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Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Cracking building puts an end to Carlton Club, one of Victoria’s rare all-ages venues

A project that was started to counter the decline of accessible Victoria venues becomes another example of it

By Cameron Welch
February 12, 2023
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Cracking building puts an end to Carlton Club, one of Victoria’s rare all-ages venues

A project that was started to counter the decline of accessible Victoria venues becomes another example of it

By Cameron Welch
Feb 12, 2023
Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily
Arts
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Cracking building puts an end to Carlton Club, one of Victoria’s rare all-ages venues

A project that was started to counter the decline of accessible Victoria venues becomes another example of it

By Cameron Welch
February 12, 2023
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Cracking building puts an end to Carlton Club, one of Victoria’s rare all-ages venues
Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

The temporary arts and events venue announced its sudden closure, about a year early, last Thursday. The Esquimalt venue is located in the former Carlton Club and Cabaret bar building set to be redeveloped in 2024. It was hailed as a lifeline for a local DIY music scene set way back by COVID and real estate prices, and also hosted art and artisans and a burgeoning local wrestling league.

But flaws in the building’s infrastructure began appearing around Christmas and were accelerating rapidly, Damon Roth told Capital Daily.

Roth, the owner of Carlton Project partner 42ish Media, said that in the past week or so cracks in the structure had begun multiplying by the day. The far wall of the covered outdoor entryway stairs was starting to conspicuously lean against the shipping container beside it. It wasn’t worth chancing a safety risk, the team determined, and repair costs couldn’t be justified for a building slated for demolition within a year.

Since then the deterioration has not just continued but accelerated, with the metal balcony poles bending and bits of concrete falling from the walkway. 

“Even since Thursday when we had our last wrestling show, the number of cracks has doubled.”

The entrance wall visibly leaning. Photos from Damon Roth
Left: Large cracks in the balcony. Right: Small cracks in the entrance area wall

The closure news was announced publicly on Thursday morning by project co-runner 365 Pro Wrestling. Its Next 1 Tournament that night was hastily renamed to the Last 1 due to its new status as the final event ever held at the 1958-opened Carlton. Over the weekend the Carlton Performing Arts Hub Facebook invited individuals and businesses to come purchase items from the building so they would not end up at the dump.

Project seeks new home accessible to local artists, musicians, and wrestlers

The space hosted a wrestling school as well as wrestling events, and this shutdown came just weeks after All Points West had profiled the success of the pro wrestling league and the transformation of the Carlton Club into its home. 365 is looking for new locations this week. It is hosting a show this Friday at James Bay’s White Eagle Polish Hall, where it often holds showcases, but needs a location for training.

Roth told Capital Daily that the Carlton Project is also looking to secure a new space either together with the wrestling program or separately, but that finding the right space with the right zoning will be tricky. One of the few pathways left is the one the Carlton had taken: a deal to occupy a doomed older building during its last year or two.

900 Carlton Terrace was one of many redevelopment targets along Esquimalt Road, and the partnership of 42ish Media, 365 Pro Wrestling, and Geek News Now secured a deal to operate there in lead-up to Feb. 2024 start of construction. The arts and community hub at Fairfield and Blanshard is another example, located in a former government building set to soon be turned into a major hotel.

Rockslide Gallery & Studio temporarily operates 85 affordable artist studios in the former home of the BC Power Commission. Photo:  Logan Ford

The fact that there were so few suitable places left in town—with Logan’s Pub, Subculture, Copper Owl, and other DIY-friendly local venues having closed in recent years—was part of the whole reason the Carlton Project itself was set up.

Part of its mandate was that the 150-person venue could be rented fairly cheaply by artists and performers: $75/hour, with organizers keeping all proceeds from selling their own tickets.

The venue had hosted events regularly in 2022, although challenges had emerged. Carlton general manager Willa Simpson told Capital Daily in December that their insurance company doubled its costs in November. In response the club held a rummage sale of musical equipment and a wrestling show on Dec. 17.

Decline in smaller spaces will hurt local culture

Being a local musician or artist has become progressively harder in recent years due to the decline in the viability of concert tours and rise in cost of living and housing. More work hours, to pay higher expenses, eat up much of the time that most non-wealthy artists need to practice and create. It’s a much less favourable environment than the one that originally gave Victoria Canada’s highest concentration of artists.

The City of Victoria itself flagged the lack of small venues, and the effect on the underrepresented groups that rely on them, in its 2022-26 Music Strategy.

Standard Issue Pleasure Model performs at the Carlton in summer 2022. Photo: Carlton Project Facebook

“Not only are we losing the venues, we’re losing what the venues create—which are all the new acts, all the new musicians,” Roth said. “There are very few places for local brand-new artists to go and break out onto the scene… a place that will hold 20 to 50 people that will go pay five bucks and give the thumbs up or down.

“[Eventually] people are gonna say ‘where’s all our local talent?’ Well, there’s no place for them to play.”

The Carlton Project was one such place, but has now become one more example of the affordability and availability problem it was set up to try to counter.

“We’re one of the few all-ages venues in the city,” Simpson said in December. “It's not like we’re thinking we’re here to save the entire music scene of Victoria. It’s just that overall this town is not that great about fostering and promoting local music outside of a few select genres. We can help.”

But now, that help will have to come from somewhere else.

With files from Ryan Hook

Article Author's Profile Picture
Cameron Welch
Newsletter Editor
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