Archive for April 2012

First Hotel Vancouver, second addition

We have shown this image as it looked about three years later already, but the trees in that picture pretty much obscure the third addition to the Hotel Vancouver. In 1901 The Canadian Pacific Railway again hired Francis Rattenbury to design a new wing of the hotel. It took a while to build, but apparently opened around 1904.

It was in an Italianate style, and from the postcard here it rather looks as if they expected to demolish the first hotel designed by T C Sorby. But as the picture above shows, the eastern wing of the addition was never completed. Instead it was cut off rather alarmingly and there would be a nearly ten year gap before the CPR were ready to replace the hotel and the first addition, also designed by Rattenbury. When they did that, they brought in new architects, initially W S Painter and later Francis Swales, who prepared a series of different designs all reasonably similar in style to the second addition which was incorporated into the final building. Both parts of the hotel had postcards celebrating their appearance.

Today as we have noted several times recently we have the Pacific Centre Mall. The second addition sat where today the TD Tower is located. Cesar Pelli designed the two dark towers (they’re brown, but appear almost black unless the sun is shining on them).


The Opera House – Granville Street

Pretty soon after the Hotel Vancouver was underway the Canadian Pacific Railway sought to make their part of the new city even more attractive by building a theatre next door to their hotel (to the south). Grandly (but fairly inaccurately) called The Opera House it was designed by Montreal architects John and Edward Hopkins, a father and son team who also picked up another CPR commission for the Lord Elphinstone Block, an office designed in the same year as the Opera House, 1888. Confusingly there was another Opera House built at the same time, the Imperial Opera House on Pender Street – and there was also Hart’s Opera House on Carrall Street, the oldest of the three, but that was described as a ‘glorified shed’ with burlap walls and doubled as a roller rink – the CPR’s was easily the classiest.

The new street railway conveniently ended in front of the Opera House, completing in 1889 not very long before the Opera House opened in early 1891. It cost $100,000 to build and apparently was run at a loss, but that was made up for by the passenger traffic it attracted. Mr A P Horne of the CPR Land Department  recalled the first year of operation in a conversation with Major Matthews.

 “We engaged Sarah Bernhardt, the famous European actress, for two nights and one matinée, that was in 1890, and then again we had another play, ‘Willing Hands and Honest Hearts,’ in which John L. Sullivan, celebrated prize fighter, was principal. It was rather funny, one morning when we presented to Mr. Browning, as he insisted we do, a statement of the expenses and receipts, he picked up the paper and remarked, ‘Very satisfactory, you made quite a profit,’ and I, just a young man, perhaps thoughtlessly remarked the John L. Sullivan had been quite an attraction. Mr. Browning replied, ‘There was no fighting, was there?’ and I answered, ‘Yes, in the third set. He brought someone with him to knock out.’ Mr. Browning was astounded, and said he did not know what Mr. Van Horne would think of it; that he would have to tell him; but we never heard any more of it.”

In 1894 the Imperial closed, and the CPR had a monopoly. They ran it until 1896 then handed management to Robert Jamieson who managed several other BC theatres. While serious drama often played to a limited house (with 1,200 seats a small audience was noticeable) the Province newspaper in 1898 “complained about the vulgarity of ‘Leavitt’s Spider and Fly Burlesque Company’ while conceding that “a good many people appeared to enjoy themselves immensely”.

In the same year, 1898, the Savoy opened as a music hall, and a year later the Alhambra opened as a theatre. By 1906 US interests were booking the Opera House and by the time the Pantages Theatre opened on Hastings Street in 1908, Vancouver was an integral part of the North American touring circuit. There was a major refurbishment and enlargement of the theatre in 1907, started in May and completed in September, designed by E W Houghton of Seattle. The proscenium arch was widened by seven feet, the posts supporting the balcony were removed, the back of the theatre shifted into the foyer to add five extra rows of seating (bring capacity to over 1,700), and the front-of house space was rebuilt and widened. Despite this, the CPR were thinking of offloading the theatre, which they did in 1909 for $200,000 to a local consortium, who promptly flipped it for $300,000 to US based Sullivan and Considine.

