“Old theatres are irreplaceable. They could never be duplicated at today’s costs – but more importantly, their spirit could not be duplicated because they remind us of a day when going to the show was a more glorious and escapist experience. I think a town’s old theatres are the sanctuary of its dreams.”
– Roger Ebert, 1942-2013
On Sunday February 3, 2013, The Ridge Theatre in Vancouver showed its last movies. It was part of a ten-day film festival put on before its closure. For many, the closing of The Ridge was another downturn in Vancouver’s entertainment business. For others, it was the loss of what was simply a great charming building.
The Ridge Theatre first opened its doors in the Kitsilano Region of Vancouver on April 13, 1950 screening Henry V starring Sir Laurence Olivier. It was one of many single-screen theatres in Vancouver during a time when single-screen theatres were the norm. Even as the 1980’s approached with the advent of the VCR, video rentals and multiplextheatres, The Ridge still stuck around showing movies in its familiar theatre. It would even continue as an independent reparatory theatre starting in 1978 once bought by Leonard Schein. Schein would show independent and classic films to the public as well as movie fans. Owning and running The Ridge would even help Schein launch the locally-owned Festival Theatres chain which would help bring more independent and foreign cinema to Vancouver’s screens and found the Vancouver International Film Festival in 1982.
I myself saw my first film at The Ridge back in April of 2000. I remember it was Being John Malkovich. I remember seeing it with my cousin, who I’m not speaking with anymore, after eating at the Chinese restaurant in that strip mall. Since then, I would frequently go to The Ridge Theatre. I was always pleased with whatever movie I saw each time I went. It was a good small quaint theater in a nice neighborhood. When I first went, The Ridge Theatre was independently owned and had their movies planned at least two months in advance with a newspaper-like schedule. It was later possible to sign up for e-mail updates. Another thing I liked was the low-cost popcorn and a theatre that served coffee, cookies and brownies.
Things changed December 24, 2005 when it was no longer under its original ownership. It had been rebought by Schein for Festival Cinemas. It was a hard break for the original owners who wanted to keep it an independent cinema. Nevertheless the new ownership actually did a lot to enhance play as Festival Cinemas had a reputation of promoting some of the more independent films. Even after The Ridge became a full-price theatre with contemporary seating installed, people still enjoyed coming. It’s almost as if it was never hurt in the first place. The Ridge would also become a facility for showing films part of the Vancouver Film Festival and show live soccer games during the World Cup and Euro events.
Then news was heard months ago. Possibly more than a year ago. The area around The Ridge Theatre had been sold to developers. They wanted to turn it into condominiums. A common Vancouver situation where old buildings get sold for the sake of being crushed and turned into condominiums. That just shows how competitive land and its value is here in Vancouver. Many people were unhappy about it. There was even a picket over it months ago. Nevertheless the decision was firm. Sales for the new condos started some time ago. Already other businesses in that minimall had already either closed up or found a new place to do business at. You can read about it more in this Georgia Straight article.
It was unfortunate for The Ridge to close as it was yet another theatre in Vancouver to close up. Many of you have read my story about the closure of The Hollywood Theatre. The Hollywood still stands but as a church. Other theatres that have closed in the past two years have not even had that minor bit of luck. The VanEast is now closed and is now being turned into business area. The multi-screen Denman Theatre which was great as a second-run theatre has been turned into store area. The three-screen Oakridge theater is now being converted into its new business area. The seven-screen Granville 7 closed in November to make way for a condo development. And another multi-screen venue, the Station Square cinema, has been closed because of a radical redevelopment project in the Station Square area. And now The Ridge. This is hard times for Vancouver’s cinemas right now. I’m sure this is also especially difficult for the Vancouver International Film Festival to find a new venue for 2013 and have it for many years to come.
Moving ahead, February 28th would mark the end of Festival Cinemas, the movie company that organizes showings at The Ridge as well as the Park Theatre and the Fifth Avenue. I’m sure it was shocking for many. it was shocking for me too. The owners Schein and Tom Lightburn decided to retire. Fifth Avenue Cinemas and Park Theatre are now owned by Cineplex. Schein and Lightburn reassured people in the Festival Cinema’s last email to patrons that the theatres will still continue to show the films common to what was shown during the Festival Cinema years. As of today, The Fifth Avenue does show some independent films along with a blockbuster or two. It’s great to see since that’s what Fifth Avenue patrons like myself have always come to and want to continue coming to. If they went to doing nothing but blockbusters at those theaters, they could lose a lot of patrons. Good to see them being smart about taking over Fifth Avenue as they were taking over Tinseltown.
