The Woods Hotel – as it was called when it was built in 1906 – sits on the location of the start a trail that ran through the forest to George Blacks’s slaughter house on the edge of False Creek. (His butchers shop, built on piles over the beach, was on Water Street) That was in the early 1870s. By 1890 the street directory shows a tobacconist, the offices of W A Cumyow, and the store of Zebulon Franks, a Jewish immigrant who ran a general store. By 1901 there were five Chinese owned shops (including Tai Chong & Co, merchants, and Yee Ah and Yick Lung Jin, both tailors). By 1905 some of the businesses had changed, including a barber and butchers, but they were still Chinese. And then in 1906 John Woods and his wife Eliza commissioned the Woods Hotel, designed by W T Whiteway.
The Woods family had lived in Vancouver from at least 1899, living on Hastings Street, and John’s occupation was hotel keeper – although it isn’t clear which one. John (like George Byrnes, who built the Alhambra Hotel) was Australian by birth but had moved to Canada aged four. In 1901 they had a 7 year old daughter, Ermine, John’s brother William and a male domestic servant, James Wishart in the household.
The hotel was well positioned for the BC Electric and the Great Northern train station at Pender and Carrall which opened in 1910, so it catered to travellers rather than residents, describing itself on opening as “Newest and only Modern hotel in B C”. It charged between $2 and $3 a night on American Plan, and the proprietors were Woods, Williams and Woods. Dr Sun Yat Sen stayed at the hotel during at least one of his visits to Vancouver. John doesn’t seem to have been associated with the hotel too long – the family have disappeared from the 1911 census, although Mrs J S Woods is still living on Hastings in 1911 and William Woods is running the hotel – so presumably John died.
In 1927 when the photograph was taken the hotel was still holding its own, but over time as the building aged it became more run down. The corner turret was lost; the travellers became residents, the name was changed several times, eventually being closed as the Portland Hotel when a New Portland Hotel opened on Hastings. Then in 2008 a $12m refurbishment saw the hotel reopen for low income residents, but in a totally restored building rechristened with an earlier name, the Pennsylvania, and a fabulous reproduction neon sign to complete the transformation.