For over 80 years, the Commodore Ballroom has been synonymous with Vancouver entertainment and nightlife. Since opening its doors in 1929, the award winning ballroom has hosted music legends, celebrated historical milestones, congratulated graduating students, and has been the setting for countless romances.
Over the years, the Commodore hired a succession of house bands that would play exclusively for years until one contract ended and another began. It was the era of big bands and 12-14 piece Orchestras. The first was Wendell Dorey and his orchestra; the last was Dal Richards, who played for three years beginning in 1965. In between were such names as Don Flynne, Bob Lyon, Charlie Pawlett, Ole Olsen & His Commodores, Doug Kirk, George Calangis, Len Chamberlain and Mart Kenney - who would continue to appear up until 1973. Longtime Vancouverites might even recall on Saturday Nights on when the Orchestra performances were broadcast live on the radio.
Big names from out of town that drew the crowds included The Dorsey Brothers, Count Basie, George Burns, Rudy Vallee, Stan Kenton, Cab Calloway and the Will Maston Trio, including the as yet unknown Sammy Davis Jr.
In 1961, following the death of Johnny Dillias two years earlier, the lease was taken over from Nick Kogas by Dick Gourlay, a nephew of the late George C. Reifel. Gourlay started his eight-year tenure by painting the walls red and laying down new carpets, but he did little to attract new audiences. Gourlay ran the Ballroom with an arms length approach and shows of note were few and far between. Thus, this was a time when Vancouver's night life was being dominated by venues like The Cave and The Palomar Room that were booking super-stars such as the Mills Brothers, Frankie Laine, the Ink Spots and Lena Horne. The Commodore was managing to turn a profit, but the luster was gone.