This is the most recent ‘before’ image we’ve posted. We hadn’t even shot it when we started blogging here less than four years (and 500 posts) ago. Despite the relatively short passage of time, the building looks very different. It also evolved quite a bit over the years before our 2012 image, above, as we’ll show in the next few posts.
In 2012 Sears were heading into their final closing sale in Downtown. They had moved into the space occupied by Eaton’s when they acquired that company in 1999 after T Eaton & Co filed for bankruptcy in 1997. An initial attempt at re-launching the Eaton’s brand failed, and the long lease that Sears held on the Pacific Centre property saw them rebrand as Sears, although they didn’t fill all the floors. Sears never seemed to be particularly successful, despite having little lower cost competition Downtown, and eventually Cadillac Fairview, the building’s owner, made them an offer to buy back the remaining period of the lease, and started to plan for a new use for the building. (Sears had previously been the retail tenant in the Harbour Centre, where Eaton’s had also previously been located (before Harbour Centre was developed) when they took over the Spencer’s Department store in 1948).
When Sears closed there were seven floors of store space and a basement. Cadillac Fairview already had a taker for some of that space: Nordstrom’s the Seattle-based retailer wanted to enter the Vancouver market, and wanted a large floorplate space Downtown – but only three floors. Although Cadillac Fairview had considered demolishing the building, the idea of repurposing the steel frame of the 600,000 square foot structure allowed a much faster build-out. Nordstrom’s occupy nearly half the above grade structure. The basement floor has a new access from the street and is a continuation of the underground mall section of Pacific Centre that was completed in 1973. The top four floors had two light-well spaces pushed into the centre of the building and office space created.
The original design was by Cesar Pelli, working at the time for Victor Gruen Associates in Los Angeles (although Gruen had returned to his native Austria when the mall was designed). The local architectural partners were McCarter Nairne and Associates. Pelli’s buildings had simple, dramatic black and white elements. The TD tower (and the slightly later IBM Tower) were clad in very dark brown glass that looked black much of the time. The retail box was clad in white concrete ‘reconstituted stone’ – described a year after completion as showing ‘a predilection for austerity’. It started life at five storeys, but two more were added in the early 1980s. The recent reconfiguration and recladding of the building were designed by James K M Cheng.
The building is now much more open and glazed (with 1,700 new panels of glass), with an attempt to break down the bulk of the box and to reflect the design of other Nordstrom stores that frequently feature cream limestone. Over 91 per cent of the previous building has been re-purposed or recycled – over 6.8-million kilograms of material. The concrete panels were taken to Langley Airport to create roughly 6,000 square metres of new roadway. Other concrete went through a crusher and was ground down to gravel and sand. Gypsum was extracted and reused as new stock and wood went into a chipper and was reused as biofuel.
This solid-looking structure dates back to 1909, and was designed by Hooper and Watkins for Song Mong Lin Co, (a company owned by Mong Wing, a Chinese housewife). It was altered in 1941, when Townley and Matheson refitted it for the Imperial Bank of Canada; Fred Townley had initially designed alterations for the bank here in 1919. These days the 5-storey structure has 70 SRO rooms, but it started life as an office building known as the Loo Building. Mong Wing was married to a very successful Chinese merchant Loo Gee Wing, so her development of the building was almost certainly at his behest. We’ve written a great deal about Loo Gee Wing elsewhere; as far as we can tell he started his business life in San Francisco, moved on to Victoria (where he was said to be the second wealthiest private landowner after the Hudson Bay Company) and then to Vancouver, where he developed extensive business interests including a number of properties.
We think he moved to Vancouver not long before this building was completed: he was still living in Victoria in 1907. This building cost $80,000 to build; the contractors, the National Construction Company, got into financial difficulties, and their subcontractors, Coughlin Brothers, went after the owners to get the $1,700 they were owed. When they tried to get payment, they discovered that the property had changed hands, and Loo Gee Wing was now the owner, and he argued the builders lien didn’t apply to him. The judge in the case was not sympathetic to this view: “The facts are that the defendant Mong Lin, wife of Leo Gee Wing, was the registered owner of the property at the time the contract was entered into by her with the codefendant, and she so continues to the present time. I strongly suspect that the transfer of the property to her husband was a piece of Oriental jugglery perpetuated in order to embarrass lien holders.”
When it opened, the Loo Building had dozens of companies taking space: it’s not a big building, so they must have each occupied modest offices. As well as a number of real estate companies were the Canadian Freight Association, several physicians including Dr Dyer, the Vanvcouver Fiber Co, the Beaver Realty Co and W A Cumyow, the city’s most important Chinese interpreter. Up on the third floor were a chiropodist and a Corsetiere, an optician and an osteopath alongside timber agents and land agents. On the fourth were building contractors Hemphill Bros, the Hardman Hat Co and the Vancouver Financial Corp Ltd along with the Union Express, City Express and Diamond Express. Apart from W A Cumyow they appear to be Anglo businesses in a Chinese-owned office building.
