Granville Street is a major street in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and part of Highway 99. Granville Street is most often associated with the Granville Entertainment District and the Granville Mall. This street also cuts through suburban neighborhoods like Shaughnessy, and Marpole via the Granville Street Bridge.
The community was known as “Gastown” (Gassy’s Town) after its first citizen – Jack Deighton, known as “Gassy” Jack. “To gas” is period English slang for “to boast and to exaggerate”. In 1870 the community was laid out as the “township of Granville” but everybody called it Gastown. The name Granville honours Granville Leveson-Gower, 2nd Earl Granville, who was British Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time of local settlement.
In 1886 it was incorporated as the city of Vancouver, named after Captain George Vancouver, who accompanied James Cook on his voyage to the West Coast and subsequently spent 2 years exploring and charting the West Coast.
During the 1950s, Granville Street attracted many tourists to one of the world’s largest displays of neon signs.
Towards the middle of the twentieth century, the Downtown portion of Granville Street had become a flourishing centre for entertainment, known for its cinemas (built along the “Theatre Row,” from the Granville Bridge to where Granville Street intersects Robson Street), restaurants, clubs, the Vogue and Orpheum theatres, and, later, arcades, pizza parlours, pawn stores, pornography shops and strip clubs.
By the late 1990s, Granville Street suffered gradual deterioration and many movie theatres, such as “The Plaza, Caprice, Paradise, [and] Granville Centre […] have all closed for good,” writes Dmitrios Otis in his article “The Last Peep Show.” In the early 2000s, the news of the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympic Games, to be hosted in Whistler, a series of gentrification projects, still undergoing as of 2006, had caused the shutdown of many more businesses that had heretofore become landmarks of the street and of the city.
Also, Otis writes that “once dominated by movie theatres, pinball arcades, and sex shops [Downtown Granville is being replaced] by nightclubs and bars, as […it] transforms into a booze-based ‘Entertainment District’.” In April 2005, Capitol 6, a beloved 1920s-era movie theatre complex (built in 1921 and restored and reopened in 1977) closed its doors (Chapman). By August 2005, Movieland Arcade, located at 906 Granville Street became “the last home of authentic, 8 mm ‘peep show’ film booths in the world” (Otis). On July 7, 2005, the Granville Book Company, a popular and independently owned bookstore was forced to close (Tupper) due to the rising rents and regulations the city began imposing in the early 2000s in order to “clean up” the street by the 2010 Olympics and combat Vancouver’s “No Fun City” image. (Note the “Fun City” red banners put up by the city on the lamp-posts in the pizza-shop photograph). Landlords have been unable to find replacement tenants for many of these closed locations; for example, the Granville Book Company site was still boarded up and vacant as of July 12, 2006.
While proponents of the Granville gentrification project in general (and the 2010 Olympics in specific) claim that the improvements made to the street will only benefit its residents, the customers frequenting the clubs and the remaining theatres and cinemas, maintain that the project is a temporary solution, since the closing down of the less “classy” businesses, and the build-up of Yaletown-style condominiums in their place, will not eliminate the unwanted pizzerias, corner-stores and pornography shops – and their patrons – but will simply displace them elsewhere (an issue reminiscent of the city’s long-standing inability to solve the problems of the DTES).