Folks were invited to grab a seat at the Vernon Towne Cinema Saturday.
As in, literally grab and bring home a piece of 1940s Vernon history.
The historic theatre in downtown Vernon is undergoing some seating upgrades, taking advantage of a more than two week pause in business due to COVID-19 restrictions set out by the provincial health officer.
Owner Gerry Sellars had some helping hands in the theatre Dec. 5. While he and volunteers from Okanagan Screen Arts tore out the old seats, residents were invited to stop by and claim one free of charge.
“These seats were probably manufactured around 1940, and then in the next session we’ll take out our seats that I put in that were from the 70s, and once those are gone we’ll put in all brand new seats,” Sellars said.
“For folks in Vernon who want 1940s style seats for their home theatre, maybe their deck, their ski lodge, they’re here and they’re absolutely free.”
Back when the red upholstered seats were first installed, theatre-goers would have used them to watch news reels showing the latest events from the Second World War.
“You’d see news reels, probably a cartoon or two, and then it would be the main feature,” Sellars said.
The Towne Theatre originally opened up as the National Ballroom in the late 1920s, the annex of the nearby National Hotel. As Sellars explains, the Ballroom was connected to the hotel via underground tunnels that still exist in the downtown, which caterers would access to bring meals from the hotel kitchen to the auditorium.
Scott John of Okanagan Screen Arts, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the Towne Cinema, was among the volunteers helping with the renovations Saturday afternoon. Originally from the coast, John said locals might not know just how rare old cinemas like the Towne are becoming.
“It’s the same kind of thing we saw disappear everywhere in the Lower Mainland,” he said of the Towne. “They all disappeared and turned into condos and Penticton and Kelowna lost their big downtown theatres.”
Okanagan Screen Arts has been hosting weekly events at the theatre since 2016. Monday Night at the Arts is on hold for the time being due to the pandemic, but John said the group of volunteers is happy to help the Towne Cinema by any means.
“We’re happy to do everything we can to keep this one going,” he said. “As a community hub and a cultural centre we think it’s a great anchor for downtown.”
Those who missed out on a seat Saturday will have a second opportunity; there are plenty more chairs to take out — some from the 1940s and others from the 1970s — and folks are invited to pick one up again on Monday, Dec. 7.
Monday is also the day Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry will announce an update to the current province-wide COVID-19 restrictions, and Sellars is hoping that announcement will bear good news for theatres across B.C.
“Hopefully we’ll open on the 8th, but this gives us a window of opportunity to replace old seats,” he said.