By 1920 the building had become exclusively residential. It had been acquired by the London, British & North America Co, who hired W J Northcott to make alterations. An advertisement in the Daily World announced the change, offering two-room suites, disappearing beds and well furnished modern conveniences for housekeeping; “elevator, respectable, reasonable rates”. It attracted some important people in the city; Basil Pantages, manager of the Pantages theatre lived here; Dr Martin Kroeger, managing director of Vancouver X-Ray Institute lived on the third floor; George S Sellers of the Cedar Cottage Painting Co on the second floor.
By 1935, when Wildred Minto was managing the premises they were known as Abbott Mansions. Just selecting the surnames starting with the first two letters of the alphabet we find James and Harry Almas of the Almas Coal and Refrigerated Fruit Stand lived here; (a unique and unexpected mixture), P J Beaudreault, a carpenter and his wife Deliah, Jake Biket, a waiter and his wife Viola, Alfred Brett, a trucker with the CNR and his wife Kathleen, R J Brooks, an assembler with the Ford Motor Co and Elsie and Mark Butcher – Elsie was a stenographer. Somebody listed as Aug Dandruff lived here too – sadly, we don’t know if they were a hairdresser. F Glen Mitchell lived here with his wife; he was manager of the Piggly Wiggly on Denman Street. There were two waitresses living here, one from the New Good Eats Cafe, and one from the Cairo Cafe. Dr. Henry Powell had his consulting rooms in the building on Abbott Street.
In 1955, the last year we have a street directory for, the Mansions were owned by the Yorkshire Corporation. There were still plenty of working people living here: a glove cutter; Anne Bowes who was cashier at the Pall Mall Café; a fireman; William Cooper, a tailor; a candy packer for Nabob Foods and Magda Curie, a waitress at Eatons. Unlike in earlier years quite a few residents were retired; several of the residents were widows.
By the early 90s the residents were poorer; the building more run-down. Many residents had health problems. Now run by the Central City Foundation, it offers 70 rooms to Downtown Eastside residents in one of the better-run SRO buildings.
Image Source City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1399-37
When it was first built, 773 Seymour Street housed the Lolomi Rooms, furnished rooms managed by J T Smith, which opened in 1913. Designed by H L Stevens & Co (and built by them as well) at an initial cost of $65,000, it was developed by J W McFarland. The first permit was for a four storey concrete frame building; a month later another two storeys were proposed to be added at an additional cost of $30,000. Construction was fast in those days – the first permit was taken in September 1912, the addition in October, and the Province newspaper later that month said “Structure to be finished soon”
Stores and rooms building worth $95,000 to be complete January 1
One of the many features of the six storey reinforced concrete stores and rooms building, being erected on Seymour street near the corner of Robson for Mr. J. W. MacFarland at a cost of $95,000 is that the stores to be situated on the ground floor and in the basement of the building will contain no posts. The upper floors will be supported by the walls and crosswise beams.
Pressed brick, buff in colour and terra cotta of the same shade will be used for facing the building. Hollow tile will be used for the partitions and cement for the floors. The structure will occupy a lot 50 feet by 120 feet.
There are 130 rooms in the building all of which will be fitted up in the most up-to-date manner, including hot and cold water, telephone and steam heat. Another convenience will be gas connected to each room, that light house-keeping may be carried on. To make the building completely fireproof, metal window frames and wire mesh glass will be used in the side and rear windows. An elevator will be installed in the building.
Messrs. H. L. Stevens designed the structure and are erecting it. The building will be complete and ready for occupancy by February 1.
J W McFarland was a city pioneer. He was born in Niagara, Ontario, learned the trade of railway construction building the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts (funded by New York’s ‘Boss’ Tweed), then built railways in both Canada and the US before moving to British Columbia in 1884. He was construction manager for H F Keefer for the Kamloops to Shuswap Lake section of the CPR and in 1885 the Esquimalt Nanaimo Railway at Shawnigan Lake. In 1886 he came to Vancouver and managed the Water Works for George A Keefer, and then the secretary of David Oppenheimer’s Electric Illuminating Company. He was also secretary of the company that built the first wharf, at the foot of Carrall Street – although CPR disputed their right to build it, and after it burned down in an accident the railway took it over. In 1894 he was a founding partner in Mahon McFarland and Mahon, involved in real estate and insurance, until he retired in 1911 and the London & British North America Co took over the company’s interests. Once he ‘retired’ he managed his own portfolio of investments – and the hotel seems to have been his most significant development.