The new owners as the Orpheum Theatrical Co brought in world class acts like Anna Pavlova and Ellen Terry who both appeared in 1910. They hired local architect James J Donnellan to expand and rebuild the theatre in 1912 at a cost of $160,000 after a fire destroyed all but the walls. The new design added offices on Granville Street and lasted until 1969 under a variety of changing names until it was demolished as part of the site assembly for the Pacific Centre Mall

Image source: Opera House, Library & Archives Canada, City of Vancouver Archives, Opera House 1891 CVA Bu P509



Posted 5 April 2012 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

Tagged with , , ,

First Hotel Vancouver – Granville & Georgia

The Canadian Pacfic Railway needed a hotel to serve the passengers arriving on their trains at the station located at the foot of Granville Street. T C Sorby had designed the station, and he got the job of designing the hotel too. It was up Granville – not too far, but enough to leave some space for new CPR sponsored commercial buildings, and to pull some activity away from the earlier city centre to the east, where there were already plenty of hotels (none of them on CPR land).

Sorby’s hotel opened in mid 1888 to a design that even he didn’t like – complaining of CPR cutting what they considered to be superfluous details – which in those days were what architecture was often about. (That’s it on the left in about 1890, soon after it was completed.) The CPR were supposedly equally unimpressed – Sir William Van Horne, the CPR President is reported to have said to Sorby “so you’re the damn fool who spoilt the building with all those little windows”. One local newspaper even likened the building’s design to a workhouse. An 1897 newspaper, ‘The Ledge’ published a story which ran “The Vancouver World publishes a long letter from the executive agent of the C. P. R. to the city council, requesting exemption from taxation for buildings proposed to be erected for a passenger station and warehouses. The World publishes cuts of the proposed structures which are said to be in the Queen Anne style of architecture and are fully in keeping with that monument of external ugliness, the company’s hotel Vancouver. The architectural illustrations in the World resemble a compound of a decayed grist-mill with bits of the bastile and the tower of London added.”

Presumably looking for a better response the CPR hired Francis Rattenbury to design the 1893 addition to the south. Rattenbury was only relatively recently arrived in Canada, but at the age of only 25 he had just won the competition for the new parliament buildings in Victoria. In Yorkshire, where he had arrived from, he had been designing buildings in the ‘model’ mill town of Saltaire – or so he told the Vancouver Sun, although actually he hadn’t even been born when that development had taken place. His design for the hotel extention didn’t really have much to do with the original building – that’s it to the left of the ‘before’ image above from 1904, five storeys high. Although Sorby’s hotel was identified for replacement as early as 1900 it was still around for a few more years.

Rattenbury was hired to design a further extention to the original in 1901, which he carried out in an Italienate style that isn’t so very different from his design for the city’s new courthouse five years later. Rattenbury fell out with the CPR, and anyway was busy with other projects including the Empress Hotel in Victoria, so in 1910 architects Painter and Swales were hired to replace a much bigger and more elaborate replacement for both the first hotel and the 1893 addition which was eventually finished in 1916. We’ll feature that building in a future post or two.

These days the site has the Cesar Pelli / McCarter and Nairne designed Pacific Centre Mall which is now anticipated to see a major redesign in the near future with Sears having confirmed their intention of leaving later in 2012.


York Hotel – 790 Howe Street

The York Hotel sat at the corner of  Howe and Robson. It first appears in the street directories in 1930, and was still going as the York Motor Hotel in 1968, just before it was cleared away for the Pacific Centre Mall project, where the City of Vancouver used compulsory purchase powers to assemble the double block needed for the underground shopping mall thought necessary to compete with new suburban malls.

The York doesn’t look like a 1930 building – and that’s because it wasn’t. It was built in 1911 as an annex for the Hotel Vancouver at a cost of $190,000. It seems likely that it was built to maintain a CPR hotel presence while the first Hotel Vancouver was demolished and the second Hotel Vancouver – the more flamboyant one – was built. That hotel was demolished after the Second World War. The Honeyman and Curtis designed annex was more restrained, and eventually it lasted longer.

The designer of the postcard for the York were using their artistic licence to its full extent. The cloudy sky to the north is added to cover the much larger and flashy Hotel Vancouver, and the massive laundry chimney that gave the block a distinctly industrial feel. Amazingly the flag that appears in many similar postcards really was on the building – which is by no means true of every appearance. The top of the Vancouver Block on Granville Street was also carefully removed.

These days the much unloved Sears building, designed by Cesar Pelli while working for LA architect Victor Gruen sits on the site. Owners Cadillac Fairview have paid a small fortune to buy the Sears lease to allow the building to be reconfigured. Current rumours suggest a new major retail tenant below, and the top four floors of retail turned into 300,000 square feet of offices around a new atrium. As much of the concrete wall would be removed and replaced with glazing as can reasonably achieved.


Posted 2 April 2012 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

Tagged with , , ,