It would seem that this building was originally built in 1908, although we don’t know who designed it. It’s attributed to W H Chow – but we haven’t found anything to confirm that.
The first buildings on this site were two houses, addressed as 117 and 119 Dupont Street. They were on the site before 1901 – in 1895 the first time they appeared in the street directory they were occupied by Miss Annie Hood and Miss E Johnson. The ladies’ profession was one of the reasons the street name was switched from Dupont to Princess in 1898, once they’d been persuaded to move on.
A little later the name switched again, this time to East Pender, and in 1908 this location appears as ‘New Block’ and a year later a series of Chinese businesses had opened their doors, including Charlie Won & Co who sold cigars and fruits, and Yuen Sang Co listed as Chinese merchants. When it was first built this really wasn’t a Chinese-styled building at all, although it was in the heart of Chinatown, and all the tenants over the years were Chinese. That was the rule – not the exception – in design terms; there were no ‘Chinese’ style balconies on any Chinatown buildings built before 1900, and relatively few before 1910.
There’s a permit to David Lew for 1910 to build a brick building on this site, but only for $550 – so possibly an outbuilding on Market Alley (at the back of the building). In the same year Loo Gee Wing, a very active Chinese developer also obtained a permit for changes to an office in the building. David Lew knew Loo Gee Wing – he had been his secretary from 1901 to 1905, having had a Canadian education in his teens, and probably training as a lawyer (although being Chinese he wasn’t permitted to practice law). Given how much property he owned nearby, it’s entirely reasonable to think Mr Loo might have been the developer of the building in 1908. (Mr Lew became an important Chinatown interpreter; he represented all the Chinese traders who sought compensation in the 1908 hearing chaired by McKenzie King. His death in 1924 was dramatic; he was shot to death outside 5 West Hastings in a professional ‘hit’ that was never solved.)
By 1913 a Mr. Hamilton was the owner of the building. F Hamilton hired C Ting to make repairs in 1913. (There’s another permit for 1914 when W H Chow designed repairs for Quang Sang & Co at 125 1/2), and then a series of further repairs for owners identified as F J Hamilton in 1915 for 125 (again by W H Chow), repairs designed and built by Toy Get for ‘Hamilton’ in 1916, for M Hamilton in 1917 and N Hamilton in 1918. Finally W F Hamilton made repairs to 121 E Pender in 1917.
We assume all these various Hamiltons were really Frank Hamilton, who is said to be shown in the picture. Frank is elusive – various Francis and Frank Hamiltons come and go, but in 1915 a Frank J Hamilton was living in an apartment in Nicola Street. There’s a picture of a new 1908 house on Burrard Street identified as belonging to Francis J Hamilton, and another (or the same) Frank Hamilton was a resident in Cedar Cottage in South Vancouver, working for the Vancouver Creamery Co.
At some point around 1920 the building was acquired by new owners. The elaborate balconies were added in 1921 when a $14,000 reconstruction of the upper part of the building took place. The top floor was removed, but the store front looks as if it’s still the original 1908 millwork. The architects were G L Southwell and J A Radford – although neither were well-known architects; Southwell was a draughtsman (wrongly identified as Southall on the permit) and Radford was frequently employed by the Vancouver Sun to illustrate articles and prepare reviews of exhibitions. Their clients were one of Chinatown’s family associations, the Wong Kung Har Tong (the Wong family association). There were new meeting rooms behind recessed balconies, a key feature of the later Chinatown architectural style.
Other community associations also came to be associated with the building including the Chinese Community Club and the Hai Fung Association. They show the evolution of the role of community associations in Chinatown; the Hai Fung Association is a more recent youth organization established independently of the older place and surname associations. Hai Fung attracted new immigrants who brought with them new ideas about the meaning of being Chinese in Canada, challenging the established tongs.
The Mon Keang School was established on the third floor in 1925, teaching the Chinese language and customs to the tusheng, or children of overseas Chinese born in Canada. This reflected the value placed on education in perpetuating Chinese culture, and because it gave Canadian-born children the skills required to function successfully in a predominantly Chinese-speaking environment.
We saw what this view looked like in 1929 in an earlier post. We looked in more detail at the building on the corner in another post. Remarkably few of the buildings further east (up the street) have changed very much since the earlier 1929 image, or since this 1978 image. The biggest change (in summer in particular) is the addition of street trees.
