Robson and Hornby Street – south east

This image, from May 1965 shows, according to the Archives record, “the Clement Block, Danceland, Crystall Lunch, C.K.N.W. and Black Top Cabs office”. There’s also a bakery, and Triangle Books on the main floor of the two storey and mansard building dating from 1922. It was developed by Herbert S Clements, and designed by A A Cox in two stages; Cameron Construction built the initial $12,000 structure, and then a year later E Cook & Sons carried out another $6,000 of ‘Miscellaneous; Repairs/Alterations; Banquet hall’. Those were by no means the total costs.

A complex legal case from 1927 told the story of the new building. In 1920 W H Sproule, President of the National Mortgage Company, and H S Clements, a director, bought a building on this corner. W G Harvey had owned the building in 1909, and sold it that year to Maxwell, Le Feuvre, Passage and Tomlin for $85,000. There were various mortgages and payments that are far too complex to list here, and Maxwell and Le Feuvre sold their interests, but eventually Passage and Tomlin agreed to sell the site to Mr. Sproule. He had difficulty paying for the building, and Mr. Clements helped him out, and they ended up owning the building with a small mortgage. Mr. Sproule at around the same time moved to Winnipeg leaving Mr. Clements in charge of the decrepit building, which was ordered demolished by the City in 1922. The replacement cost at least $88,000 in total to build, and the land was assessed at $50,000, and in June 1924 he sold the building seen here for $125,000. Mr. Sproule sued to try to get more than his half of the sale proceeds, and a judge awarded him an extra $3,085. Mr Sproule wanted more, and Mr. Clements didn’t think he was entitled even to that amount, so they ended up in the Court of Appeal. The judges sided with Mr. Clements: one of the judges noting “Real estate at the time in question in the City of Vancouver was of very uncertain value and holders thereof were looked upon as speculators. The defendant by the exercise of great skill and judgment was able to, in the end, make a profit by the sale of the land after the erection thereon of a suitable building, and he must be allowed all outgoings in respect thereof; the plaintiff cannot obtain the profits and leave all the losses with the defendant.”

Herbert S Clements had been a Conservative MP, initially in Chatham, Ontario, where he was born, representing West Kent from 1904 until 1908 when he moved to British Columbia. He set up a real estate company with George S Heywood which continued to operate through to the early 1920s. His partner was also from Chatham, where he was still living in 1901. When they were in partnership, they both occupied apartments in the same building, 859 Thurlow. At the same time, from 1911 until 1921 Herbert represented the British Columbia ridings of Comox-Atlin and then Comox-Alberni. His obituary, in 1939, said he retired both from his real estate business and politics more than 15 years before. That would coincide with a court case where Mr. Clements sued John J Coughlin for $5,000 to be paid for helping Mr. Coughlin sell his interest in a government funded drydock in Burrard Inlet. Mr. Clements was involved because of his ‘influence’ in Ottawa, but unlike two other lobbyists, he was never paid.

Herbert Clements was an old-school conservative. While representing Chatham it was noted that he “Strongly advocates more protection for agricultural interests of Canada and believes in equal tariff with U.S. on all national products affecting Canada.” When he stood as a conservative for Comox Atlin in 1911, the local Prince Rupert newspaper, the Daily News described him as a ‘carpet bagger’, and backed the liberal candidate (a local). The Omineca Miner newspaper seemed happier with him, and carpetbagger or not, Mr. Clements was elected. Today his attitude to former eastern Europeans are still remembered, especially Ukrainians, interned during the first war. In March 1919 he said “I say unhesitatingly that every enemy alien who was interned during the war is today just as much an enemy as he was during the war, and I demand of this Government that each and every alien in this dominion should be deported at the earliest opportunity. Cattle ships are good enough for them.”

The new building on the corner was leased out, with the entire second floor going to a dance academy called the Alexandra Ballroom, with the entry on Hornby Street. It had draped windows, a stage, a small lounge and a kitchen. The wooden, sprung dance floor had bags of horsehair laid under the floor, and later, overhead fanning boards were added. All this made for a very classy venue, a rival to The Commodore.

In 1929 a radio station was established on the third floor by Sprott Shaw College. In 1954 radio station CKNW moved into the space, but owner Bill Rea, sold CKNW and took over The Alex, downstairs. He changed the name to Danceland and created a new upbeat venue. Adorned with oversized neon signs, Danceland began to attract some of the big names of the day. Red Robinson recalls the venue playing host to Ike & Tina Turner, The Coasters, Bobby Darin, Roy Orbison and many other R&B and early rock and roll bands. A new owner took over Danceland and continued to promote the venue as a Rock and Roll dance hall. It could accommodate up to 600 people, and coaches sometimes could be seen parked outside having brought dancers up from the USA. It was noted that bouncers did routine patrols looking for booze under the chairs.

