Remarkably, in a city that likes to reinvent itself (or at least its buildings) on a regular cycle, these single storey retail stores have sat on the corner of Robson and Burrard for over a century. They were built in 1911 by builders Allen & Jones at a cost of $9,500 for C N Davidson, and designed by Parr and Fee. A year later the same owner hired Braunton & Leibert to design a much more expensive proposition, the $132,000 stores and apartments called Irwinton Court, behind the stores. Those are still there today as well.
In 1890 jewellers Davidson Brothers had a store on Yates Street in Victoria, and another in Vancouver on Cordova, which had opened in 1888. We know the brothers were previously in business ‘in the east’ because Dr Guthrie managed to borrow money (with insufficient funds to cover the loan) on the basis of earlier acquaintance.
In 1891 C N Davidson is listed in the census record as a jeweller aged 32, and his family are living in Vancouver with 1-year-old daughter, Elaine, his wife’s mother, Frances Haskett and their domestic, Maggie Johnson. Mr Davidson’s father was shown as an American, although he was born in Ontario (apparently in Guelph). His wife’s family were from Quebec; (it looks as if she was born in Montreal but had moved to Ontario before she was 14). The street directory had his home on the corner of Seymour and Georgia
In 1894 the Provincial Building and Loan Association formed a local board in Vancouver, with C N Davidson as president. That year saw the family living at 731 Burrard, seen in this 1898 picture. In 1896 he was on the board of the Vancouver, Victoria and Eastern Railway along with William Templeton and other leading members of the Board of Trade. Unlike many of the proposed railways of the day, this one was actually built, and eventually became a subsidiary of the Great Northern.
As we have seen with a number of other pioneer developers, Mr Davidson did not limit his interests to his main profession. In 1897 he was involved in gold mine prospecting. He and his brother, A A Davidson (who ran the Victoria jewellery store) were two of the four owners of a $250,000 mining company, Winchester Gold Mines of Fairview, Victoria, formed to purchase the Winchester claim in Yale. The same year they were also partners in the $250,000 Shamrock Mining Co with the intent of taking over the Shamrock claim in Osoyoos. Cicero was also briefly a defendant in a case against the Orphan Boy Gold Mining Company on McCulloch Creek where the owners (including C N Davidson) were accused of defrauding shareholders. While his brother seems to have maintained active involvement in the region, there’s no mention of Cicero retaining an interest.
In 1899 Mr Davidson was severely hurt in a fall from a ladder at his home, but obviously recovered. In the 1901 census Cicero and Cecilia have a son Freeman, younger son Irwin N, her mother Fanny Haskell and their domestic Stella Struthers. In this census Cicero’s family background is Scotch, and his wife’s Irish.
In 1911 the family are living at 779 Burrard (a renumbering of 731), Cicero and Cecilia are both aged 52, their sons Freeman and Norman (aged 18 and 14), his wife’s mother, Frances Haskett and their domestic, Rachel Cullen. The development of their home into the Irwinton Apartments must have taken place in 1913 – by 1914 all but one of the 54 suites is occupied. The family have moved to 1609 Harwood. Freeman appears to have fought in the First World War, but after that we have not been able to identify him. Cicero was living in retirement on Dunbar Street in 1926 (when this picture of his developments was taken), and was still living there in 1940. At this point his wife was Rose E Davidson.
In 1981 Irwinton Court was restored by architects Lort and Lort and strata titled.
Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-1522
In 1912 Brown and Howey hired Braunton and Leibert to design a $50,000 5-storey brick apartment building for 148-156 Alexander Street. The builders were to be Egdell & Dixon. Seven months later the same owners and architects proposed a $16,000 two-storey brick warehouse. In fact, we think both buildings were completed - Brown and Howey’s feed warehouse was the two storey building on the right of the picture - the five storey building was entirely different.
Brown and Howey were William R Brown and Wesley Howey. Both apparently managed to evade the 1911 census, but fortunately Wesley was in Vancouver in 1901, so we know he was born in Ontario in 1868 with a father who had emigrated from Kilkenny in Ireland and a mother from Quebec. He was one of eleven children who scattered around North America. His sister Rebecca was in Minnesota, their older sister Margaret in Medicine Hat, Alberta, one brother in Brandon, Manitoba, another in Edmonton and his younger brother Dr Richard Howey in Toronto. His older brother George was a placer miner in Alaska who died in the shipwreck of the CPR Princess Sophia in 1918 . Wesley was described as a flour and feed merchant in 1901, staying as a lodger with William and Julia Soames and their family.
We despaired of chasing down William Brown – mainly because in 1911 there were 20 people in Vancouver whose parents thought William would be a fine name for their son. We know he was living on Davie Street, and fortunately in 1901 there were only ten William Browns in town, and so we know that he was born in New Brunswick, as was his wife, Jane, and his family background was Scottish.
The company only operated in their building for a few years. Next door the 5 storey apartment was altogether different. it was the Vancouver Rescue Mission, operated by the B.C. Protective Association. The heritage description notes “Designed to house 300 men per night, the Mission had a kitchen and dining hall. There were nightly gospel meetings. The charity offered by the mission was aimed at ‘neglected men’ – the working poor and the ‘derelict’ unemployed. The men who could afford to, paid for their accommodation, while those who could not paid with tickets issued by the City’s welfare department. The men were encouraged to try to find work through the Mission’s employment bureau and to help pay for their keep by working in the Mission’s scavenging business.”