After it was built the property soon changed management style from furnished rooms to hotel – from 1915 to 1928, it was the Hotel Hudson, and then for the next decade the Hudson Hotel. It had a number of resident tenants as well as visitors in the early years. Glen Moffard has this image on his flickr photostream. The Wrigley’s Street Directories for 1927 and 1928 say Mrs Karin Larsen was proprietor of the Hotel Hudson (but entries in the street directory call it the Hudson Hotel. We found only one permanent resident listed in 1927; R J Snow, secretary of the Grolier Society, (for book lovers & graphic arts afficianados). There was a Cigar Stand in the hotel, run by Arthur W W Forbes, and a beer parlour. The hotel manager was James B Keith. In 1929 Mrs. Larsen was still in charge, and still living in the hotel. We assume it was refurbished in 1932, as the Archives have a record of it reopening that year, still owned by J W McFarland, and now identified as the hotel proprietor.
From 1938 it was known as the Ambassador Hotel (and the Hotel Ambassador as well), and here’s a Vancouver Public Library image from 1939 that shows men and women sharing the same lounge to drink beer. It was run by G Anderson and A Harrison that year, and the hotel was advertised as Absolutely Fireproof.
The parlour would be altered during the Second World War as bars were required to erect partitions to prevent contact between unattached men and unescorted women. This was all in aid of the War Effort – to prevent the spread of Venereal Disease (which was apparently entirely due to the behavior of the unescorted women).
Over the years the hotel, as we have seen in many other similar buildings, became more run down. Our image dates from the 1970s. Asim Bhattacharya recalls staying in the hotel in 1978 when he first arrived in the city: “I inspected the $6/day room, which had a musty smell, a bed with a gray cover, matching curtains with a few holes in them, a cracked mirror hung on the wall above a desk. and a cushioned gray chair, the middle of which had sunk down. The wall-to-wall carpet looked worn out with quite a few unsightly stains. The washrooms were along the corridor to be shared with the other occupants of the wing.”
The hotel only lasted a few more years after this. In 1989 Vancouver House, a 16 storey office building designed by Hamilton Doyle with Musson Cattell Mackey was completed here, replacing the Orillia and the Ambassador.
After the Brandon Auto Livery that replaced the First Congregational Church at the corner of Georgia and Richards closed down, there was another building completed in 1938 for the Western Auto Supply Co – with a huge sign on the roof in case you had trouble finding them. Based in Kansas, Western Auto Supply offered Western Giant Tires and Batteries and an array of other products, including ‘Wizard’ brand tools, camping accessories, bicycles and radios – they were a bit like Canadian Tire (who hadn’t expanded this far west in 1938). The Western Giant Silent Grip tire that year was available with either black or white sidewalls – making it “America’s Most Beautiful Tire”.
The Manager / Treasurer of the business changed over the years – C E Hiatt was replaced by W C Walton in 1940, and then in 1946 W L Tollefson. In 1947 it was described as being operated by Macleod’s Ltd, with Mr Tollefson still manager. Now the tires were Crest Deluxe, and Penn Oil had been switched to Supreme Compounded Oil. Western Auto itself was now a division of Gamble-Skogmo Ltd, a retail conglomerate whose Canadian arm was Macleod’s Hardware based in Winnipeg. In 1951 there were new companies in the building. Roneo were selling their office equipment from here, along with three home oil companies; Oil Heat Service, Roswite Oil Heating and York Heat. In 1952 they were briefly joined by the American Automobile Association and the BC Automobile Association. None of the companies lasted here: in 1953 the building was shown as vacant, and in 1954 the address disappears altogether – combined as 520 West Georgia with Vancouver Parking shown as the occupants. That’s because in 1953 a parkade was built here, that lasted until the 2012 replacement with the Telus Garden office building designed by Henriquez Partners for Westbank and Telus.
We have no idea who designed the 1938 building; or for that matter the 1953 parkade.
Image source: Vancouver Public Library
The new Telus Garden office is an unusual building for the city because it’s over 250 feet wide, at the end of a block. That’s because the lane dog-legs into Richards, but this wasn’t always the case – it’s a newly created diversion. The first building on the site was built in 1889 and designed by William Blackmore. It was the First Congregational Church, seen here around 1905 – it stood here for only just over 20 years. The First Congregational Church held its first service on April 28, 1888 in Wilson Hall on the southwest corner of Cordova and Abbott streets. The congregation was officially organized on June 17, 1888. It secured property on the corner of Richards and Georgia streets, with the new church officially opening on December 8, 1889. The congregation split away to form Central Congregational Church over the issue of pacifism, but returned to First Congregational Church in 1903. It sat across the street from St Andrew’s Presbyterian, built only a year later and also designed by William Blackmore, (and from the look of the two buildings he was a keen recycler).
