Archive for December 2011

Horne Block – Cambie Street

James W Horne was a successful land speculator (he founded the Manitoba city of Brandon) who developed a number of buildings in Vancouver, including this 1890 development designed by N S Hoffar at 325 Cambie Street. The block is unusual in having two retail floors behind the cast iron facade, with stairs up and down from the sidewalk.

Among several significant tenants were the Bank of North America (1892), Rand Bros. Real Estate (1896) and G.A. Roedde, bookbinder (1896). In addition, Atlen H. Towle, architect of the First Presbyterian Church (1894) at East Hastings and Gore Avenue, had premises here. Between 1910 and 1925, several publishing and lithography firms had their offices here, no doubt due to the proximity of the Province and Sun newspaper buildings. These days Danny’s Inn has 18 Single Room Occupancy tenants, while the retail space continues to be used on both floors.

Image Source: BC Archives


Posted December 31, 2011 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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West Hastings and Granville – sw corner

These days the corner of Granville and Hastings has the United Kingdom Building which has sat there for over 50 years. Built in 1957 it was designed by Douglas Simpson who previously practiced with Hal Semmens for about 10 years, producing a significant set of quality modernist residential and commercial buildings, especially in the West End and Downtown, including the Main Library in 1957 (just coming to the end of it’s more recent reincarnation as a music superstore).

For over 60 years before that the MacKinnon Building (later known as the Williams Building) occupied the same spot. Designed by W T Dalton for J M MacKinnon, a land and timber broker who had arrived from Scotland in 1885 aged 22 and only 12 years later built the 5-storey stone-faced building, seen here in 1928.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P646.1


Dunsmuir and Granville – se corner

Here’s the south-east corner of Granville and Dunsmuir, which today has a restaurant behind the preserved heritage facade of the former BC Electric Showroom. It was designed by Hodgson and Simmons and completed in 1928 for BC Electric who used the building as a showcase for modern domestic electrical appliances. The design is an interesting combination of modern box, with the windows forming the main attraction, but at the same time includes classical details like the ornate bronze window surrounds and the second floor balconies.  Architectura, who became Stantec Architecture, supervised the 2006 restoration.

The photograph on the left shows the same corner in 1927 – so the new building didn’t replace a one-storey retail kiosk, but a substantial building in its own right. The Browning Block, built by J M Browning was designed by G W Grant and completed in 1894. Browning was on City Council in 1890 with David Oppenheimer as Mayor. He was CPR land commissioner, was described as ‘very Scotch’, and built a house in 1888 where the Royal Centre sits today.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P634


British Canadian Securities Building – 402 West Pender

These day the building is just known by its address, 402 West Pender, and it’s almost exactly as built a century ago, and as seen in this 1918 Vancouver Public Library image. It was completed in 1912 by British Canadian Securities Limited, a successful land investment company (and a subsidiary of the Dominion Trust Company). It was designed by H S Griffith, an English-born architect whose practice was based in Victoria. It’s a sophisticated Chicago influenced building, with a contemporary structural design and classical details. The base is stone, the top is terra cotta, and in between the walls are brick. It’s a reinforced concrete frame, built by Norton-Griffiths Steel Construction Company at a cost of $299,000.

An investment advertisment in a Montreal Newspaper of 1911

An interesting court case from 1917 offers some insight into how projects like this were funded. BC Securities obtained mortgage financing from the Mutual Life Assurance Company, secured by the building itself. After the completion of the building the Dominion Trust Company became tenants for one year, and at the expiration of the lease, bought the building. They then went bankrupt, and the Insurance Company went after them for the building and the safety deposit boxes in the vault. To cut a long set of arguments short, the judge ruled that the 2,800 boxes installed by BC Securities were part of the building, so the Insurance Company got them. But over 300 boxes installed by Dominion Trust a year or so later, placed on top of the rubber floor (which covered the vault’s steel floor) were the property of Dominion Trust, so the insurance company couldn’t have them. Despite this the building was still called the Dominion Trust Building. Today it continues to offer office space in what is now a heritage building.


