Burlesque dancers, rainbow-hued leis, an inflatable palm tree and umbrella drinks all appeared at rally in support of the Waldorf outside city hall Tuesday. But while rally participants saw council’s 120-day protection order on the hotel as a step in the right direction, the Waldorf Productions team saw no future for themselves there.
Artist and musician Thomas Anselmi of Waldorf Productions said he doesn’t know what the team will do next. He said Solterra Group, which is poised to buy the Waldorf Hotel property, has refused to meet with them.
“Of course we’ll go elsewhere because we care about this city,” he told reporters.
Most of the approximately 80 people who gathered on the lawn of city hall lauded council’s unanimous decision to slap a 120-day protection order on the hotel property so the heritage and cultural value of the hotel could be determined, but they also want to see Waldorf Productions continue programming the site.
“It’s a lovely building and we need to protect as much of our heritage as we possibly can… [but] the building is worthless unless it’s run by a good group of people,” said musician Stephen Hamm of bands The Evaporators and Canned Hamm at the rally organized by the new Vancouver Loves the Waldorf group. “The people who’ve been running that have been doing a fantastic job. They’re friends of mine and we’ve decided to stay in this town to move ahead as opposed to going to Toronto or Berlin or somewhere. Let’s stay here and make sure that Vancouver has some culture because we’re up against money and where there’s money, there seems to be no room for art.”
Burlesque dancer “April O’Peel” echoed Hamm’s sentiments.
“This is not helping the city become any funner and I’m just becoming really disillusioned seeing venue after venue where people are trying to create something awesome, W2, Spectral Theatre, Red Gate, The Playhouse, all in the last year falling to the man, or whatever it is, this greater power,” she said.
“The arts are important to our city because it creates a culture and a meaning,” she added. “We’re able to express what we stand for and I would hope that it’s something more than just condos.”
Leaseholder Waldorf Productions announced Jan. 9 that it would vacate the hotel Jan. 20 because the property is being sold to developer Solterra Group and the production company couldn’t operate on the offered week-to-week lease.
Vision Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson requested a report from city manager Penny Ballem for the Jan. 15 council meeting and forwarded the motion for the temporary protection order.
Former COPE Coun. Ellen Woodsworth and former COPE chair and candidate Brent Granby said they don’t want to see Solterra use potential heritage status to secure permission to build a larger development on the site.
Woodsworth noted cultural spaces that include Richard’s on Richards, the Pantages Theatre and the Ridge bowling alley and movie theatre have all been lost to condo development. She believes council should direct staff to complete a land use plan to aid the creation of affordable housing and cultural space.
“Artists are leaving this city in droves because there’s no place to perform and there’s no place to live,” Woodsworth said. “The Waldorf is the tipping point for so many people in the arts community.”
The potential end of independent arts and culture programming at the Waldorf Hotel has already affected one fledgling company.
The 30-hour soap-a-thon fundraiser for improvised soap opera producers Sin Peaks set to start Sunday night had to be scaled back to two evening performances.
But Sin Peaks secured a regular Monday night spot at The Cellar on Granville Street after it posted its need for a venue on Facebook.
“It’s going to be a whole new kind of audience and possibilities just with the foot traffic around there. It’s easier for people to get to,” said Aimee Beaudoin, artistic director of Sin Peaks. “But I definitely will miss the Waldorf. It has a lot more character.”
A public relations company associated with Solterra said the company’s purchase wouldn’t be complete until closer to the end of the year, so it wouldn’t comment on council’s decision or its plans.