As far as we know, there are few, if any other pictures of the Vanport Hotel. Our picture doesn’t show the entire building, but enough of it to get an idea of what it looked like. We think this image dates to about 1978, and the hotel was demolished and in 1986 replaced with a 2-storey retail mall designed by W T Leung. That building was in turn replaced last year with a new apartment building for Bosa Blue Sky. Rather than selling off the units, the developers have chosen to rent the building, although these are not protected rental units so they could be sold in future.
The hotel started life in 1911, when Sam Kee and Company obtained a building permit for a $95,000 hotel designed by P J Donohoe and built by R P Forshaw. Sam Kee continued to own and operate the hotel, carrying out repairs in 1915. Sam Kee was a made up name for a company run by Chang Toy. Patrick J Donohoe wasn’t in the city for very long, and has relatively few commissions. He was previously based in Billings, Montana.
When it was built it was known as the Main Hotel; the Vanport name was a later change. In the final years of its existence the bar of the Vanport, while still a working class ‘dive’ bar, became known as one of the few bars where lesbians could meet and drink. A number of infractions of City and liquor rules led to it closing in the mid 1970s. Photographer Rosamond Norbury recalled the hotel in the Daily Xtra “There were maybe three sections to the bar, three large rooms. One room where just regular people would hang out. A room at the back with the pool table where mainly all the dykes hung around… and,” she frowns a little in concentration, ‘I think you had to go down three steps and turn right to go to the bathroom, which you really didn’t want to. I mean, they were scary.”
During the 1950s the building was owned by the Lee’s Benevolent Association. “In 1952, 75 individuals, all having the surname of “LEE”, including 70 of them from Vancouver, and 5 from Victoria, together with the Lee’s Benevolent Association and the Lee’s Benevolent Association of Vancouver, had loaned a total of $85,000.00 to complete the purchase of Vanport Hotel, a 4-storey structure located at the corner of Main St. and Georgia St. in Vancouver. In order to repay the individual loans, a “Hundred-share Club” was formed the following year to solicit funds from all the Lees across Canada. As a result, a total of $80,000.00 was raised from 110 Lees in Vancouver and 75 Lees in other regions, along with the Lee’s Benevolent Association, the Lee’s Benevolent Association of Vancouver, and the Lee’s Association of Montreal.” In 1963, in an effort to expand its real estate holding, the Association bought three stores adjacent to Vanport Hotel for $30,600. In 1986 the Association sold the hotel and the adjacent site for $1,750,000.
The building in this 1943 image has proved difficult to pin down. With help from Patrick Gunn, and some complex photograph comparisons, we’ve finally worked out its history. The main complication was that this block, for no obvious reason, had street addresses that at one time had no logical sequence. When it was given a building permit, this was recorded as 151 (and 155) West Pender, located between 169 and 183 West Pender.
The 1911 permit is to ‘architect’ W J Prout: the owners and builders were shown as Parks and McDonald, and it cost $35,000 to build. “W. J. Pront [sic] 1101 Hornby st., has been awarded the contract for the construction of a 4-story brick store and apartment building to be erected at 155 Pender W., at a cost of $35k, for Parks & McDonald, 641 Jackson. There will be stores on the ground floor and apartments on the three upper floors. Hot water heating and hotel plumbing will be installed. The permit was issued yesterday and plans were prepared by the owners.”
In 1911 William J Prout was a 37 year old lodger living at 1101 Hornby, a contractor who had arrived from England in 1905. He was born in Cornwall in 1874, and married Margaret Warwick, who was a year younger, and clearly hadn’t joined her husband in Vancouver in 1911. By 1921 they had been reunited; Maggie Prout, William Prout and their children Beatrice (23, a telephone operator in a store), Florence (21, a milliner), Williana (18) and Dorothy (12) were living on 24th Avenue. All the children, like their mother, had been born in Ireland, and they had all arrived in 1913. Their 21-year-old son, Herbert was no longer at home – he was born in Belfast, so that was probably where the family had previously been living. Mr Prout wasn’t really a qualified architect, he was a building contractor, but he designed at least seven buildings in the city. Usually he built his own buildings – this is the only example where someone else is listed as builder, but it’s likely that he was really the builder as well.