Next door to the hotel is a 1903 building designed by W T Whiteway for merchant, Chu Lai. He arrived in British Columbia in the 1860s, worked in the Cariboo and by 1876 he was able to open his own firm, Wing Chong Company, at the corners of Store and Cormorant streets in Victoria. He was Hakka from Guangdong province, and his company became the centre of the Hakka community. Chang Toy (founder of Vancouver’s Sam Kee company), when he first arrived stayed at the company before finding work in New Westminster. Chu Lai died in 1906 in Victoria, survived by four wives (two living in China), five sons, and three daughters.
The 3-storey building next door is a mystery to us – completed around 1910, we haven’t managed to identify a client or architect. There’s a small, more recent building to the east of that, built in the 1950s, and then the substantial Wong’s Benevolent Association with the Mon Keang School, and the Lee Building is beyond that (which we featured in an earlier post). On the far right of the picture is the Sun Ah Hotel, home to the Ho Ho Restaurant (today Foo’s Ho Ho). It was designed for Chinese merchant Loo Gee Wing by R T Perry and R A Nicholais.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-459
Here’s a 1930’s picture of the recently completed Plaza Cinema on Granville Street. We can date the picture from the film that’s showing – “Assassin of Youth”. There’s a copy of the movie online these days, so you can make your own mind up about its quality and accuracy. In 1937, when it was released, it portrayed “a high-school girl who gets involved with a ring of teenage marijuana smokers and starts down the road to ruin. A reporter poses as a soda jerk to infiltrate the gang of teen dope fiends.” One puff of a joint turns clean cut kids into either hardened, remorseless criminals or maniacs. The cinema seems to have managed to attract quite the crowd to view the film, but maybe the fact that the theatre was only a year old in its new incarnation helped.
The building in the picture was designed by Thomas L Kerr, who also designed the Palace, (later the Lux) on East Hastings. Thomas Kerr had started as an architect in Winnipeg, moved to California, and then to Vancouver around 1929. In fact there had been a theatre here much longer – the earliest reference we can find for the Maple Leaf was in 1908, and we now know (thanks to Patrick Gunn) that it originally cost $6,000 and was designed by Norman Leech, who a year later took on the job of architect for the School Board. This might explain why alterations a year later were designed by W T Whiteway at a cost of $3,500. The same amount was spent three years later on alterations designed by Ginser Brothers. Whiteway’s changes may have coincided with the installation of the Chronophone system (making the Maple Leaf one of the first talking picture movie houses in Canada). The sound system utilised two gramophones amplified by compressed air. As Past Tense notes, “A deft operator was expected to seamlessly switch records while maintaining synchronization with the action on the screen.”
The cinema was reopened as the Plaza in 1936 and renamed as the Odeon in 1963. It closed in 1987 when the Granville 7 opened further up the street, but was reopened by Famous Players as the Plaza again for 3 years from 1988. It briefly reopened again in 1993 and continued running on-and-off until it closed for good as a movie theatre in 1997.
After significant modifications the theatre reopened as a club, initially the Plaza Club and more recently Venue, a 2-level space that can accommodate 500 people and which features both DJs and live shows.
We noted how D J McPhalen built at least two properties on Main Street in our previous post. Here he is, with his family in front of his house at 209 Harris Street. Today Harris is known as East Georgia.
Mr McPhalen was almost certainly a former constable who moved to the city and became a contractor. He was living on Harris Street from 1888, listed as a contractor and he may have been the McPhalen who was a furniture dealer with a Mr Ash on Hastings in 1887. Dan McPhalen was born on Christmas Day 1852 (or 1853, 1854 or 1855 – depending on which census you believe) in Ontario. His wife, Caroline (who was 11 years younger) was born there too, and in 1891 they had 3 children who were listed on the Census – so we can identify them in this 1889 image. Mary was the oldest – probably aged four, standing to the right of her father. John was a year younger, and he had the splendid tricycle, and Ellen was two years younger than John.
A decade later his wife was recorded (probably wrongly) as Lena, a lodging house keeper, and he was a contractor, with all three children still at home. They hadn’t arrived in Vancouver directly from Ontario: Mary was born in Manitoba. In 1901 there was another McPhalen living two doors down from D J McPhelen; Charles was recorded as a carpenter. He was later joined by his brother William, and they went into business as contractors known as McPhalen Brothers. It looks likely that these were both Dan’s younger brothers; all the records that separately show their father identify him as Cornelius McPhalen (and there weren’t too many of those).
