Friday, May 23, 2014

From Ballrooms to Birds

In 1929, George C. Reifel built and owned Vancouver's Commodore block on a section of Granville Street known as Theatre Row. It was a ballroom cabaret over retail shops located at street level. A bowling alley is located on the lower level - the Vancouver Vagabond wrote on this bowling alley in a previous entry and there is a scene in the Commodore Bowling Alley in my book, A Little Poison.

The Commodore Ballroom was famous for its dance floor sprung with tires and horsehair with a state-of-the-art stage and acoustics and was served by a freight elevator used to move heavy musical and theatrical equipment.

If you are interested in knowing more about the Commodore Ballroom and its history, watch for a book by Aaron Chapman, the author of Liquor, Lust and the Law: The Story of Vancouver's Legendary Penthouse Nightclub,.

In the 1940s, the Reifel family added the Vogue Theatre and the Studio Theatre. George H. Reifel - George C's son - owned the complex until the 1970s. That was when the City of Vancouver decided to create the 'Granville Mall'. The Reifels sold their property.

I'm not finished telling you about the man who started this all, Henry Reifel. Henry was active in regional community affairs. He was a life governor of the Vancouver General Hospital, a member of the Board of Trade, President of the Nanaimo Pioneers and a member of the Vancouver Pioneers Association. Henry donated land for the original Vancouver Art Gallery on Georgia Street and in 1928, he built a wing on the Ocean View Mausoleum. A charter member of the Point Grey Golf Club, the Reifel patriarch was also one of the organizers of the Eagle Lodge in Nanaimo. Henry Reifel died in Vancouver on September 4, 1945. He was 76 years old.

If you remember, George C. Reifel was the oldest child of Henry and Annie. He worked in the family business but he also owned a 500-acre farm on Westham Island at the mouth of the Fraser River Estuary. George C. was Alberta Distilleries, an Alberta company formed in 1946 with oil and natural gas tycoon, Frank M. McMahon.

The Reifel family have left their impression on my city. Not only with the mansion Casa Mia on Southwest Marine Drive - I found a listing from 2007 where the property was listed for $12 million - and the Commodore block but also with the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. This sanctuary is one of the richest treasures donated to the preservation of wildlife and the study of nature in North America. It is located just south of Richmond, BC, on Westham Island - a forty-minute drive from downtown Vancouver.

I admit, I started this three part series on the Reifel family because of rumours that they were involved with running alcohol to the States during the prohibition. I don't know if they were and it isn't important. What is important is the mark this family has left on Vancouver and how they contributed to the city's growth.

Once again, I got the information from the Reifel geneology page on Tripod.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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