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Chinese Theatre

124 East Pender Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6A, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2003/01/14

Exterior view of the Chinese Theatre; City of Vancouver, 2004
Rear elevation
Exterior view of the Chinese Theatre; City of Vancouver, 2004
Front elevation
No Image

Other Name(s)

Chinese Theatre
Hong Kong Café

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2007/07/20

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Chinese Theatre is a three-storey brick building located mid-block on East Pender Street, in the heart of Vancouver’s historic Chinatown.

Heritage Value

The heritage value of the Chinese Theatre is derived from its associations with an important early business leader, Loo Gee Wing, its history of use, including as a theatre and a popular restaurant, and its architecture.

Loo Gee Wing, who built the Chinese Theatre around 1909, had earned his fortune in the Cariboo Gold Rush, as had many of Chinatown’s leading merchants. Like many successful Chinese, he invested in real estate both in and beyond Chinatown. Value is seen in this investment pattern in which the building is associated with Loo as one of the Chinese merchants that played an important role in shaping the built form of the larger city, and not only Chinatown.

Heritage value is also found in the history of use. The Chinese Theatre, with a stage for live productions and two levels of fixed seating, occupied the rear half of the property in the 1910s; this rear wing was later converted to residential rooms. Aside from the theatre, as with many other Chinatown buildings, the building had retail shops and services on the ground floor, facing the street, and residential rooms above. The long-operating and peripatetic Hong Kong Café was located here from the 1930s until the 1950s. Single rooms, such as those found here, catered to the large numbers of single working-class men living in Chinatown. This was a product of discriminatory legislation, which first made it difficult, and later impossible, for families to immigrate from China; and so the impact of the laws is manifested in the built environment. Among the other tenants here, one finds several organizations that provided social support to these single men. A plaque on the building identifies this as a former home of the Chinatown News, which provided the news of interest to Chinese-Canadians in English for those born in Canada who could not read Chinese.

The strongly articulated treatment of the facade is valued for its quality and strength. Large square-headed windows illuminate the second floor, above the shop fronts, and segmental-headed windows are seen on the third floor. Brick and stone details and a bold cornice add to the effect of the ensemble. Architect S.B. Birds was involved in alterations to the Chinese Theatre, and may possibly have been responsible for the original design of the building. The building was rehabilitated in 1976, including changing all the windows from wood to aluminium sash, marking one of the earlier renovations of a building in the historic Chinatown district.

Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Chinese Theatre include:
- Wide, symmetrical street frontage, with two wide bays flanking a narrower central bay, which contains the entrance to the upper floors
- The contrast between the top storey, which features a row of evenly-spaced single window openings with segmental-arched heads set into a brick wall; and the lower storeys, which are completely glazed across the width of each bay, with flat lintels, and are framed by brick columns and a moulded sheet-metal spandrel
- Evidence of the former name plaque atop the spandrel over the central doorway
- Articulation of the street facade by architectural features, including the pressed sheet-metal cornice, brick pilasters supporting a corbelled brick string course below the cornice, and the continuous rustic stone sill under the windows of the upper storey
- The arrangements of the party wall, including the saw-tooth profile of the parapet reducing in height to the rear, and the section of wall closest to East Pender Street that is finished with white glazed bricks, covered with a later layer of stucco
- Evidence of former arrangements of the lane elevation, including the two small blocked door openings, the eastern lower than the western



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

City of Vancouver

Recognition Statute

Vancouver Charter, s.593

Recognition Type

Heritage Designation

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Trade and Commerce

Function - Category and Type


Commerce / Commercial Services
Shop or Wholesale Establishment
Multiple Dwelling


Commerce / Commercial Services
Eating or Drinking Establishment

Architect / Designer

S.B. Birds



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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