Rainier Hotel – Carrall and West Cordova

“Go with the crowd – a warm welcome always awaits you at the Rainier Hotel. Where all the Oldtimers meet and strangers feel at home. Look for the Big Friendly Neon Sign”. The 1936 advertising slogan came true again in 2010 with a new Big Friendly Neon Sign, financially supported by the City of Vancouver, being installed on one of the Single Room Occupancy Hotels (in this case for women) purchased and rehabbed by BC Housing, the provincial housing agency.

The Rainier, at the corner of Carrall and Cordova, dates back to 1907 and was designed by Emil Guenther for John Quann, who also owned the Rose Theatre on Hastings Street, and the Balmoral Hotel that was demolished to make way for the Rainier. In 1920 when this image was taken the Hotel was owned by Jack West and the Rainier ran a taxicab fleet and had a cafe, barbers shop and billiard room.  The recent refurb supervised by architect Barry McGinn saw eight layers of paint removed from the brickwork, repointing of the walls and construction of 170 feet of recreated shopfronts.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-1387


Posted December 29, 2011 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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Alexandra Hotel – Water Street

We’re in Maple Tree Square, in Gastown, in 1907 – and in 2011 there’s Gassy Jack’s statue, but in 1907 there’s a spiffy new $45,000 hotel, the Alexandra. Parr and Fee designed it the year before, and it replaced a building less than 20 years old, the Sunnyside Hotel. The Sunnyside was one of the first buildings in Granville – built in 1875 before the town was renamed as Vancouver – and it sat on the water side of Water Street, so mostly on piles over the beach. It was right opposite (Gassy) Jack Deighton’s hostelry.

The original hotel burned with the rest of the city in 1886, but a new structure was quickly built to replace it and given the old name. It’s still listed in 1906, but in 1907 it’s replaced by the ‘Alexandria’ – corrected to Alexandra in subsequent years. Just 11 years later that’s gone too; in 1917 it’s still there – In 1918 the 2-storey extension to the 1911 Swift Meat Packing Company was built.

There’s no record of who designed it, but the 1911 4-storey (later 5-storey) structure to the west was designed by Swift Canadian Co and there’s no reason to suppose they needed anyone else to help design a 2-storey brick-faced box extension. More recently it’s been a restaurant and a furniture store, and is now awaiting a new tenant, but it’s a smaller and meaner building than the hotel that lasted only a few years on the site.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 677-577


Boulder Hotel – 1 West Cordova (1)

The Boulder Hotel is the building that was until recently home to Boneta restaurant. As the 1901 photograph shows, it started life as a 2-storey building in 1890, and later grew another at some point before 1920 and after 1907. The latest picture of a 2-storey version is dated 1907, and it appears in the background of a 1920 picture. It was designed by the Fripp Brothers (Robert and Charles) for American tunnel builder turned real estate mogul A G Ferguson. Unusually for the time it’s a stone masonry construction (on the front) with plain sash windows – it’s faced with sandstone over a granite foundation. We thought for a while that, unusually for Mr Ferguson, it wasn’t called the Ferguson Block (while almost everything else he commissioned apparently was). Then we noticed that on the 1901 Insurance Map it is indeed called the Ferguson Block – Mr Ferguson was nothing if not consistent.

It sits on the corner of Carrall and Cordova, which was one of the prime spots in the early city, and is on the spot Angus Fraser had his house (Fraser was one of the earlier and more successful loggers in the area). Frank Hart, one of the pioneers of the city in a 1934 conversation recalled “There were very high ceilings in the Boulder. They had a fad for high ceilings then, the higher the ceiling the fancier the store; they had a fad for, well, sixteen feet ceilings were common.” 

A 1908 ‘Vancouver Illustrated’ article references the demand for skilled contractors, specifically “David Gibb & Son, whose office is at 1259 Robson street. Mr. Gibb, senior, left Glasgow, Scotland, in 1879, and after spending ten years in New York and Chicago, became a resident of this city in August, 1889. Since that date he has been actively engaged in cut stone contracting”. The Boulder is listed as his, along with Christ church and the Commercial Hotel. The building is getting a makeover at present – plans for a more elaborate addition didn’t pencil out as a logical choice, so the building will probably retain it’s current height.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA LGN 718


Posted December 28, 2011 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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