For once we can’t post a current image here. For the 1916 image on the left we would have to be in the tower of the Vancouver Block, looking at the unintended green roof of the Sears portion of Pacific Centre Mall. For the one on the right we think we would have to be up in a room of the third Hotel Vancouver – the one that’s still standing. While there are hundreds of images on the internet taken from the hotel, curiously none seem to be of Sears. Similarly we can only get glimpses of the power house in the past – and only thanks to the fabulous high resolution images just made available on the City of Vancouver Archives website.
What we’re identifying here is the building on the far left, and behind the York Hotel on the right. It’s the power house that was erected in 1912 at a reported cost of $215,000. Almost certainly it’s the building that was described as a factory/warehouse in the $120,000 permit issued to architect W S Painter in 1912. There was a laundry, with a huge chimney, on the site from the 1890s – it’s frequently discretely removed from photographs. It was rebuilt as the hotel was enlarged and altered. A 1913 edition of the Contract Record described the building; “The power house, which supplies both heat and light to practically the whole block, was then erected. The upper portion of the power house is used for laundries, and employees’ quarters. The lower part, containing the boilers and engine room, goes down nearly three storeys underground. There are three immense boilers, capable of using either coal fuel or oil fuel. Oil fuel is being used at the present time. The auxiliary engine room extends from the power house to the motors, hydraulic pumping and refrigerating machinery. Tunnels are run from the engine room and power house containing the pipes for heating and pumping purposes. Opening off from the auxiliary engine room is a large incinerator for the purpose of burning all rubbish. The engine room of the power house is located just below street level and is fitted out with the latest recording instruments, showing the consumption of fuel oil, pressure of steam, thermometers, etc., all working automatically. The power house is finished throughout, both inside and out, with cement.”
As well as supplying power to the hotel, the Vancouver Fire Service used it as a reliable source of power for the Fire Alarm System that was located in a nearby Firehall. “The Fire Alarm Office (FAO), located on the top floor of No. 2 Hall, on Seymour Street, received more than 80 percent of its alarms via telephone through the emergency number, Seymour 89. The system had 318 boxes on thirty-seven box circuits and all alarms came through the fire alarm system and were relayed by the central station operator to the firehall due to respond. The four operators on duty operated two large switchboards, one of which was always recharging. When the operators were alerted by the electric master clock that the board in operation had to begin its recharge cycle, then the changeover to the charged board took place. Power to recharge the batteries on the DC system was supplied by the power plant at the nearby Hotel Vancouver, and should that fail, there was a gas engine-powered generator in reserve.”
Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives: View from Vancouver Block 1916 CVA PAN (extract) York Hotel 1931 CVA 99-3994, West End and Hotel Vancouver 1929 CVA Van Sc N63 (extract)
The history of the redevelopment of the second Hotel Vancouver is surprisingly complicated. The CPR opened the first hotel in 1888. In 1893 the added a new wing known as the Van Horne wing on Granville Street, and then another completed around 1904 on Georgia Street at a cost of $100,000. This was designed with the intent of setting the style of the new, much larger hotel. By 1908 Eric Nicol noted that the Hotel “had 205 rooms, 75 with bath connections – a ratio bordering on hedonism”.
In 1910 the CPR excavated on Howe Street and in early 1911 built Honeyman and Curtis’s Annex. Meanwhile, at the end of 1910 the new CPR architect W S Painter obtained a building permit for $2,000,000 for an ’Addition to hotel’. In January 1912 it was reported that a $1,000,000 14-storey replacement hotel would be built for the CPR. It wouldn’t just fill the Granville and Georgia corner – as the 1917 image above shows it filled the block all the way back to Robson and Howe.
In May under the headline ‘To Start work on CPR Hotel in Fall’ the Contract Record said ‘The latest advices from Montreal by the C P R inVancouver state that the board of directors ot the railway company have approved an appropriation of $1,200,000 for the proposed reconstruction of the Hotel Vancouver, and another $215,000 for the power plant in connection with the hotel The latter building is now in course of erection.
The main hotel building will occupy the site of the hotel office or central section and will be extended south as far as the Opera House lane. It will be at least twelve stories in height, and two additional stories will be added to the Georgia st wing completed about eight years ago.
When completed the hotel, it is said, will have the largest ground floor corridors of any hotel in existence. Construction will be started late this fall as soon us the rush of tourists is over. The plans are now being prepared by Painter & Swale, Metropolitan bldg.’
In October the Daily Building Record reported “Plans were filed with the building inspector yesterday for the proposed rebuilding of the Hotel Vancouver, corner of Georgia and Granville sts, at a cost of $800,000. The structure will be of steel and concrete with terra cotta facings.
The bldg will be heated by steam and all of the partition walls will be fireproof. Hardwood floors are specified also 3 passenger elevators and one for freight. The central portion of the bldg will be 14 storeys in height with wings on either side, the New Orpheum theatre, which is now being erected, being in the nature of a wing to correspond with the railway company’s main hotel bldg. Painter & Swales, Metropolitan bldg. are the architects. A contr has not been let as yet.”
By November 1912 the architects (who had moved offices) were looking for suppliers of the terra cotta and the steel contract was let to J Coughlin at a cost of $200,000. Then everything slowed down. In 1913 reports covered a revised version of the plans “The Canadian Pacific Railway recently deposited plans for four additional storeys to the central portion of the Hotel Vancouver, Vancouver, and for the east wing fronting on Granville street, at an estimated cost of $1,100,000. The estimated outlay on the work of reconstructing the central portion of the hotel, calling for twelve storeys, was $800,000, so that with the addition of the work now proposed, the ultimate cost will not be far short of $2,000,000. According to the plans, the central part of the structure will be sixteen storeys in height, and the east wing will be eleven storeys, with the exception of the centre, midway between Georgia street and the Orpheum theatre. Here a large hall will be situated, for banquet purposes. The entrance to this hall will be 87 feet by 59 feet, and will be from Granville street. The whole structure will be of reinforced concrete and steel construction, faced with pressed brick.” Painter and Swales obtained another permit – this one for $1,100,000, and construction started. The various replacement sections, additions and the extra height were now said to be costing $2,500,000. By the time the project was being built the architect was Francis Swales; like Francis Rattenbury who was the initial choice for the new hotel, W S Painter had abandoned the task.
Even then, everything wasn’t complete. The Granville Street wing was the last to be added, replacing the Van Horne wing, and completed in 1916. The company confirmed that year they would be adding 250 more rooms but not until the war was over. The company said the hotel had already cost $3,000,000 and the addition would cost $750,000 more. That part of the project never happened. Even as it was being planned, a long term future of the project was in doubt. In the meantime, the most remarkable and expensive building that the city had seen was open for business, with fabulous views out to the north shore mountains from the sixteenth storey roof garden and terrace. We’ll return to the story of the hotel’s future in a further post.
Main image source: City of Vancouver Archives, Second Hotel Vancouver CVA 677-969