Archive for February 2012

Clarendon Hotel – 928 Main Street

The Clarendon Hotel is still standing, and looking better today than it has for many years – particularly in recent years. John McDade was born to Irish parents in St John, New Brunswick, and started working life as a butcher. He joined a party headed to Vancouver in 1893, aged 24, and joined a group led by a member of the New Brunswick parliament who built a stern wheel boat on False Creek that they piloted to The Yukon, reaching Dawson in 63 days – one of the first two boats to successfully navigate the Yukon River from Vancouver. He mined Bonanza Creek and Dominion Creek, and also owned a half share in a hotel on Bonanza Creek. Selling out his goldfield interests in 1906, he leased and opened the Clarendon Hotel in 1907.

We haven’t been able to identify the architect as the construction was in a period where permit records have been lost. Here’s the 1908 ‘Vancouver Illustrated’ coverage in the year that this VPL image was shot. Visitors, tourists and others seeking first class accommodation for a permanent residence or a temporary sojourn will find at the Clarendon Hotel, 934 Westminster Avenue, very desirable rooms in one of the best locations in the city and amidst the most pleasant surroundings. The hotel is a substantial brick building, is new and strictly modern In every respect, is heated by steam, lighted throughout by electricity, and has all modern conveniences, such as are found in all first class hotels. There are at the present time sixty-five rooms, but four more stories will be added to the building and the number of rooms increased to two hundred in the near future. The furnishings, like the buildings, are also new, the house is kept immaculately clean and In splendid condition, and many apartments are arranged en-suite with private bath. There is a bar, barber shop, pool room and cigar store in connection with the hotel which is operated on the American plan, the dining room being one of the many features of excellence. A free bus meets all trains and boats, transferring passengers without cost, and everything tending to make one’s stay comfortable and homelike is anticipated and provided. P. T. Hartney and J. McDade are the proprietors: both are experienced hotel men, and are popular with the traveling public and our citizens and visitors, tourists and others who make their sojourn at the Clarendon can but carry to their homes most pleasant remembrances of Canada’s Terminal City.

McDade sold out to Fox and Dickson in 1910, and opened the Cecil on Granville Street (demolished last year) which he sold a year later. He bought and sold land at a profit in Richmond, buying the Bodega Hotel on Carrall Street with the proceeds, and then selling it to buy a stock ranch in Chilliwack, breeding heavy horse and harness horses for racing.

Over the years the Clarendon became the American Hotel (in 1922) and later started on a downhill path that earned it’s reputation as a pub associated with drugs and violence (a former manager received an 11 year sentence for drug dealing and assault). In 2006 the City authorities stepped in and closed the hotel down. In 2011 under new ownership and with a comprehensive makeover the 42 rooms reopened upstairs, six of them leasing at $400 a month, the rest at what the market will bear. Downstairs the Electric Owl features a bar, off sales and a 200 seat bar offering Japanese Izakaya-inspired share plates from a Vietnamese chef – quite the change from only a few years back.


Posted February 19, 2012 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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929 Westminster Avenue (Main Street)

Initially we thought this must be where the Cobalt Hotel is today – the number on Main Street is nearly right, and the gap through to the yard looks just like that on the Cobalt -one of the few city hotels that still has an archway though to the ‘stables’ behind – although as the Cobalt is a 1912 building it was probably through to the parking. However, we were fooled by a renumbering on the street, and these two building stood further to the south of Westminster Avenue. Seen here in 1895, soon after the second buildings were completed, they were a feed store owned for several years by R V Palmer. The story of his arrival can be found in ‘Early Vancouver’, the City of Vancouver history compiled by Major Matthews. It’s well worth searching out, telling the story of his walking to Vancouver from Stoney Creek in 1885 with several hundred dollars sewn into his clothing, avoiding the Revelstoke gamblers. That’s the edge of Mr Palmer’s house at 931 Westminster on the left of the picture. As well as the feed store Mr Palmer operated as a teamster – he started hauling wood for the mill in 1886. At the back of the two buildings was a wharf – False Creek used to reach right up to this part of Westminster Avenue, and the street was a promontory that led to the bridge south to Mount Pleasant.