The city bought the building for a civic centre that never materialized, and the Province took over and initially cleared the site for a parking lot in 1965. The new Courthouse, designed by Arthur Erickson was built here many years later, although this corner is really part of the site’s extensive landscaping, designed by Cornelia Hahn Oberlander.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-351

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Posted December 12, 2019 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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Northern Electric – Robson Street

In the summer it’s impossible to be sure that this 1928 building is the same as it was in the picture, photographed in this Vancouver Public Library image a year after it was built. Nothing much has changed externally, although it was added to in 1947 with a matching element. To the east (left of the picture) there’s a former gas station that’s been a bar for many years. The architects for the Northern Electric building were McCarter Nairne, with Northern Electric’s Montreal based architect, Joseph Onesime Despatie. The building was basic, but there are a few modest Art Moderne / Classical touches at the entrance.

Northern Electric started life in the mid 1890s as the manufacturing subsidiary of Bell Telephone of Canada. Before they developed here they occupied a building on Water Street. During the 1920s, as well as the core telephone and related business, Northern Electric made kettles, toasters, cigar lighters, electric stoves, and washing machines. The Vancouver buildings were warehouse space, with a showroom, but manufacturing took place elsewhere. The company name was truncated to Nortel many years later, and eventually saw a spectacular bankruptcy in 2009. They had long abandoned this building, which had been purchased in 1958 by the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver for use as their Catholic Centre, containing their offices and the Catholic Men’s Hostel with over 100 beds on the third floor. A new office building was built some years ago on the site of the former St Vincent’s Hospital, and only the hostel occupies the building for now.

In 2018 City Council approved the development of a 29 storey residential tower here. It will sit above the restored facades of the Northern Electric Building, and there will be a hotel in the restored part, on four floors, with an adjacent new six storey building to the east. The oldest part of the heritage warehouse will have a restaurant on the main floor, and there will be a coffee shop in the 1947 addition. The Catholic Hostel is moving initially to St Paul’s Hospital, and will need another new home once that is redeveloped in a few years time.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu N279.2

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Posted December 9, 2019 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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Robson Street west from Hamilton

This undated image was taken, we’re reasonably certain, in the early 1980s. This part of Downtown was in transition: the area had started out in the late 1890s as a residential neighbourhood, complete with churches and corner stores, conveniently located for the original city centre to the north and the new CPR city to the west, emerging around Granville Street. By the 1970s the move to commercial use had been significant, but odd houses still remained, like the one on the left of the picture. It was first shown in a street directory in 1892 when Amelia Vesey moved here, probably with her family. She was recently widowed, born in Nova Scotia and previously married to Joseph Vesey. In 1911 she had moved to live with her son, Charles, an accountant living in the West End.

Just to the right of the billboard is the BC Hydro headquarters, over half a kilometer away and standing tall in a neighbourhood of modest buildings.

The building that helps us date the image is the big, gold, office building in the distance. Designed by Eng and Wright it was completed in 1983. Beyond it, one and a half kilometers away, the Sheraton Landmark hotel occupied a prominent spot on Robson Street. The ‘after’ shot was taken earlier this year (before the street trees were in leaf to hide most of the buildings), but the Landmark was already shorter, on its way to be demolished for a pair of strata and non-market housing towers that will replace the hotel. Between the camera and the Landmark nearly 1,000 residential units have been added – always over a commercial podium of several floors of retail and office. Closest to us is Eight-One-Nine, designed by Rafii Architects for Bosa, and completed in 1998, and next door The Galileo by Hamilton Doyle Associates, completed a year later. There are two more condo towers beyond that, completed in the 2000s.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 800-2945

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Posted December 5, 2019 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

Ormidale Block – West Hastings Street

For decades this building has been wrongly attributed. The architect has never been in doubt; it was G W Grant, a designer with an eccentric architectural style. While many architects attempted to achieve perfect symmetry, Grant was quite happy to throw in a variety of design elements, in this case stacked up on top of each other on one side of the façade. There’s an oriel window on the top floor, over two floors with projecting bay windows, over the elaborate terra cotta entrance, with an arched doorway.

The Heritage Designation of the buildings says: “Built in 1900 by architect George W. Grant for R. W. Ormidale, the building housed the offices of several wholesale importers.” With a carved terracotta plaque saying “Ormidale RW 1900” above the oriel window, it seems an appropriate attribution, although quite who R W Ormidale might be was never made clear. There are no records of anybody in the city with that name, (or indeed, in Canada).