Mr. McPhalen built a number of the building near his home, including the London Hotel across the street from his home. By 1908 the McPhalen Block was located at 628 Westminster Ave (today’s Main Street), Daniel McPhalen ran his business from 730 Westminster Ave, and his home was 575 W 10th (on the corner with Ash St), where he stayed for many years. He died in 1921.
Today the site has a 25′ wide building, as it did in 1899. but it has 9 storeys of apartments over new retail space known as ‘The Flats’, completed earlier this year.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives SGN 342
In 1918 this stretch of Main Street was photographed presumably for the police parade in the foreground. Fortunately we can also see the buildings in the background. On the corner is a woodframe building; there’s a permit from 1912 for a repair to the store on the northern end of the building; it was designed by John Kemp for William Holden, a significant property holder in the city at the time. In 1918 it was the Dominion Café and minor repairs and alterations were carried out. Having drawn a blank on the origins of the building we’re guessing it may date to the ‘lost permit’ period between 1904 and 1907. That seems likely to be true for the two (now gone) 2-storey buildings – the second one a Pool room in 1918. We haven’t found a permit for these addresses either.
Next door down the street builder and developer D J McPhalen built the narrow 2-storey and basement building which he designed in 1904. Today it’s Radha yoga and the Brickhouse. Next door was the Imperial Theatre which was built in 1912. Beyond that was another 2-storey building that initially had a $2,650 frame store built in 1004 by Peter Tardiff, although this looks to be amore substantial structure. Miss Penhall had H A Hodgson design a $3,000 store in 1913 to the north of that, barely visible in the picture. On the corner at 700 Main Mr. McPhalen built a rooming house – which it still is today, over the renovated London pub. It cost $35,000 in 1910 and was designed by W F Gardiner. It replaced a brick store that Mr. McPhalen had built here in 1903.
A few years ago ‘Ginger’ a condo building with coloured balconies, replaced the Imperial Theatre. Another project is planned to fill the corner lot; both the McPhaelen building and the rooming house would be replaced.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-1269
We’ve seen one of these buildings in a post a short while ago. That’s the building with the Aristocrat Cleaners and the Elite Café. We’re pretty certain it was designed by Thomas Fee as his own investment. To the north (on the left) the Siesta Rooms were built by T McWhinnie who hired Parr and Fee to design it and Peter Tardiff to construct it in 1910. It started life as the Harvard Hotel, with Langridge Furniture operating from the main floor. Thomas McWhinnie also owned the Columbia Hotel from the early 1900s and built the current building (that’s still standing) on Columbia Street in 1911.
In both the 1943 Vancouver Public Library picture, and today, the Vogue Theatre occupies the lot to the north (on the edge of the picture). It’s a late art deco design by Toronto-based Kaplan and Sprachman, dating from 1940. The Jewish Virtual Library says that Sprachman lived and worked in an almost exclusively Yiddish world, and most of his clients were Jews. That wasn’t true here – his patron was George C Reifel; brewer, reputed rum-runner and (according to the 1911 census) a Methodist. Ten years earlier the Reifel family had built the Commodore Ballroom on the block to the north.
To the south of the Elite Café were two single storey retail buildings, dating back to the early part of the 1900s. We haven’t traced a permit for their construction, there were two recorded in 1915 for two owners; G E Boughton and Powers & Broughtton , who were listed as agents. The clerk on the second permit was obviously feeling the need to add superfluous letters – Mr Boughton was the owner.
Over the years many businesses set up and closed here. In this 1943 image the La Salle Shoe Repair store was next to the Little Saratoga coffee shop (owned by Alex Constabaris) and the La Salle barbers. The shoe repair was run by C E Westlake, while the shoe repairer was C D Peterson. The La Salle Lunch was on the opposite side of the street. The Constabaris family were grieving a wartime tragedy; Alex and Helen’s son, James, was piloting a Lockheed Hudson III patrol bomber from Newfoundland for delivery to Britain in 1942 when the plane crashed at sea. His body was eventually recovered, and he was buried in Ireland. A lawyer, he received the Governors Gold medal when studying at the University of Alberta in 1938.
Today the Siesta Rooms are a Single Room Occupancy hotel, with the Roxy nightclub downstairs. Next door are two recent buildings, both designed by Studio One Architecture for Bonnis Properties.