The building had been increased in size in the same year that the picture above was taken. This slightly earlier picture shows half an archway through to the yard at the back of the buildings. It also looks as if the house might have just been moved a bit further south when the expansion took place. The Palmer Brothers are still at the same address in 1910, but in the contracting business, as they were in 1920. Today the site is part of the Citygate project, and this part of Main Street has a non-market housing co-op designed by Gomberoff Bell Lyon and completed a decade ago.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 371-2243


Posted February 18, 2012 by ChangingCity in East End, Gone

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Second CPR Station – West Cordova Street

Here’s the newly completed CPR station in about 1900. Not T C Sorby’s first station – that lasted a very short time – just over 10 years. This one sat right at the foot of Granville Street, and despite its grandeur it only lasted fifteen years before being replaced by the one still standing today. The designer was a German immigrant, Edward Colonna (who had changed his name from Klonne when he became a US citizen). Colonna came to CP from designing the interior of rail coaches, and before that working in New York for Louis Comfort Tiffany.

On leaving CP in the early 1890s as the railway boom was ending he designed for Maison de l’Art Nouveau in Paris, both jewellery and furniture. He then moved to Toronto, where he worked for 20 years before retiring to Nice where he died, aged 86, having been paralyzed and bedridden for over 20 years. Colonna’s station design was only partly complete when a severe downtown in the economy saw construction halted. The building’s final appearance was completed in 1899 by Montreal based (and born) architect Edward Maxwell, who reworked Calonna’s design but stayed true to its Gothic style. Indeed for the now demolished Ottawa station he adopted a similar chateau style, and for a economy sized version head to The Keg in New Westminster where Maxwell’s $35,000 1899 station can still be found.

Today the site consists of a parkade that’s associated with the offices in the replacement station and the office tower at Granville Square built in the 1970s as one of the few completed parts of Project 200, a huge urban renewal scheme that would have seen Gastown swept away (with far fewer heritage buildings left to feature on this blog). In the background you can see the hotel and office building on Canada Place, a three way design between Zeidler Roberts, an international firm headquartered in Toronto, with Downs Archambault and Musson Cattell Mackey. MCM also designed the 2003 Price Waterhouse Coopers Place on the left of the picture.


Avenue Theatre – 719 Main Street

The Avenue Theatre sat on the western side of Main Street at the corner of Georgia, where the viaduct started, heading for Downtown. When it was built, it was on the corner of Shore Street with an arm of False Creek running up 200 feet behind it. It wasn’t a big theatre, the lot only 50 feet wide. In 1901 the site on Westminster Avenue had some small cottages next to a coal yard occupied by a tinsmith called Thomas Bell who stays there for several years before Joseph Batterstone, a shoemaker moves in and later A Archambault, a grocer. (Actually Batterstone was really Battistoni, one of an Italian family living in the neighbourhood).

In 1912 the theatre was built on the newly renamed Main Street by the Avenue Theatre Co. It was managed (until 1914) by George B Howard, who had previously run a theatre called The Lyric in the Oddfellows Hall on West Pender Street.  The architect was listed as the same as the owner, and the builder was G B Purvis, who must be the same George B Purvis from Seattle who also designed the Imperial Theatre just across the street. The building cost $80,000, and a year after it was completed the Georgia Viaduct construction was started. In 1915 it was where D W Griffith’s Birth of a Nation first showed. In 1921 it was home to a dance drama, The Lost Child, featuring the pupils of Mollie Lee.

Del LawrenceThe Avenue, in its early years, was also sometime home to the Del S Lawrence stock company, who also played at the Theatre on Gore. Mr Lawrence suffered a bout of food poisoning in 21913, sufficiently concerning that it was reported in the ‘New York Dramatic Mirror’

The Imperial was where B C Hilliam, a pianist and composer, first saw his work Oh! Oh! Oh! Captain B  performed. Hilliam was half of the vaudeville duo Flotsam and Jestsam, and composed the music to accompany poet Pauline Johnson’s Here’s a ho! Vancouver. Hilliam also wrote the music for The Belle of Burrard which had a hero called Stanley Park. In 1922 the orchestra was led by Marie Z Bryant when W C Scott was managing. The theatre only lasted as a building until 1935 (the year of this photograph). While the street directory lists the theatre in the names section, the address shows a Standard Oil gas station at this address.

That building also didn’t last very long. Between 1945 and 1947 the Murrin substation was built to the designs of McCarter and Nairne who added some subtle art deco ornamentation – although nothing like the work they carried out on the Marine Building.

