After more than 60 years of operation, the Ridge Theatre – birthplace of the Vancouver International Film Festival – will see its final credits roll within a year.
The 500-seat Arbutus Street cinema, a rare one-screen operation in a multiplex era, will fall victim to a massive redevelopment that will replace the cinema and other businesses in its strip-mall location with a retail complex topped by five storeys of condos.
It will be the end of a movie-going institution, which has tended more to independent and foreign films over Hollywood blockbusters and, on Monday, was screening The Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep.
Allan Franey, who managed the Ridge from 1979 to 1985, remembered when it was massively successful with five sell-out crowds – a mix of kids' matinees, evening shows and midnight screenings in a single Saturday – filling the 800-plus seats the cinema had at the time.
But Mr. Franey, head of the Vancouver International Film Festival – whose current incarnation held its first showings at the Ridge – said those days were now long gone. "The Ridge went from a place that was the most successful art house in the country, with phenomenal business, to being that has really struggled to survive," he said.
The Cressy Development Corporation bought the property for the new project. Spokesman David Evans said Monday they looked at finding space for the Ridge, but ruled it out because the noise from a cinema would have adversely affected the residential aspect of their development plans.
Mr. Evans said the Ridge has about a year left, but that timelines are not yet precise. His company is preparing a development permit application.
While the situation has been in the works for some time, it only came to light on Monday. It marks the demise of yet another central Vancouver cinema after the closing of the Hollywood on Broadway and the Oakridge Cinemas at Oakridge Mall.
The Ridge faced its apparent demise in 2010 when it seemed its lease would not be renewed, but operator Leonard Schein managed to strike a three-year agreement with the holding company renting the cinema to him.
On Monday, however, Mr. Schein ruled out a third-act rescue for the Ridge, which he opened with a Casablanca and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre double bill after he took over in 1977.
"It was built in 1950, and it will come to an end unfortunately whether in 2012 or 2013," said Mr. Schein, who operates several other theatres in Vancouver through his Festival Cinemas operation. "It's very unfortunate. It has been a wonderful neighborhood venue for over 60 years now, and shown a lot of wonderful movies. People have enjoyed it over the years. It's a shame."
Mr. Schein, who said the theatre was notable for its interior art-deco styling and fixtures, will continue to operate until Cressy calls for the curtain to fall. "We'll operate it until we have to leave," he said.
The demise of the cinema will affect 20 jobs there.
But Mr. Schein said he was not surprised the end is coming for the Ridge because he had seen the gradual closing of single-screen cinemas across central Vancouver – it's tough to generate revenues from one screen in a multi-screen environment . "No one is building single screens," he said. "It's just what's happening across North America."
Mr. Schein said his single-screen Park Cinema on Cambie Street has a secure lease – for now. "Eventually, probably, a developer will buy it and put condos up and retail below," he said.
He said he would like the Ridge's neon sign and a interior mural showing a projector to end up at the Vancouver Museum as part of the city's heritage.