The church authorities bought property at the corner of Thurlow and Pendrell Streets and a new church was opened on November 9, 1912. In 1925, First Congregational Church became part of the United Church of Canada and First Congregational was amalgamated with St. John’s United Church. The 1912 First Congregational Church building was given to the continuing Presbyterian Church.
In the meantime this site had already been cleared, although it previous use seems to have been influential enough that despite barely surviving 20 years, the lane between Seymour and Richards was for a while called Church Street (one of very few named lanes in the city). It looks as if the site stayed empty for several years – there’s nothing shown in the street directories for this location for several years until “Brandon Auto Livery” is listed just after the end of World War One.
That was also a gas station – we don’t have much of an image of it: just a 1930 movie in the Vancouver Archives. It was operated by Home Oil, and it stood here until the mid 1930s, sharing the location later in its existence with ‘U-Drive Ltd’ – one of the earliest car rentals in the city. In the early years of the operation the company was owned by R G Hetherington. In the early 1920s it passed to G A Mathers and C J Hamilton, who was replaced by J H Mills at the end of the 1920s. As far as we can tell the final year of operation was 1937, when it was being run by L Richardson.
Image sources: CVA 677-413 and film MI-99
This set of 1920s stores sat on the corner of Georgia and Seymour until the mid 1970s. The first appearance in a street directory is 1928, when the Georgia units were first occupied by: 550 Grouse Mtn Highway, 556 Van the Tailor, 560 Waverly Barber Shop, 570 Surety Finance, 580 Sandwich Shop, 590 Goodyear Shoe Reprg and 596 Van Publicity Bureau. This image dates from 1973, not too long before the buildings were cleared. There are very few online sources of information for the 1920s for the city, and it is difficult to identify architects unless there’s a distinctive style.
Like the car dealers on West Georgia and the Film Centre on Burrard (by H H Gillingham) this building added mission-style details to the facades. Thanks to Patrick Gunn we’re now able to confirm that Gillingham was the architect for owners Allen & Boultbee, and the cost was $45,000. The insurance map shows that the retail units, and the Publicity Office on the corner were a thin veneer with most of the block taken up with the Strand Garage at the back of the building. These 1927 and 1937 Vancouver Public Library image shows that the building really didn’t change much before it was replaced with the building below.
We looked at this same corner in an earlier post where an even earlier building than those shown here are featured. Before the 1920s building there was a row of tenements, built around 1901 and owned in 1915 by George Trorey. In the mid 1970s (see here in 1981) there was a new low-rise commercial building added as part of the huge BC Tel Seymour building, with a sunken plaza and a White Spot restaurant. That building was demolished in 2012 for the new Telus Garden office building that has just been completed. The White Spot has been replaced with Glowbal, a partly open air restaurant under a huge and complex canopy designed by Henriquez Partners Architects (whose offices will also be here). Lovers of ‘pirate packs’ will be pleased to note that in the meantime White Spot opened two new locations nearby.
Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-366 and CVA 779-E05.36
The Merchant’s Exchange Building was completed in 1923. Designed by Townley and Matheson, it sat on a corner lot (on Hastings and Howe) between two much taller neighbours, the Metropolitan Building to the west and Thomas Hooper’s Pacific Coast Building across the lane to the north. We even know what it looked like inside: the Archives has an interior shot, also from 1923 titled “Men working in office of Vancouver Merchants’ Exchange building at 815 West Hastings Street” – although “Men sitting around in a rather stiff self-conscious manner in office of Vancouver Merchants’ Exchange building at 815 West Hastings Street” might be more accurate. When it opened the Daily World announced that “Grain merchants and other tenants are already moving in, and it is expected the building will be fully occupied in a few days”.
It was purchased a few years after its development by G A Stimpson & Co who subsequently developed the Marine Building. (Although based in Toronto, Stimpson’s vice-president was Joe Hobbs, a man described by Eve Lazarus as the founder of “Hobbs Bros, a ship holding company and front for his smuggling activities” who then “went about converting luxury yachts into rum running vessels” during prohibition. The building stood for around 50 years: in 1975 it was replaced with a modest 9-storey red brick office designed by Eng and Wright. The building was designed with the top floor windows curved to match the Metropolitan Building next door – which was very soon demolished and replaced with the Terminal City Club.
Image Sources: City of Vancouver Archives Bu N67.1 and Bu N67.2