There were only three people in the city in 1911 with the name Parks – Annie, a widow, Frederick, a labourer and Frederick H, manager of the International Timber Co. This building was for a while known as the Parks Block (although it was shown as The Calumet on the 1912 insurance map, and the Calumet Rooms for a few years in the street directory). The most likely of the three to be the developer, Frederick H Parks lived in an apartment on Nicola Street, was a 32 year old American, as was his 30 year old wife Minna, and they had arrived in Canada in 1907 and 1908. Fred was born in Minnesota, and Minna in New York. A few years later they moved south, to Seattle, and later Los Angeles. The other possible developer is Aubrey Parks, who was listed as a real estate broker in 1912. He was in partnership with Mrs G V Emerson as Parks & Emerson. There would seem to be absolutely no way of telling who Mr. McDonald might be – there were dozens of possible investors with that name in the city in 1911, and no other record that we can find which links a person called Parks with a person called McDonald. However, the fact that the Daily Building Record said Parks & McDonald were based at 641 Jackson Ave means we can narrow it down to J McDonald, who in 1911 is listed as a labourer, (an unlikely occupation for the developer of a $35,000 building) but who was listed as John Macdonald, a grocer, in 1912.
The Calumet was run by Richard S Morrison, and claimed to have ‘Every Modern Convenience’. It was mentioned in the press quite a bit in 1916 when a Mr. Morrison leased a room that was used as a base for ‘vote rigging’ by the Liberal Party in a by-election that year. Paid recruits from Seattle were said to have impersonated thousands of absent servicemen using forged documents, in an extraordinarily complex, expensive (and apparently successful) scheme. In 1918 the Calumet became the Parks Rooms, and in 1919 H A Benjamin was running the establishment. Later it became known as the Parks Hotel.
The hotel use – and we think the building – ended in January 1950. Apparently The Daily Province started using the basement of the building that year, and had 500 tons of newsprint stored in the basement. The fire, once it got a hold, was stubborn and devastating, and created huge amounts of smoke. The image has a note saying “the fire was attended at 1:05 pm and struck out at 5:24 pm, “34 overcome with smoke and 18 were hospitalized.” We were not sure if the building was destroyed, as the Daily Province continued to be identified with the address until the mid 1950s. However, an early 1950s aerial photograph clearly shows a hole here. After 65 or more years as a vacant site, that could soon change as there are plans for a 10-storey non-market housing building to be constructed here.
Image sources: Vancouver Public Library and City of Vancouver Archives CVA 354-134
None of the three buildings shown in this image (probably dating to early 1906) are still standing today. Indeed, we don’t think any of them lasted more than 10 years. We think the original brick building closest to us only stayed up for eight years, and was built in 1903. We’re pretty certain it was designed by W T Whiteway for Sam Kee, the company run by Chang Toy, described as ‘Brick & stone building’ and according to the permit, costing $12,000. The Sam Kee name can be seen on the building, and this is where the company was based for a while. Kwong Fat Yuen Co also had their name on the building; for a short while they operated as labour suppliers, and may have been related to a company of the same name in Shanghai.
The Daily World of June 19, 1903, confirms the building’s planning – with either a typo or price inflation: “Chinatown’s progress; A permit was taken out this morning for a building adjoining the tramway company’s property of Carrall Street for a Chinese firm. Mr. W. T. Whiteway is the architect. The building is to be two stories high and to be built of brick and stone. The cost is to be $13,000”. The building had a third storey added around 1907, but was demolished around 1910 and replaced by the BC Electric Railway Co’s building designed by W M Somervell, completed in 1911. That structure, still standing today as offices and a retail showroom, cost $350,000 and was built by McDonald and Wilson. No doubt Chang Toy made sure he was appropriately compensated for selling his property.
Beyond it to the south was the Chinese Methodist Mission fronting Pender Street. It was designed by Parr and Fee in 1899, and replaced only seven years later (soon after this picture) by the Chinese Freemasons Building constructed in 1906, for the Chee Kung Tong – a ‘secret society’ founded in the middle of the 19th Century by Chinese working in the BC gold fields. The permit, in summer 1906 was to Sing Sam, for a $20,000 3-storey brick and stone structure for stores & warehouse. Dr. Sun Yat Sen is reported to have stayed in the building, probably in 1911, while raising funds for his revolutionary Kuomintang party during his period of exile from China. It appears that the building may also have been mortgaged by the Tong in 1911 to support the revolution. In 1920 the organization changed their name to the Chinese Freemasons, although they are not associated with traditional freemasonry.
