LITERARY SITE: Clark Park, 1500 E 14th Ave, Vancouver

Vancouver's second oldest urban park, Clark Park, is the focus of Vancouver author/historian Aaron Chapman's The Last Gang in Town. At this location in the early 1970s the Clark Park Gang evolved into one of that era's most notorious street gangs. In 1972, after the gang was involved in a number of headline-making clashes with police, including the 'Rolling Stones riot' outside the Pacific Coliseum, the Vancouver Police Department formed an undercover squad to go after the gang. Hostile interactions culminated in a shooting death of a Clark Park gang member, Danny Teece, age 17. Chapman's history includes stories from both former gang members and undercover police officers who worked to stifle gang activity. The full title of Chapman's entirely original Vancouver history is The Last Gang in Town: The Epic Story of the Vancouver Police vs. the Clark Park Gang (Arsenal 2016).

Born and raised in Vancouver, Aaron Chapman is a cultural historian who has been a contributor to the Vancouver Courier, Georgia Straight, and CBC Radio. A graduate of the University of British Columbia as well as a musician, he is also a member of Heritage Vancouver and the Point Roberts Historical Society.

Aaron Chapman spent the first twenty-five years of his life at 2475 West 37th Avenue in Kerrisdale, in a house next door to George and Angela Bowering, who lived at 2499 West 37th, at the north east corner of 37th and Larch. George Bowering became the first Poet Laureate of Canada. Another neighbour at 2527 West 37th was the UBC English professor Warren Tallman who spawned the TISH movement and hosted the noteworthy Vancouver Poetry conference in 1963. Although not directly influenced by Bowering and Tallman, the awareness of the city's literary life did influence Chapman to become an historian solely concerned with the city in which he lives--following in the footsteps of the late Chuck Davis.

His first book, Liquor, Lust and the Law: The Story of Vancouver's Legendary Penthouse Nightclub (Arsenal Pulp Press) was a finalist for the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize to recognize the author(s) of the book that contributes most to the enjoyment and understanding of British Columbia.

In recent memory, most people know the iconic Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver has played host to musical greats like The Police, The Clash, Blondie and U2, and more recently Lady Gaga, Tom Waits and the White Stripes. But that's only a small part of its story. Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver's Historic Commodore Ballroom (Arsenal Pulp Press $28.95) by Aaron Chapman respectfully and diligently recounts the history of Vancouver's best-loved music venue from its 1930s conception, when it hosted Vancouver's decadent society set, through WWII and the swing era, to its current state.

Having proven himself with Liquor, Lust and the Law: The Story of Vancouver's Legendary Penthouse Nightclub (Arsenal Pulp) Chapman has maintained a high standard of populism and scholarship by digging up stories behind the legendary acts that graced the Commodore's stage, whether it's the bass player for Talking Heads scoring grass or Patti Smith insisting on taking a bath in a tub that was primarily used as a urinal, he has cleverly mixed history with an assortment of rare photos, paraphernalia and posters. His thorough research also includes reminiscences from the likes of local bluesman Jim Byrnes (fondly recalling backstage conversations with the likes of Muddy Waters and Charley Pride) and reviews by the likes of the indomitable and always perceptive Georgia Straight and Province music critic Tom Harrison.

The central figure in the narrative is longtime Commodore head honcho Drew Burns. Back in the day, when there was no liquor license, patrons brought their own booze but were required to purchase ice buckets per table, hiding their liquor from police. The staff at the Commodore routinely placed the ice buckets on heaters before delivering them patrons, thereby making the ice melt quickly and requiring them to order another bucket.

This is commercial, popular history at its finest--amusing and enlightening.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Liquor, Lust and The Law: The Story of Vancouver's Legendary Penthouse Nightclub
Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver's Historic Commodore Ballroom

BOOKS:

Liquor, Lust, and The Law: The Story of Vancouver's Legendary Penthouse Nightclub
(Arsenal, 2012; 2nd printing Arsenal 2014) $24.95. 978-1-55152-488-7

Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver's Historic Commodore Ballroom (Arsenal Pulp Press 2014) $28.95
978-1-55152-566-2

The Last Gang in Town (Arsenal Pulp 2016) $24.95 978-1-55152-671-3

Vancouver After Dark: The Wild History of a City's Nightlife (Arsenal 2019) $32.95 978-1-55152-783-3

[BCBW 2019]