The tentacles of the Klondike gold rush reached across the world like some gigantic primaeval octopus leaving in their wake both success and failure for those involved. A Greek immigrant experienced both during his colourful life and one of his legacies is still in the news today.
It’s a building. But not just any building. It is Vancouver’s Pantages’ theatre, a historic edifice spawned by the money generated in the Klondike. Today that theatre on East Hastings street - a landmark of history in Vancouver - is about to meet the wrecker’s ball.
Alexander Pantages was an emigrant from Greece who at age 28 ended up in the Klondike in 1898. There, the small man standing just over 5 foot six and with no land or interest in mining, became involved in the theatre business.
In Dawson, borrowed money from the famous Klondike Kate to open a vaudeville theatre on Front Street called the Orpheum. They became partners and Kate became Pantages’ mistress. Later she discovered that he was married. Then he skipped town without paying her back. But for three years things were great for the Dawson theatre couple as Pantages learned the vaudeville business in entertainment starved Dawson. And he put those lessons to good use. Pantages moved to Seattle in 1902 and opened his first vaudeville theatre outside the Klondike,
By 1907 he had opened a third theatre in Seattle. Then in January 1908, the budding entrepreneur opened a state of the art Pantages Theatre on East Hastings.
Another Pantages theatre in Vancouver built in 1914 on Hastings was later called the Majestic and then the Odeon Theatre. The Pantages theatres in Vancouver headlined stars like Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Jack Dempsey and baseball star Babe Ruth who is shown in a photo on the Pantages stage with Vancouver mayor L.D. Taylor crouched behind him as catcher. This Pantages theatre was demolished in the 1960s.
In the 1920s, Alex Pantages was a name to be reckoned with in the motion picture industry By the late 20s, Pantages owned or operated more than 70 stunning theatre buildings throughout Canada and the US. But his empire began to crumble with the great depression. The first Pantages theatre in Vancouver is still standing on East Hastings, the oldest remaining Pantages theatre in North America. But not for long.
The current owner of the now run down building failed in a bid to have the city take over the building and renew it as an historic site so in all likelihood it will be demolished bringing to an end the colourful theatre story of Klondike entrepreneur Alexander Pantages.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
See also: The Pantages Theatres