Going back to The Ridge’s closing, The Ridge was to close on Sunday February 3, 2013, but not without a bang. The last ten days consisted of what would be called the Last Film Festival in showing some of the most beloved movies as of recent and some classic gems at $5 admission to salute The Ridge’s last days. Saturday January 26th was a highlight with the last midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Theatre. I was there and it was a fun night with the Vancouver Rocky Horror fan club in attendance. Virgins were called up to participate in a fake orgasm contest. I believe there was a contest for costumes. The rest of the time was devoted to watching the movie and participating whenever necessary. Unfortunately there were three times when the old celluloid reel broke. Nevertheless it was a fun time.
One problem with the showings was that many were sold out. In fact there was to be a special showing of the 1985 made-in-BC Canadian film My American Cousin on Thursday the 31st in which I was hoping to see with my friend. It was both a screening and a Q&A with a special guest which had a $10 admission. It was sold out before I could get to the box office. It was obvious that if I wanted to see the very last showing at The Ridge–Midnight In Paris at 9:10pm– I would have to buy my ticket well in advance. I bought it that Thursday evening. Smart move.
When I arrived, it was 8:20. Already there was a long line-up. It was halfway down the block and growing quickly before they finally let the people in. I looked around at the buildings in that minimall. The bowling alley is still active but for how long? The Chinese Restaurant will close by the end of the year upon the owner’s retirement. All the other businesses in that mall have either closed or have moved to a new location. The only other businesses still active were the McDonalds and the office buildings on the outside facing 15th Ave. Just outside there were people who were too late to get tickets for the show and waiting to be the last lucky ones. Reminds me of me back on Thursday for wanting to see My American Cousin. I think all the Ridge shows sold out.
After I entered, I wanted to tour and take pictures. I was able to take pictures of the main floor before Midnight In Paris was to be shown. The top floor which had the crying room and the camera room was off-limits for that time. I even remember as I was taking pictures outside the main entrance before the show, a man talked about his first time at The Ridge in which it was a date with the woman who would become his wife. His wife was in attendance with him too that night.
As the show was about to start, the emcee didn’t talk much before Midnight In Paris was shown. It wasn’t like the long goodbye with speeches that happened over at the Hollywood Theatre. He kept it brief and he just simply welcomed us all to the last screening at The Ridge. Actually instead of a long goodbye, we were told of all the theatres that were to get certain ‘pieces’ of The Ridge. One film company was to get its display projector, another was to get the stained glass windows, another was to get the doors. Good to see that certain items of The Ridge will be kept for a long time. Midnight In Paris played after. So the image of Owen Wilson and Lea Seydoux walking off together on a Paris street makes history as the last image to grace the screen at The Ridge.
As the credits were rolling, some left. More left as the credits finished but at least a hundred people wanted to stick around and get their last looks at The Ridge Theatre. I was taking pictures all over the place: the crumbly snack bar, the movie signs, the ads on the billboard, many things. I also took some photos of the inside of the theatre too and its nice set-up. Something you don’t see much of. Then I finally had my chance to check the top floor. Outside of the women’s restroom, there was a meeting room that had paper of old Ridge letterhead, a sound-proof crying room in the balcony and the projection room. The projection room was a marvel to see. It was nice to see the projector they were using. It was also nice to see the view of the screen from the projection area. I took more photos around the place.
Then finally I returned back to the theatre area. Half an hour and people still wanted to stick around. This was different than the Hollywood closing. The thing I remember most was there were three women from a writing group whom I met. They wanted pictures of them at the theatre. They also got me to take a picture of them showing they don’t want to leave 2012 when the theater was still alive and well. Yeah, I wished it was still 2012 too and The Ridge was still alive, well and thriving. Then after sticking around and taking some last photos, I finally left.
Just when you thought it was all over after I left The Ridge Sunday night, it wasn’t. The following night, I went to the Rio Theatre to see two movies and guess what I saw? Low and behold, I saw the doors of The Ridge theatre. I was happy to see that pieces of The Ridge were already being kept around. Yes, this did mean that the dismantling of The Ridge already started the day after but I was happy to see that the memory of The Ridge will be kept alive.
The closure of The Ridge was not the happiest of occasions. Yes, it was a not-so-pleasant display of the sign of the times. Nevertheless it was happy to see a theatre close surrounded by a lot of people who loved the theatre. For those that attended the last showings at The Ridge, The Ridge was a theatre that meant something to everyone. I know it meant a lot to me and I’m happy I had a chance not just to go to The Ridge Theatre but to experience it during the last thirteen years of its life. Goodbye Ridge Theatre. You’re gone but you still exist in the hearts of many.