The Orpheum Theatre is revealing some of its secrets in celebration of its 85th birthday.
The B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame is offering guided tours of the theatre through July and August, taking visitors from the top of its iconic dome to the formerly ice-cooled air conditioning unit under the stage.
The Courier went on a tour of the theatre with Orpheum tour guide and B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame President Rob Haynes, who has gone to the theatre since the 1960s. Built in 1924, the venue has hosted silent movies, vaudeville shows and numerous stars and personalities, whose photos line the hallways. While 164 crystal chandeliers and countless alfrescoes adorn the ceilings, most of the building isn't as opulent as it appears.
"What I try to tell people in the tour, they should almost think Las Vegas when they look at this because it's all as phoney as can be," Haynes said.
Despite its name, the building is a concert hall, not a theatre, after renovations in the 1970s. "Everyone calls it the Orpheum Theatre, so we just kind of get over it."
Even the theatre's address (844 Granville St.) isn't what it seems. The 33-foot-long entrance on Granville Street spans over an alley onto Seymour Street, thanks to a design choice by an entrepreneurial owner in the 1920s. "The taxes were a third of the price, maybe even a quarter of the price, on Seymour than they were on Granville, so everyone came in through the door on Granville to a theatre that was really on Seymour Street."
The tour includes a trip to the top of the dome. From a narrow walkway suspended from the ceiling, the ornate dome becomes a wire frame, filled in with plaster and hung by hundreds of cables. "It looks like a dog's breakfast from up here, but from below it's spectacular."
Even the painting on the dome contains more than it appears on the surface. Both the face of the architect who orchestrated its renovations and the children of the painter are incorporated into the scene.
Haynes didn't deny rumours that the theatre is haunted. "There is ghost activity in the theatre if you believe in that... The Paranormal Society did a whole report and the biggest activity turned out to be in the men's room downstairs and they figured it was a men's room attendant that probably worked here many, many years ago."
The tour ended with a trip under the theatre, where even more memorabilia is housed. "As you can see, we don't throw away anything," said Haynes. As he looked through the clutter, he stumbled across two lamps he remembered seeing in the theatre when he was a child.
The theatre has gone through many changes, but it still maintains its original spirit. "Yes, of course, it's hollow and everything like that, this was probably the most opulent theatre you would ever see and it's all about building dreams."
Tours are run every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday in July and August and are available for a $10 donation.