A Dream Come True

The Sunset Story. Read our history from 1945 to the present.

In 1945, Sunset was a rapidly growing neighbourhood that seriously lacked recreational facilities. The post-World War II baby boom was underway and residents wondered what the area’s thousands of kids were going to do with their free time. To address the problem, the Sunset Community Association was formed under the leadership of local parent and BC Telephone Company executive Stan Thomas. The group decided to build something that did not exist in Vancouver at that time: a modern community centre, complete with gymnasium, stage, kitchen and lounge. The City of Vancouver donated the southeast corner of East 51st Avenue and Prince Edward Street to the project, and the neighbourhood rallied to raise money for the construction. Volunteers went door to door for donations, held raffles and staged carnivals. The Association even purchased 11 buildings from an army camp at Stanley Park’s Ferguson Point in the hope that the wood from the structures could be re-used to build the community centre. The timber recycle plan was eventually dropped, but the proceeds from the sale of the lumber helped grow the Association’s kitty. By 1947, the Sunset Community Association had raised $22,000.00, a large amount of money for that time, but woefully short of the $125,000.00 required to build the centre. A bold fundraising move was needed. So Stan Thomas headed to Hollywood to ask the best known entertainer of the day to perform a benefit concert in Vancouver. Actor- singer Bing Crosby was at the peak of his career and could not have been easy to reach, but fortunately Thomas had access to Crosby’s friend, Jimmy McLarnin - a two time welterweight world champion who began his boxing career in Vancouver. Crosby agreed to help the Sunset cause and in 1948 performed a sold-out concert at the PNE Forum that raised $26,000.00 and provided the momentum needed to see the project through to completion. When the building opened in 1950, it was dedicated to those who had given their lives for Canada in World War II and was named the Sunset Memorial Centre. The gym was called the Bing Crosby Auditorium. An outdoor swimming pool was added in 1952. For 57 years, the facility was a popular gathering place for area residents. In 2008, a new community centre opened on this site at Main Street and East 52nd Avenue, and later the same year, the Sunset Memorial Centre and pool was demolished. The building in which you stand was the most innovative and unique structure in the Sunset neighbourhood when it opened to the public in 2008. The community centre was designed by the internationally renowned firm, Bing Thom Architects and finished product won awards for it’s creative use of concrete tilt-up construction. The project team took a technology typically used for cheap, big-box construction and sculpted it into a building of poetic simplicity, punctuated with soaring corridor gallery spaces and graceful roof curves that resemble falling flower petals. In terms of form and function, this inviting community gathering place stands in stark conThe original community centre was built in 1950 and, with each passing decade, became more outdated, inefficient and under-used. Part of the problem was the design of the old structure. Most of it’s multi-use rooms were located in the basement, beneath the gymnasium floor, a noisy place to be if someone was shooting hoops upstairs. Also, the Centre’s location at 51st Avenue and Prince Edward Street was not ideal. Hidden away from major streets, many people did not know it was there. The neighbourhood needed a new social hub and in 1999, the Sunset Community Association, led by longtime local resident Walter Schultz, began a quest to raise the money required. The Association was able to contribute $1,000,000.00 - more than any other neighbourhood had ever raised for a Vancouver Park Board project. After much political wrangling, the three levels of government agreed to supply the rest of the money. A site was acquired on land that was part of the Park’s Board botanical nursery and in 2005 the new community centre began to take shape at 52nd Avenue and Main Street. Bing Thom Architects designed the building to have both a strong formal presence and playful atmosphere. The structure was hailed as a successful example of the emerging design aesthetic known as Vancouverism. Not only is the centre’s design easy on the eyes, it is also easy on the Earth, for Sunset was built to LEEDS gold standard and includes such energy saving features as geothermal heating and cooling. The structure is 20% larger than the old one and on track to break all of its predecessor’s usage records. trast to its wooden predecessor - the old Sunset Community Centre, which was located two blocks away.