The original architect has not been identified; it could have been W T Whiteway who had several commissions in Chinatown. Alterations to the restaurant in the building costing $1,000 were designed by architect S B Birds in 1913; the owner was still Sing Sam. There was also a branch of the Bank of Vancouver on the ground floor. We don’t know a lot about Sam Sing, but we know he was wealthy enough to guarantee the $500 head tax for Fung Ying Quoy, and that he is buried in Mountain View Cemetery. He ran a store in the East Hotel (also designed by Samuel Birds), and in 1907 his business was based at 1 Canton Street, the address for which he received $335 in compensation for damage after that year’s anti-Asian riot.
The building was home to the Pekin Chop Suey House, whose slogan can still be seen today. The facades are all that remain of the original building; they were retained when the rest of the building was demolished in 1975, after a fire, and it was remodeled again in 2006 with architect Joe Wai restoring some of the lost heritage elements, and converting the upper floors to residential use.
Across Pender street was another Sam Kee property. We don’t know when he built this one, or who designed it, but it was 2 storeys, and already shows up on the 1901 insurance map – which was probably when it was built as before that the street directory suggests it was Cleeve Canning & Cold Storage Co and Bradbury & Brown’s stone cutting yard. This building lasted about 10 years, but in 1910 the city expropriated most of the land for road widening, leaving the company with a ‘useless’ (or so the City thought) six foot sliver. Chang Toy wasn’t too hard done by; the Sam Kee firm instructed its lawyer (W A Macdonald K C) to start negotiations for compensation of $70,000 to reach the desired value of $62,ooo. Then Bryan and Gillam were hired to design the $8,000 steel framed building that still stands there today on the shallow lot, completed in 1913, which added additional space under the sidewalk to squeeze in a barber’s store and bath house – but no secret tunnels.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 677-522
There are indications that Downtown Vancouver will soon lose its last gas station, located at Davie and Burrard. There were once dozens of places where you could buy gas on the peninsula – we once counted 99 different locations. Here’s one of those that disappeared (in this case decades ago). We looked at this corner when it was occupied by the Townley family home. It was located here in 1889 but by 1925 it was gone, and soon after a service station appeared on the site, initially run by Thompson and Graham, then in the 1930s by Frith & Lawrey.
In 1949, when this image was shot by Walter E Frost, Tom Hurrell was running the Quadra Service Station. The gas pumps offered Home Gasoline, and there were dozens of Home gas bars across the Lower Mainland, some of them featured in company movies viewable on the City Archives website. In 1949, the company’s advertisement announced it as a BC owned business, (the headquarters were just up Burrard Street), with over 300 locations to buy gas. Founded in 1928, the company lasted until 1978, although the gas stations were run by Imperial Oil after 1976.
Tom Hurrell apparently arrived in the city, and took over the gas bar in 1939. This picture was taken in the final year of its existence. A year later a two storey branch of the Bank of Toronto was here, later home to a branch of the Bank of British Columbia. In 1984 the Waisman Dewar Grout Carter designed building was completed that’s there today, an unusually silver reflective office called Commerce Place (home to the CIBC Bank in town) that reflects a view of the Marine Building that’s across the street. Tom Hurrell went on to run a gas station on Granville Street, and moved to live in West Vancouver.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-389
The New World Hotel (also known as the Tamura Building) was built in 1912, although not completed until a year later, and featured one of Townsend & Townsend’s most exuberant set of added details. By the early 1970s, some of these had been lost, as our ‘before’ image shows. After extensive renovations and restoration funded by BC Housing, those details have recently reappeared. They include the huge and elaborate gabled roof top pediments, that the architects also originally added to a residential block in Mount Pleasant, as well as seven feet high vases.