The theatre seems to have been associated with a number of protests and causes. In 1917 there were anti-war meetings, and in 1935 the ‘On To Ottawa’ protesters met in the theatre before their trek eastwards (riding freight trains) to protest the conditions in the work camps established to deal with the severe economic depression that had started in 1929.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-395


Springer-Van Bramer Block – West Cordova Street

We’ve dug into the background of Both Ben Springer and Captain James Van Bramer on our Building Vancouver blog. Ben Springer was associated with the Moodyville sawmill after successfully mining in the Cariboo. James Van Bramer was an American, ‘a little man with a beard’ who owned shares in Moody’s first New Westminster mill, owned the tug the ‘Sea Foam’, and later a silver mine. They partnered to build several structures, and this is the one most associated with them (probably their third). It has lost its ornate cornice and Freemason’s insignia, but otherwise it’s pretty good for a building completed in 1888 (the year the picture was taken). It was designed by N S Hoffar with 5 stores, second floor offices and the Masonic Temple and Oddfellows’ Hall on the third floor.

By 1901 there were a curious range of tenants including the National Cash Register Co, Kelly Douglas & Co’s wholesale cigar department, George J Dyke’s violin academy and the Victoria Vancouver Transportation Co. A decade later only the cash registers were still there – upstairs had become a rooming house, two rival safe companies Toronto and Vancouver were both represented), and a wholesale jewellers. 1920 saw many of the units vacant, but the Enterprise Engine Agency and the Paris Hat and Frame Co were both in business along with the Pacific Tractor Co and the Commercial Auto Delivery Co. In 1930 it seems to have been called Mercantile Building #2, and now has mostly office tenants but also the Blue Bird Dress Co and Sterling Clothing Manufacturers.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P243.1


Posted February 8, 2012 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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Water Street – west from Carrall (1)

This VPL picture shows Water Street in 1889, just three years after the fire that destroyed the buildings of the newly named city of Vancouver. Since then the railway arrived (with a station way off beyond the end of the picture) and the tracks ran on trestles on the beach, behind the buildings to the right. That’s the Alhambra Hotel in the Byrnes Block on the left, and the Sunnyside Hotel on the right, a replacement for the hotel of the same name that was burned down in the fire. The original sat on stilts over the beach and Burrard Inlet, but there’s been a lot of filling and adding to the beach and the street level in a short time (the 1901 Insurance map still referred to Water Street as ‘Plank Roadway on Piles’).

Beyond the Alhambra is the fire station – much more important to citizens with their recent experience of fire. This is the location that city historian Major Matthews identified Constable Miller’s cottage as having been located (before the fire) with the unlocked cells in the back to allow the more inebriated citizens to sleep it off. This was stretched to the ‘Gaolers Mews’ of the 1970s – actually a yard behind a former car garage (which can be see today with three extra floors added a couple of years ago, in a conversion to residential use designed by Acton Ostry).

These days the site of the Sunnyside features the former premises of Swift Meat Packing – today it’s retail and office space, but in between it became the Alexandra Hotel. There’s very little else on the right hand side in the picture – the beach was still accessible, although cut off by the rail tracks. There were sail makers in the buildings beyond the Sunnyside and beyond the gap, while on the left were a series of bars, hotels and stores. Most had been rebuilt in wood in only a few days after the fire, and all but the Alhambra would be replaced in the next few years.


Posted February 6, 2012 by ChangingCity in Altered, Gastown

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The Imperial Theatre – 720 Main Street

Here’s the Imperial Theatre, completed at a cost of $60,000 in 1912. Except that by 1939 when the first picture was taken the theatre use had ceased and it became home to Walsh’s Auto Wrecking. Originally designed by George B Purvis, a Seattle architect who designed a number of other theatres, all of them better looking than the Imperial! It was owned by the Canadian Theatre and Amusement Co, who in turn leased it to the Sullivan-Considine vaudeville chain who started out in an ambitious way with the Sheehan English Opera Company performing Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’ with a chorus of 40 and orchestra of 40.

Over the years the theatre operated it changed names at least twice. In that period both Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers played the theatre, and in 1921 it became home to a Chinese Opera company called Lok Man Lin. In 1927 it was transformed to a pentecostal church – first the Pyramid then the Emanuel, but in 1932 as a result of unpaid taxes the City became owners, and in 1938 it became a garage – which kept going until 1967.

Then, in an entirely unlikely twist, in 1970 it once again became a theatre – or rather, a cinema, and after a two month stint showing Chinese movies it became the Night and Day, and later the Venus, specialising in porno movies, with, it has been suggested, a certain amount of additional live-action in the audience on occasions. It was acquired by Porte Developments in the mid 2000s along with two adjacent sites and a Gomberoff Bell Lyon designed condo project called Ginger was completed a couple of years ago.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1184-189