There’s a complicated back story to this rather unassuming building on Burrard Street. As far as we can tell, the foundations for the site were laid in 1912, just as one of the city’s major development booms was starting to run out of steam. The Ramsay Hotel Co had a permit for this corner of Burrard and Melville Street for a 10 storey $520,000 hotel. The architect on the permit was identified as N A Leach. In fact he was Norman Leech, and he was the architect for the Vancouver School Board. The city’s clerk – probably accidentally – spelled his name correctly once, and wrongly on the other 27 permits he applied for.
It seems odd that Mr Leech would have time to design such a large commission with so many schools to develop across the rapidly expanding city. The explanation is probably contained in another announcement about the Ramsay Hotel – this one in The Province. Here the location is described as Burrard and Dunsmuir, and the architects are identified as Seattle based Quandt & Creutzer. So Mr Leech’s job was probably to supervise the processing of the permit and perhaps the day-to-day site supervision.
The Daily World reported on December 11th 1912 that the Liquor Licencing Board “was notified of the commencement of the Ramsay Hotel on Burrard street, at the corner of Melville, and received the assurance of both Mr. Ramsay and his architect that the work would be continued, until the building was completed. At a recent meeting the board asked for this assurance as it granted a license to Mr. Ramsay on the undertaking that his hotel would soon be completed” – and the 1912 insurance map confirms that the foundations were laid. However, not only was this bad timing from the point of view of the economy – it wasn’t the best time in competition terms either – the massive new Hotel Vancouver was being built just a couple of blocks away, and costing an even more enormous amount. Then the economy hit a full-on recession, and there was a war declared. We can see the first couple of floors of building in the 1914 panorama above – but nobody seems to be on site, building.
Nothing appears in the Street Directories for this block for several years. The 1923 picture looking north down Burrard Street shows why – some of the frame is still there, increasingly stained, but clearly still standing. Very few changes have occurred on Burrard either – the city’s economy struggled for several years after the war was over.
Then in 1926 this photograph was shot, showing ‘construction at Burrard and Dunsmuir’. We’re pretty certain that what it actually shows is demolition rather than construction – the northern part of the unbuilt Ramsay Hotel was being cleared, but it looks as if the frame to the south might have been retained, and we’re suggesting that it might have been re-used in the construction of the lower part of the building on the corner of Melville and Burrard as an auto accessory warehouse for McKenzie, White and Dunsmuir Ltd in 1927, designed by by J Y McCarter. (Demolition was undoubtedly a riskier business in those days, if this detail from the image is anything to go by.
In 1938 the British Columbia Government attempted to collect tax from Firestone, the tire company, for sales of their tires made by McKenzie, White and Dunsmuir as distributors (representing about a quarter of McKenzie’s business). The case ended up passing up through the hierarchy of courts, and eventually government lost the case heard by the Supreme Court in 1942. The Archives have some excellent images of the company’s activities, including a woman working on a crankshaft in 1944.
Next door a new building was completed for Clark Parsons Buick Ltd. We think that could be a1928 building designed by W M Dodd for Motor Securities Ltd. Not too much later they were taken over by Bowell McDonald – a Pontiac, Chevrolet and Buick dealership who became better known later in a foreshortened version – Bow-Mac.
Image sources: Vancouver Public Library, City of Vancouver Archives PAN N218, Str N180 and CVA 1399-544
It’s really hard to believe these two images are nearly 30 years apart. The shot on the left was taken in 1986, when Park Place – the tower in the middle – was less than two years old. Designed by Musson, Cattell Mackey it was the first building to get additional density (from Christ Church next door) in exchange for heritage retention of the cathedral. Our book, The Changing City, notes that there’s an office building in Houston that Park Place referenced, and describes the building’s Spanish pink granite and “copper-rose” reflective windows creating an interesting reflective surface and cutting a distinctive profile on the skyline. Our pictures were taken from the plaza of the Bentall Centre – apart from somebody shuffling the benches it looks the same (and as good) now as it did then.
The darker, squarer building on the right was brand new in 1986 – the crane was still up and the roof is still being glazed. At the time it was going to become the new home for the Bank of British Columbia (and initially called Tower 885) but it would soon be taken over by the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. It was designed by Webb Zerafa Menkes Housden Partnership, based in Toronto.
