Dear Editor As the white elephant of the Anvil Centre lumbers onto Columbia Street that old white elephant, the Columbia Theatre, is about to take its exit as it is now up for sale. Once the heart of vaudeville, including performances by New Westminster’s own “Mandrake The Magician,” the only magic now on Columbia Street is the way the Anvil Centre is cannibalizing business from other venues and “Golden Mile” entertainment is stripped down to that offered by the Paramount.
If the Columbia is sold for the asking price of $3.3 million, yet another friend of city hall will leave with parting gifts of a couple of million bucks. The current owner “acquired” the Columbia for $850,000 back in 2010 despite a higher bid by those more interested in keeping a legitimate theatre venue in New Westminster. That sale inadvertently included assets belonging to the City of Vancouver and the Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society, in violation of agreements and understandings with those entities, when the higher $1 million bid by the Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society subsidiary was “eclipsed.”
The city’s RFP conditions for community access, below market rent, and historical restoration were violated or amended. What was once a “legitimate” theatre (a concept lost on most city councillors) was “gutted” according to city hall staff. The city lost an investment of $7.8 million to maintain, restore, preserve and enhance the Columbia Theatre as a cultural icon in the city – dedicated to performance use as a legacy of its native son Raymond Burr.
Too bad that this and other cultural institutions are being gutted by an entrenched regime as they race to ensure that New Westminster becomes a bedroom town where trains don’t stop anymore at the deserted station. They just whistle through leaving a trail of belching smoke and noise that will soon be augmented by coal dust and car fumes from stalled, crawling traffic that even the continuous blast of hot air from city hall can’t disburse.
In closing, we observe that legitimate theatre concerns itself with tragedy and comedy – the tragedy is that theatre is no longer. As for comedy, it will disappear from the Columbia and magically reappear from a “clown car” parked in council chambers with Mayor Cote reprising his Quest New West role as “Top Banana” singing Let it Go.
E.C. “Ted” Eddy, president, Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society, New Westminster