages chain at the time. It was a 1,800 seat theatre, that was later called the Majestic, the Beacon and finally the Odeon Hastings.

In case you are wondering, the architect for the 1907 Pantages theatre was Edward Evans Blackmore.

Priteca could go overboard with his embellishments. Like when he designed the Coliseum Theatre at Fifth and Pike in Seattle. It had fountains by the orchestra pit and birdcages in the walls of the upper foyer that were home to thirty canaries as well as a nursery and playroom with miniature furniture.

The Coliseum opened January 8, 1916 and is thought to have been the first theatre in the world that had an orchestra to accompany the silent films of the era. The theatre had one of the largest theatre organs and was the first to have an elevator. Tony Heinsbergen was the person responsible for the decorative elements and he brought the same flare to our Orpheum theatre when it was designed by Priteca.

And this spectacular building can still be seen today. Now it is home to a Banana Republic clothing store.

Priteca had become one of the leading architects in the American Northwest. He had designed theatres in Memphis, Salt Lake City, Kansas City and Fort Worth. His designs also included Seattle schools, commercial buildings, homes and synagogues. One of Priteca's parents was Jewish and he is reported to have joked that he was one of the few Jews in North America entitled to wear a kilt.

Priteca also designed the Longacres Racetrack in Auburn and there used to be a race called the Priteca Handicap race. Unfortunately, that racetrack is long gone.

But racetracks and buildings weren't the only things that Priteca designed. He was also responsible for the design for a body of a locomobile car and for the raked grill and windshield for the Paige, forerunner of the Graham-Paige automobile.

Time and progress have taken away many of Priteca's creations but one very important one remains in Vancouver - the Orpheum Theatre. On Wednesday, I will be looking at that beautiful structure and telling you about it.

Thank you to the website The History of Metropolitan Vancouver for supplying most of the information. I did consult Wikipedia as well.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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1 comment:

  1. I love a walk through history of any type. This is lovely. Thank you Karen for posting and sharing :)