The biggest changes that can be seen are probably that one building has gone, and three have appeared. On the far left, on the corner of Burrard and Dunsmuir, the previous version of the YWCA building was far bigger than the Cactus Club and plaza that are there today. Behind it 777 Dunsmuir can just be seen, a later phase of the Pacific Centre Mall. Behind the Hong Kong Bank is the recently completed Residences at Hotel Georgia, a 48 storey mixed-use tower. Over on the far right Cathedral Place, a 1992 office building has been built. The smaller associated gallery museum (now the Bill Reid Gallery). In 1986 the Georgia Medical-Dental building was on that site, but just out of the shot, demolished in 1989. The other obvious change is 28 years of tree growth, especially apparent on the area around the Burrard SkyTrain Station (now called Art Phillips Park).
In the very early 1900s C F Mills, and two years later Mills and Williamson, obtained permits for a pair of houses on the corner of Burrard and Davie, which were clearly shown on the 1912 insurance maps. Mrs Alice Lyon built a house in 1901 on the third lot south at 1212 Burrard.
Over time Burrard Street shifted from a quiet tree-lined residential street to part of the Downtown’s commercial area. This corner was redeveloped around 1928 to reflect the city’s expanding connections to the movie industry. The Vancouver Public Library title for this image says it was the Vancouver Motion Pictures Ltd. That company was incorporated in 1928 by R.E. Bourne, Charles McKenzie and Harry Rosenbaum. It was operated by Leon Shelly of Shelly Films Ltd. and an important early independent production company of documentary industrial films. Some films were produced on contract for the National Film Board of Canada.
However, there were a whole series of other movie companies based in the building – a virtual who’s who of movie making. Canadian Educational Films, Limited, Canadian Universal Film Company, Famous-Lasky Film Service, Limited and F.B.O. Pictures Corporation of Canada, Limited were all listed here, as well as Regal Films Ltd, Warner Bros Pictures, RKO Distribution Corp of Canada, Fox Film Corporation and United Artists.
We haven’t discovered the architect of this building – like many in the late twenties and early 1930s it had design references to Mission revival style – even more popular (and appropriate) in California. We haven’t identified the architect of the 1978 office building that replaced it either. Sold in 2009 for $19m to Hong Kong World Holdings, the building is full of doctors and dentists with increasingly hi-tech gadgetry that added together might be worth more than the building.
We’ve featured both of the buildings in this picture already. On the left is Max Downing’s retail building for the Hudson’s Bay Company from 1933, and on the right is the St Regis Hotel. Leon Melekov, a successful businessman, hired W T Whiteway to design the hotel which opened in 1913. This 1974 image shows that neither building looked as good 40 years ago as they do today. The Archives identify the two businesses on the left as Salon George and Rae-Son Shoe Rack. The Salon was offering $2.95 haircuts.
The hotel was given an extensive $12m makeover, reopening in 2008 after an expensive new underground connection was built to allow disabled access for the SkyTrain station nearby. This was the community amenity contribution that allowed the residential tower that now fills in the sky behind the two buildings: The Hudson (on Granville Street). The Gotham steakhouse was renovated earlier by the same owner.
When it first opened the St Regis initially operated as a business hotel. Later it was where visiting sportsmen often chose to stay, and by the time this picture was taken it had moved further down market with a strip show – one of around thirty in the city at that time – and in the final years before renovation it featured Jester’s Grill and Tap Room.
Image source City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-420
Today this is half of the Gotham Steakhouse (now numbered as 615 Seymour), a single storey protected heritage building next to the St Regis Hotel. In 1943 in this Vancouver Public Library image it was home to Brooks Corning, an office furniture company who have been in business in the city for over a century. This was their store when the building was just 10 years old. We’ve seen a series of buildings in the Art Deco style by Townley and Matheson – but this is by a different architect, Max Downing. He worked in the city from 1910, and in 1933 he was hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company to design this project – (the Bay’s main building is just up the street on the same block).
