Brian Croft
Painting the History of Vancouver and British Columbia

349. Danceland, Robson Street - 1963

Limited Edition Stretched Canvas Giclee Print, (unframed): sn195, ap20, pp10

20x32 (inches) sn $700, ap $800, pp $850

28x44 (inches) sn $1100, ap $1200, pp $1250

34x54 (inches) sn $1500, ap $1600, pp $1650

From an original painting by Brian Croft

For young people, in the late 50’s and 60‘s, Vancouver’s Danceland was the place to go for live music and a superlative dance floor. Located on the second floor of the Clements building situated on the south east corner of Robson and Hornby, Danceland was just two blocks west of Granville Street’s theatre row.

The Clements building was built in 1922. Within a year, a dance academy called the Alexandra Ballroom occupied the entire second floor. “The Alex” as it was more popularly called had its entry on the north end of the building at 804 Hornby Street. It was a stylish room featuring draped windows, a stage, a small lounge and kitchen. The secret to the wooden, sprung dance floor was bags of horsehair that were laid under the floor. In later years, overhead fanning boards were added. All this made for a very classy venue and more than a few famous personalities performed on stage at the Alex.

Next door, to the east, stood the Courthouse Block. There, in 1922, the Sprott-Shaw Schools of Commerce & Wireless Telegraphy, and Radio Specialties, started an early radio station, CJCE . In 1924 Sprott-Shaw assumed control of CFCQ and in1929, occupied its first real studio on the third floor above The Alex. Much later, In May 1954, Bill Rea, owner of CKNW moved his operations into the same space. Soon after, Rea, suffering from medical problems, sold CKNW and took over The Alex, downstairs. He changed the name to Danceland and created a new upbeat venue. Adorned with oversized neon signs, Danceland began to attract some of the big names of the day: Del Shannon, Ike and Tina Turner, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bobby Darin. Jim Wisby later took over Danceland and continued to promote this leading edge Rock and Roll dance hall. Danceland could accommodate up to 600 dancers and it was quite normal to see a half dozen busses and coaches parked outside having brought dancers up from the USA. Bouncers did routine patrols looking for booze under the chairs.

I created my painting Danceland - 1963 from a City of Vancouver Archives photograph credited to, photographer, Walter Edwin Frost. To get the background that I needed to do the painting, I asked my friend Red Robinson for help. He connected me with long time producer Les Vogt who was a great help in finding band members who had played at Danceland. Ed Senft, a Danceland bouncer in the 60’s was particularly helpful with vivid memories of his days at Danceland. I scoured the Vancouver Sun entertainment pages to find a special event at Danceland for my painting and found a small ad on Saturday, Sept 7, 1963; it was The Ike and Tina Turner Review, playing for one night only at Danceland from 9-12 and that’s what I put up on Danceland’s backlit marquee. The Ike and Tina Review was a hot act indeed and Danceland packed them in; but this was to be one of the last big shows.

Popular to the end, Danceland’s final year featured the ViCounts as its regular band. Danceland fell to the wreckers hammer in the summer of 1965. The happy times, the music and dancing are but memories. But with the help of many who were regulars at Danceland, I feel privileged to be able to propel my paintbrush and bring some of the Danceland excitement back to life. If you find your toe tapping or feel the urge to walk into the painting and make a bee-line across Robson Street and into the entry door of Danceland, then I think that’s exactly why I painted this. My name is Brian Croft. I paint the history of Vancouver and British Columbia; Danceland-1963 is part of my artistic journey.

Brian Croft