An entry in the Contract Record, and an illustration in the 1900 publication ‘Vancouver Architecturally’ solve the mystery. The brochure, which was a promotional booklet put together by several of the city’s architects, shows a sketch of the building, but identifies it as the ‘Walker Block’. In 1899 the Contract Record announced “G. W. Grant, architect, is preparing plans for a four-storey block, 48×120 feet, to be built on Hastings street by R. Walker.”

This confirms that the developer was a Mr. R Walker – hence the ‘R W’. A 1900 court case clarifies that the developer was Robert Walker. Mr. Walker signed off on a payment owed to a builder in G W Grant’s office, for the ‘Robert Walker Block’. There was a Robert Walker resident in the city, He had arrived around 1890, with his wife Susan. He was from the Isle of Man, and a carpenter, and she was born in Quebec. They were still in the city in 1901, living at 1921 Westminster Avenue, and he was still a carpenter, and the family had grown to four, with two children at home. He designed and built a house at the same address in 1904 for $650. In 1911 Robert had become Clerk of Works for the City of Vancouver. Home was now called 1921 Main Street, and the house must have been pretty full as the Census registered 22 lodgers, fifteen of them from the Isle of Man. It seemed unlikely that he had the funds to develop this building in 1900 on his carpenter’s wages, but he was the only person with the right name in the street directory.

However, an 1898 list of eligible voters identifies another Vancouver resident – Robert Walker, miner. He was living in the Pullman Hotel. (The list shows there were seven Robert Walkers in BC, including a blacksmith and a missionary). The adjacent building, the Flack Block, was developed in 1899 by another successful miner, so it’s quite possible that the Ormidale Block was developed with the proceeds of the Klondike gold rush, perhaps by someone with Scottish roots (if the Ormidale name is significant). We haven’t been able to confirm that hypothesis, in part because of Robert Gile Walker. While he’s unlikely to be our developer, he was successful in the Klondike. Between 1897 and 1901 he made five trips in search of gold. After his fifth and final exploration in Nome, Alaska, Walker returned to Tacoma, where he married in 1901 and continued to run a successful real estate business.

Our developer may have been Robert Henry Walker, and it’s possible that the Scottish connection was indirect. It may be a coincidence, but in 1885 Robert J Walker, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, lived in a house called ‘Ormidale’, in Leicester, England. A Robert H Walker died in 1912, and was buried in the Masonic Section of Mountain View Cemetery, but we haven’t found anything to confirm he was the developer here..

The façade of the Ormidale block has recently been repaired and returned to its asymmetrical splendour, with a brand new office construction behind. It uses an unusual construction system; a hybrid structure consisting of an innovative wood-concrete composite floor system supported on steel beams and columns. This floor system allows for exposed wood ceilings throughout the office floors, a nod to the heritage aspect of this project, while achieving increased load-carrying capacity and stiffness by compositely connecting the concrete slab to the wood panels. At the back there’s an entirely contemporary skin consisting of rusted corten steel, and there’s also a green rooftop patio. Our top ‘before’ picture was taken in 2004, and the lower only five years ago, when the building was probably in its worst state. The bay windows had been removed many decades ago, although we’re not exactly sure when as the last image we have that shows them is from 1941.

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Posted December 2, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, East End

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118 Robson Street

This gas station, on the corner of Robson and Beatty, was developed in 1922 by Imperial Oil Ltd. It cost them $8,000 for Dominion Construction to build it, and Townley and Matheson designed it. We suspect that underneath the changes that have seen the building converted to a bar, the bones of the structure are nearly 100 years old. It almost certainly won’t make it to a century, as the site has been approved for redevelopment (along with the Catholic Charities building to the west, which started life as Northern Electric’s factory). The gas station part of the site will become a new boutique hotel, along with the heritage building, and there’s a condo tower as well.

This Vancouver Public Library picture shows the site in 1941, when it was addressed as 110 Robson and known as the Connaught Service Station – initially it was Imperial Oil station No.7. In 1941 it was run by T McMurdo and M Beaton, who had adopted the name when they took over from Imperial around 1935. They were still running the business in 1947 when “Thieves smashed a window to gain entry into the Connaught Service Station, 110 Robson some time during the night but fled empty-handed. Cupboards and drawers were rifled, but the safe was untouched”. The building was rebuilt as a bar – presumably when the service station use was abandoned – in 1979.