The building used cast in place concrete with either terra-cotta or cast concrete patterned detailing below a crenellated concrete cornice. From 1936, the same year that Brooks Corning moved in, the other half of the building was occupied by the Deutschland Café. For obvious reasons that business did not continue in the 1940s, and when this picture was taken the occupant of the other half of the building was ‘The Academy of Useful Arts’. Those are almost certainly dress forms for tailoring in the window.
The Deutschland Café had been on Robson Street in 1934, and the earliest tenants of this building appear to have been B A Rhodes selling sporting goods and Lewis and Sills selling hardware in the right hand store, while Dale’s Doggie Headquarters shared premises with the Empire Garden Nurseries in this half of the building – although the doggies only lasted a year, and the plants only another year after that.
We saw the Boulder Hotel, and told some of its story, in a post over two years ago. Here are two more images of the Boulder, one from 1890 (when the Fripp Brothers design was very new) and a more detailed one from the early 1900s. In both the building was only two storeys high; it had another floor added, but we weren’t sure exactly when (somewhere between 1907 and 1920 from the available pictures – the building’s heritage statement says before 1910, but we haven’t been able to confirm that, although there is a 1911 panorama that suggests it’s probably true). There were more alerations in 1916 when the hotel became home to the Royal Bank of Canada. Purdy and Henderson were designers of the conversion as well as contractors, and the work cost $10,000, so was a substantial piece of construction.
The Boulder was built in 1890, and before the fire (and from as early as the 1870s) Angus Fraser’s house were here, but as we saw in another post there was a wooden building that lasted less than four years on this spot.
Major Matthews records the experience of George Walkem in 1898 going to “that restaurant on Cordova Street run by Boehlofsky” which he identifies as the Boulder Salon on the corner. In fact it was the Boulder restaurant at 7 Cordova Street – the hotel was run by Arthur A Langley with W D Haywood in the mid 1890s until 1901, the year that G B Harris carried out $700 of alterations. Later that year W McNeish of the Columbia House in Golden took over. Boehlofsky moved on to the International Hotel before 1900. Mr Walkem recalled that “As I went in there was a waitress at the door with a napkin over her arm, and I asked her where I could find the proprietor, and she pointed to a man. I went up to him, told him I was without money, wanted something to eat, but I suppose he had dozens of such applicants and he did not grant my request. So as I was going out, dejected, the waitress at the door said to me, ‘What did Father say,’ so I told her. She replied, ‘You go and sit down there at that table,’ and I did, and she brought me as fine a meal as one could wish for, and after that she took one of those tickets for 21 meals and punched it for one meal and gave it to me.”
In the 1890s the restaurant occupied the western half of the building; the saloon and hotel were on the corner (and the upper floors). The restaurant advertised in 1900 that it was open day and night. Most recently it has been the Boneta restaurant, the No. 1 Noodle House, and briefly a pop-up version of Save-On-Meats while it was being renovated. Now it’s waiting a residential conversion upstairs that will see the SRO rooms (long closed) replaced by eight market rental units.
Image Sources, City of Vancouver Archives Str 349.1 and SGN 36
We saw this building as the city’s second First Baptist Church in the previous post. Here it is in 1940, in a different role. The Baptists moved on to new premises in 1911, but the church building wasn’t demolished. It became Hamilton Hall, without the church spire, and was finally demolished in 1941.
During the economic depression in the 1930s it was used as a relief office to provide limited support to the city’s unemployed. In 1936 it was reported by the RCMP that “Approximately 300 single unemployed men invaded the relief offices at Hamilton Hall, Vancouver, B.C., at 10:00 a.m. on 13th October demanding relief. They forced through the doors striking a policeman on guard there, proceeded to break up furniture and barricaded themselves for 35 minutes until police reserves, using tear-gas bombs, forced them from the building. Sixty-three arrests were made after the clash with the police, bringing the total number of arrests made recently up to 110. Forty-seven other men were previously arrested on charges of obstructing the police. A number of those arrested as a result of the clash at Hamilton Relief Office have been charged with rioting.” (sourced from PastTense).
As we noted before the Vancouver Playhouse now occupies the site, a competition-winning design by Affleck, Desbarates, Dimakopoulos, Leibenshold, Michaud and Sise and completed in 1959.