The Townsends were father and son, (although published biographies suggest they were brothers), probably from Manchester and only in the city from 1909 to 1913. Their client here was Shinkichi Tamura, a Japanese businessman who emigrated, first to Victoria in 1888 aged 25 where he worked for a sulphur producing company who made him their purchasing agent, operating from Hokkaido. He was from a samurai family from Kumamoto, and apprenticed to a textile shop in Osaka at the age of 13. When the sulphur business went bankrupt in 1891 he moved back to Canada, this time to Vancouver. He initially worked in a sawmill, but soon established an import business, shipping (among other things) rice, soybeans, silk and oranges. He added an export element to his business, shipping salmon and lumber back to Japan. He was able to grow his business when he received a $150,000 insurance payment from a shipment of salmon that was lost at sea.
In 1903 Tamura was asked by the Canadian government to help sell Canadian goods to Japan. He advised on the Canadian pavilion at the Osaka exhibition where the star of the show was a bakery producing bread baked from Canadian wheat – a food item little known in the country at the time. Tamura Shokai, his trading company, was the exporter of the wheat to Japan. He was Canada’s first trade commissioner to Japan, and was listed in the 1911 edition of Who’s Who in Western Canada, the only Japanese represented in the publication.
He added banking to his businesses, founding Nikka Chochiku K K, in 1907, looking after the earnings of the Japanese community and arranging transfers of money back to Japan. His business was initially based on Granville Street, rather than in the Japanese community on the east side. That changed after he built the Tamura Building, which housed his businesses downstairs and the World Hotel above.
Tamura had returned to Japan by 1918 – the year he filed a US Patent for the design of an automobile suspension system. He became president of the Kobe Board of Trade, as well as a member of both the Japanese House of Representatives, and the House of Peers. As Baron Tamura he was an important figure in Tokyo in the 1920s. His business continued in Japan and in Vancouver (and Seattle) with family members representing the company. He died in 1936.
Today Tamura House has regained its New World Hotel entrance and is a rehabilitated Single Room Occupancy hotel. Managed by Lookout Emergency Aid Society, it provides 105 units for people who are struggling with issues such as addiction or mental health that put them at risk of homelessness. Thirty five units are for residents in the Tamura House Tenancy Program which offers staff support, such as advocacy and medication dispensing, seven days a week.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives W E Graham CVA 1135-15
When this picture was taken in 1932 it was noted as being a picture of the last locomotive to cross West Hastings Street. It was on the route that angled through the Downtown from Alexander to the freight yards by False Creek. From July 1932 a newly bored tunnel allowed trains to move between Burrard Inlet and False Creek. The tunnel – or much of it – still exists because SkyTrain now runs through it to head to Waterfront from Stadium station. The tunnel was dug a little deeper to allow the SkyTrain tracks to be stacked on top of each other – the tunnel wasn’t wide enough to allow two trains to run side by side.
We’re not trainspotters, so we could be quite wrong, but this looks as if it was Canadian Pacific’s locomotive 232; an old 0-6-0 steam engine that would have probably been used to haul carriages and freight cars over short distances within the city between CP’s various freight yards. In an earlier post we featured one of the bigger locomotives used to haul the passenger trains across country, sitting on the same line, on Alexander Street.
The building on the left of the picture was the Headquarters of the BC Electric Railway Co who ran the tram and interurban system, which by the 1930s was apparently also doing double duty for Westminster Motor Coach. The odd thing is that this appears to be the only reference to an organization of that name. We haven’t found any records for an operation with that name, and it doesn’t appear in any street directories either. W Marwell Somervell designed the building, completed in 1911, and still in use today as a lighting showroom with offices above. (The building permit for the $350,000 project identified him as M Somervell).
One other thing we noted is the sign on the building for “BC Rapid Transit Coaches” We had no idea the term was in use so early – although with a slightly different meaning. In 1930 there was a scheduled coach to Seattle (which went through Sumas) and another to Chilliwack. Fares from Chilliwack to Seattle were $3.50, return $6.00, but to Bellingham only cost $1 ($1.50 return).
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Can N32
Off in the distance, behind the tram in this 1948 image, is the Vogue Theatre. To the south is Parr and Fee’s design for T McWhinnie’s Harvard Rooms which we looked at in an earlier post. (That’s the Siesta Rooms and The Roxy today). Hidden by the tram is 944 Granville Street, probably designed by Thomas Fee as in investment around 1905, with four apartments upstairs numbered as 946 Granville. There were three nondescript single storey retail stores to the south, then another two storey building at 972 Granville, almost identical in design to 944 up the street, and therefore very likely also designed by Thomas Fee. Like that building it had four apartments upstairs, and retail below; in 1948 the Kiddies Arcade and Lynn’s Ladies Apparel. In 1916 it was owned by G D Scott, a real estate broker, who may have been the developer.