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Posted November 28, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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Helmcken and Richards Street – south-east corner

In 1981 this was yet another Downtown gas station. The first development here were a row of four houses facing Helmcken. They were duplexes, as there were eight street addresses. They first appear in 1907, and they were probably rental homes as only two of the named occupants are the same in 1909, and they had all changed again by 1911. The houses were still standing in 1951, but the following year The Eveready Tire and Motor garage was here. It was run by Roy Ellis, Doug Rolls and Fred Macey. Doug Rolls was born in Hedley, but came to Vancouver at 16 where he started work at a Granville Street service station. During World War II he worked at Boeing, where he rose to the position of Superintendent building aircraft that included the B17 ‘Flying Fortress’, and after the war he built houses in Vancouver, before setting up the garage.

The garage use, which included a Shell gas bar, only lasted a few decades. In 1995 one of the earlier Downtown South residential towers was completed here. Designed by Raymond Y Ching and Associates for Diamond Robinson, the Robinson Tower has 124 apartments in 17 floors, with some retail on the main floor.,

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E08.23

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Posted November 25, 2019 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

Robson Street – 1100 block, south side (2)

Here’s another example of early houses on Robson Street transformed into a retail space. As with our previous post, this is the 1100 block, and here we’re midblock. The two storey replacement that has had CinCin Italian restaurant upstairs since 1990, was supposedly completed in 1974, and the ‘before’ photograph is dated from May 1974. Presumably there was construction soon after the picture was taken, but there were further major changes in 1985, which is when we suspect the restaurant space may have been remodeled.

By the mid 1900s the house that stood here was 1150 Robson (today it’s numbered as 1156). It was built around 1900, but the numbering in the early 1900s was completely confused (as they were not in numerical sequence) We’re pretty certain J T Wilband, a mechanic lived here from its completion, and was still here in 1906 when he was described as a contractor – so it’s possible he built the house himself, or had help in doing so. John Thaddeus Wilband was from New Brunswick, aged 38 in 1901 and married to Florence, four years younger. They had six children at home; their four sons each had unusual names; Burns, Hesson, Bellamy and Seward. (The girls probably had an easier time at school as they were Laura and Jennie). Three other siblings had died before they reached one year old. The youngest three children, starting from 12-year-old Hesson had been born in BC, the older three in New Brunswick. There were several other New Brunswick-born Wilbands in the city, including Simon, a carpenter (who we think was John’s brother) Charles and Ernest (both brothers – Ernest ran a successful sheet metal works on Richards Street) and Valentine (their father). When the 1911 census came round, the Wilband family had moved elsewhere in the city. John was living on Landsdowne Avenue, and Burns had his own home, and was a plumber. John Wilband died in 1937.

In 1910 the street directory showed Albert Lloyd, a teacher, living here, and in 1911 it was Frederick McPhail, a conductor on the BC Electric Railway. The 1911 census shows how quickly tenants moved, as neither of these were listed; instead it was Signor L S Auria, from Naples, and his daughter, Margerita who were living here, although they stayed in the city for such a short period that they were never recorded in a street directory. By 1955 the house was used as a rooming house, run by Mrs. F Hingston, with the Esquire Shop selling tobacco and Progressive Sales smoker’s supplies.

It’s an unusually long block, and it’s interesting to see that underneath the ‘Will Build to Suit’ notice was an access back to the lane. In 1974 there was an aquarium and pet shop, Noah’s Ark. The single storey retail building to the east (on the left) appears to have been constructed in 1921 at a cost of only $1,500 by Taylor Construction for D Murray. In 1974 it was home to Peacock’s Children’s Wear, and Oriental Marble House – ‘imports’.

One significant change in the past 40 years is the switch in emphasis of the stores, from generally local-serving to shops serving a much wider catchment. The small single storey building to the west, the Dory Shop, was selling quality used clothing in 1974, and Sketchers footwear today. It was built in 1957, and the Esquire shop had moved here, selling Gauloises cigarettes, was part of the same building, although today it has a more prominent façade, and is another shoestore. There was another house at the back of that lot too, in 1974. The house numbered initially as 1154 Robson no longer exists, as the building has also had major changes in the past 45 years. It seems to have been built around 1907, with Margaret Hyslop living here in 1908 and Coralina Chapman in 1909, clarified to Cornelia in 1910. She had moved by 1912, but fortunately was included in the 1911 census which tells us she was from Ontario, aged 55, and a widow. It’s hard to tell how big the house was, but it was full. Her sister, and niece, Ida and Ruth Purdy lived with her, as well as seven lodgers. It was still standing in 1955; Andrew Nesmith, a janitor in the Metropolitan Building lived here, as well as Ken Willoughby, (married to Lillian) who was managed of Photo Arts who occupied the retail unit on the street, where they specialized in portraits.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-343

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Posted November 21, 2019 by ChangingCity in Gone, West End

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