British Columbia

Vancouver film prop shop forced out as city prepares for St. Paul's Hospital development

White Monkey Design, a prop shop that has made items for countless film productions, is being evicted from its home of over 30 years by the City of Vancouver.

White Monkey Design has been in its current location for more than three decades

Booth Milton sits among the packed shelves of his Vancouver prop shop, White Monkey Design, which is being forced from its home of three decades by the City of Vancouver. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Booth Milton, owner of White Monkey Design in Vancouver, says making the lousy prosthetic hand worn by actor Carl Weathers in the movie Happy Gilmore took five or six tries — the first versions just weren't comically bad enough. 

That prop and many of the other so-called "hero props" that have come out of his shop aren't found on the packed shelves. Those iconic bits of movie history are snapped up by crew, or others within the productions.

But room after room in the building at Prior Street and Malkin Avenue is filled with props. Most are weird science-fiction rental pieces, their purpose left to the imaginations of film productions — but they look cool. There are rooms for 3D printing, mould making, woodwork, welding, machining and painting. 

But now, after more than 30 years there, Milton needs to figure out how to vacate the 8,000 sq. ft. building, as his landlord, the City of Vancouver, has ordered him out to make way for construction of the new St. Paul's Hospital.

Ask Milton what any of the countless items on his shelves are meant to be and he can't tell you. Each prop is left to the imagination of the filmmaker who comes to rent it. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"We're sort of scrambling with the logistics of exactly what to do," said Milton. "It's mind boggling what it's going to take just to move the machine shop, never mind all the other equipment."

The property and adjacent plot are needed to re-draw property lines and create a route that ambulances will use to access the new St. Paul's Hospital, according to a written statement from a city spokesperson. Construction is expected to begin at the start of 2022, so Milton has been given until the end of this year to vacate.

"I just didn't expect it to happen quite so quick," said Milton, adding that he expected two or three years, given the lack of progress he's seen on the hospital project so far.

Milton has collected loads of random things to fill his 8,000 sq. ft. prop shop. He uses old devices for their dials, gauges, switches and other parts to create original props for films, television shows and commercials. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Milton said he's paying just under $7,000 per month for the building — a rent he considers very fair. He figures an equivalent space might cost him double, and force him to travel far from Vancouver's core — possibly out to Langley.

The move may force him to rethink the business, which now keeps about 10 people working.

He said he may have to reduce the operation to just the prop rental business, with a small shop for repairs — but he's hoping to be able to keep his machine shop and its heavy-duty mills and lathes intact.

"Everything is sort of out of our reach, really," said Milton, adding that retirement isn't an option due to his lack of savings.

An alien figure bathed in green light is seen floating in a container at White Monkey Design in Vancouver. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

"What do I keep? What don't I keep? What do I sell?" he asked. "It might be an auction."

Milton has spent more than 30 years filling the White Monkey space with his own artwork; drawers are filled with random pieces used to create props; shelves are packed with items available for rent. Then, there are the vintage Moto Guzzi motorcycles, tools, and the memories of a long career in Vancouver's film industry.

But in the coming months, all of that will be cleared out — one way or another.

Milton looks in one of the countless drawers filled with random — though well organized — parts in his film prop shop. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Do you have more to add to this story? Email rafferty.baker@cbc.ca

Follow Rafferty Baker on Twitter: @raffertybaker

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rafferty Baker is a video journalist with CBC News, based in Vancouver. You can find his stories on CBC Radio, television, and online at cbc.ca/bc.

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