By 1922 Gordon and Belyea were in the building as the base of their wholesale hardware supply company, and by 1949 when our VPL image was taken it was the warehouse for Army and Navy Stores. In 1982 it returned to residential use with just 16 apartments over commercial space (with an added sixth floor) designed by Tor Skjelvic in one of the earliest warehouse conversions in Gastown.
We’ve seen 1090 Granville before, off in the distance on the 1000 block of Granville Street. It was designed by Braunton and Leibert for James Borland, who started small, as an Ontario born plasterer, building two houses (still standing) in Strathcona in 1892. By 1901 he was identified in the census as a contractor and he had built a two storey commercial building on Westminster Avenue (also still standing, although much altered). He was living with his wife Sarah and children Alfred and Stanley. In 1902 Borland and Brown hired Parr and Fee to design a building on Hastings Street (which can be seen here), built by Baynes and Horie next door to BC Collateral. In 1904 he had a court fight to acquire a site from Joseph Coote – the site being wrongly identified on the receipt. He won, and acquired the site where the Dawson Building would be erected for $20,000. In 1911 he was mis-identified as Barland but was living with his wife, children and now a daughter, Gladys, and their Chinese domestic Chufat at 1934 Nelson Street (close to Stanley Park, in a rather well to do area of town).
In 1912 he really pushed the boat out, hiring Bedford Davidson to build Parr and Fee’s design for the Maple Hotel (now the Washington Hotel) at a cost of $80,000, and also this Granville Street building designed by Braunton and Leibert which cost $55,000. We don’t often see how much the land cost, so it’s interesting to see it cost twice as much as the building cost to construct. Although built as retail space with rooms above, by 1920 the only occupant was the Standard Furniture Co. By 1933 when this picture was taken it had become the T Maher Furniture Co, who were still there in 1939, but gone in 1940. Today the building still has retail at the base, but it has returned to its intended residential use on the upper floors and since 1991 the McLaren Housing Society has provided low cost, supportive housing for persons with HIV & AIDS.
For a prominent building we’ve been able to get very little information on the Stratford Hotel – or Hotel Stratford as is seems to have been called in 1912 when it was built. By 1972 when this image was taken in was no longer the classy joint that it had been when it was first opened with 200 rooms. The architects were Branton and Leibert (at least for the building permit, although the trade announcement only identified Hugh Braunton) and their client was listed as Mrs Walter Sanford. As the contact address for Mrs Sanford was given as the c/o the Empress Theatre (which was also on Gore at Hastings) which was run by an American actor identified as Walter Sandford, we can presume a minor spelling error somewhere.
During the 50s, 60s and 70s news reports regularly feature the Stratford Hotel for a series of infractions and criminal acts involving both illegal substances and activities. These were interspersed with regular fires – so regular that it’s a testement to the construction quality that the building is still with us. These days the Stratford is called the Fan Tower, and has relatively inexpensive rental rooms. It’s missing its second floor cornice line, but otherwise still looks pretty good for a century old building.
Just as furniture stores seem to end up clustering today on the south end of the Granville Bridge, in the 1920s you could find them on Granville on the other end of the bridge. We’ve looked at this block once already. William Worrall was an Englishman who arrived in the city in around 1912 and by 1924 was an auctioneer on Pender Street. In 1926 he had established a furniture store that could be found at 1058 Granville Street in a 1910 Parr and Fee designed building. Mr Worrall was already doing well – he was living in Shaughnessy Heights. By 1938 the store had moved to the 900 block into the building now occupied by Tom Lee Music.
When the Lion’s Gate Bridge opened Mr Worrall took a full page advertisment in the north shore newspapers pointing out his store was now only 12 minutes away and offered 42,000 sq ft of modern and period furniture on 5 floors. His store was more modest in 1926, as the Princess Rooms were upstairs.
Down the street you can see another furniture store, the Standard Furniture Co whose earlier location was in Gastown on Hastings Street. They occupied one of the few buildings on Granville Street not built by Parr and Fee, in this case a 1913 building for James Borland by Braunton and Leibert. These days the Vogue Hotel and Helmcken House (as they are now known) both have non- market housing on the upper floors.
Three buildings on the top end of Seymour Street, just below Dunsmuir, seen here in 1926. On the left is a Braunton and Leibert designed building built by Hoburg Surges Co for Standard Trust & Industrial for $50,000 in 1913. It’s a wonderfully complex terra-cotta facade that has seen better days, but was preserved when the rest of the building was refitted for Sam the Record Man. Next door is the Arts and Crafts Building. As can be seen, it was built in two stages. The first phase was designed by Thomas Hooper for Evans and Hastings (who were printers), and constructed by Norton Griffiths Steel at a cost of $45,000 in 1911. In 1927 R T Perry was hired to add another three storeys, which he achieved without dramatically altering the building’s style. The architect of the 1920 Railway Club building (in 1926 George H Hewitt & Co) is still a mystery, but the developer was probably Viggo Laursen.