This location started life in Chinatown as 23 Dupont Street, but by the time these buildings were built the street had been renamed (in 1907) as East Pender. There was a buildings here in 1889, but the existing 4-storey Ming Wo building was built at (or just before) 1913. It was built for Wong Soon King who headed a company that bore his name, but who also controlled opium processor and dealer Hip Tuck Lung. That company operated from the other side of the street at 4 East Pender, but in 1908 they moved to 23 East Pender. Hip Tuck Lung were one of the bigger opium companies; in 1908 the local newspapers reported that William Lyon MacKenzie King was shocked to discover they made a profit of $180,000 in the previous year. (Paul Yee in Saltwater City says their gross income was reported to be $170,000). MacKenzie King was in town to settle claims for damages after 1907 anti-occidental riots, but returned to Ottawa determined to close down what he was surprised to find was a completely legal business.
Hip Tuck Lung, in 1908, were said to have been in business for 22 years (which would put the business founding close to the creation of the city in 1886). They show up as importers of opium in the 1889 street directory. The earlier building shows up in the 1891 street directory, occupied by Miss Della Montague, one of a number of ladies whose business was concentrated for a while on Dupont Street.
In 1900 Wong Sing King was one of the founding members (and recording secretary) of the Chinese Empire Reform Association, a charitable body whose intent, in part, was to be achieved “by promoting and encouraging the general education of the Chinese peoples in the principles of British constitutional government”. He stayed in the city for many years. In 1911 Mrs Wong Song King was detained for two weeks at William Head after a crew member on her cruise from the Orient on the Empress of India contracted smallpox.
The ‘official’ version of this building says it was designed in 1913 by W H Chow for Wong Soon King. There is a permit for $3,000 of alterations to the building that year, but Mr. Chow isn’t mentioned; Wong Soon King is owner, architect and builder. There’s another permit a year later; here W H Chow was the architect for a $4,000 office and store at 23 East Pender for C S Shue, who was also the builder. Then in 1915 there was another alteration, designed by Lee Hing for Wong Sim King for $2,000 of changes to a restaurant. That would be the Kong Hong Low restaurant at 23 1/2 East Pender.
This is a confusing set of permits: we know Wong Soon King owned the property, and clearly made alterations both in 1913 and 1915. So why would a different owner apparently build the building at almost the same time as these alterations? The permit doesn’t seem big enough to pay for the building either: in 1910 the building to the right, (on a similar scale) 29 East Pender was designed by R J MacDonald for ‘Su, Lee Wo Co’ and cost $19,000. That might be See Lee Wo, who sold general merchandise, although the company operating here in 1910 were Lee On and Co, who sold dry goods, and were also at 45 East Pender.
One possible explanation is that the W H Chow permit was for 93 East Pender – W H Chow made some minor amendments to a property owned by C S Shue at that address early in 1914. He also carried out work at 27 East Pender. In 1914 the owners Yuen, Yuen & Co hired W H Chow to carry out $1,000 of repairs. They were tea and rice merchants.
If this building was altered in 1913, it probably dates to around that time or a little earlier. In the 1913 street directory number 23 was vacant (so perhaps new?) and W P Joe, a photographer, was based in 23 1/2. In 1912 there seem to be only two storeys, with Lee On & Co at 23 and Yen Sun & Co ‘upstairs’. There’s a picture in the archives of the 2-storey building in 1906. Whether W H Chow actually designed the 1913 replacement we’re unsure: we haven’t found any permit to confirm that. In 1915 the Hong Kong Club were at 23, and in 1917 Ming Wo moved in to sell cookware – a business still there today.
Next door 27 East Pender was one of the earliest ‘Chinese’ styled building in Chinatown. Before that most Chinatown buildings could have been anywhere in the city. The Chinese Benevolent Association Building built in 1909 was the first with the upper floors featuring recessed balconies and building-wide glazing facing the street. This was probably the second to feature this style, designed by a western architect to reflect local preferences. Hon Hsing, a Chinese martial arts school, was established here in 1938, perhaps the earliest in Canada. Today there’s a store that reflects the changing face of Chinatown; Bombast is a manufacturer of contemporary furniture.
Our photograph dates from 1981, from a collection we have recently been given access to. We look forward to featuring several more from the same source.
Image source: Peter B Clibbon