There’s a narrow two storey shopfront hidden by the tram, but visible in this c1915 image of the same block. It was yet another Parr and Fee design developed by builder Peter Tardiff, whose history we looked at in connection to the Broughton Apartments he developed in 1912. He was probably born in Quebec as Pierre Tardif. The building at 968 Granville started life as The Family Theatre in 1910, and continued to be listed as such through to 1915. There’s an odd situation in that Irwin Carver & Co made $1,500 alterations to the building 2 months after the initial $25,000 construction permit. Peter Tardiff is still listed as the owner, but Irwin, Carver were the designers and builders – even though Tardiff was a builder himself, and had built the structure. It’s possible that they were hired by the operators of the theatre to carry out fit-out alterations.
The Family Theatre itself is an oddity; there seem to be few records of its existence or operation. It opened in June 1910, and lasted less than 7 years. (The building is behind the octagonal sign advertising Cambie Ice Cream, which is attached to the store to the south). In the year it opened Mrs. Clara B Colby, an American who had lectured in Seattle a week earlier, spoke on “The Spiritual Significance of the Women’s Suffrage Movement in England”. As with a few other theatres on Granville Street, it was also used on a few Sundays to attract larger crowds to religious services, adding an orchestra to the hymn singing. In 1911 it was announced that “The feature for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday Is Pathe’s Animated Gazette. These weekly pictures of the world’s doings, is proving a great attraction at the popular theatre, and deservedly so, for this theatre is the only one in the city that imports the Gazette direct from London, Eng., thus ensuring their patrons the news of the world first hand.” In 1914 we know the theatre was showing movies, because the Manager, Peter Carter, was fined “$10 and costs with the option of ten days in gaol for allowing young boys in moving picture theatres after the curfew hour.”
In January 1917 an advertisement appeared: “BICYCLES AND SUPPLIES GET A MOVE ON. YES. THAT’S WHAT we are doing. We remove Into the old Family Theatre, Granville Street, on Jan. 15. After that date Fred Deeley, The Cycle Man, will occupy the largest and best equipped cycle store In Western Canada.” Fred was born in 1881 in Bromsgrove, England. After 10 years in business in England, he first visited B.C. in 1913, representing Birmingham Small Arms, manufacturer of BSA motorcycles. He moved and in 1914 opened Fred Deeley Ltd. in a 12-foot-wide store at 1075 Granville. In 1916 he acquired a Harley-Davidson franchise, moving to 1126 Granville. He moved to the theatre location a year later, but by 1923 had moved again to Hastings Street, selling BSA, Paragon and Red Bird bicycles as well as Harley Davidson motorcycles. By 1925 he owned a motorcycle shop, bicycle shop, and one of Canada’s larger car dealerships.
The last building on the block dates from 1914, designed by Braunton & Leibert for G B Harris costing $17,000 and built by J Nelson Copp. When it opened Pill Box Drugs were on the corner here; later it was home to Kripps Drugs, who expanded and remodeled the property before moving to Kerrisdale a few years ago. At 990 Jack Stearman had his lock & keys business in the location that in 1915 was a Pool and Cigars store. Two clothing stores took the remainder of the space: Darlings’s Style Shop and Vogue Menswear. G B Harris owned property in the city over many years; he carried out repairs to the Boulder Hotel on Cordova Street in 1901, and had N S Hoffar design a block of stores on Carrall Steet ‘adjoining the old Burrard House’, in 1889. George Berteaux Harris was from Annapolis County, Nova Scotia, although after leaving home he worked in Boston in the US and then on the railway in Panama. He collected and classified birds in Trinidad for three years, working for a Boston ornithologist. He was back in Annopolis in 1881, shipping apples to England and first visited Granville in 1884, returning to his family in Nova Scotia every two years, eventually bringing his wife and children to live in 1895. When he built these stores he was Chairman of the Vancouver Rowing Club. He died in 1936.
Today there are a series of recently developed single storey but double height retail buildings.
Image sources: City of Vancouver Archines CVA 229-15 and SGN 1602 (extract)