St Regis Hotel – Dunsmuir and Seymour 1

Today, this is the St Regis Hotel – as it was in the 1940 when this image was taken. The building acquired the St Regis name as a hotel in 1913. It started life proposed as “apartments/rooms” to be built at a cost of $85,000 to W T Whiteway’s design for Leon Melekov. The initial description of the building in July 1912 said it would be 2 storeys, with offices on the second floor, but designed to have a further three storeys added later. By August the local newspaper was reporting that the building was going to be five storeys from the outset and costing $100,000, and by September there was a further floor to be added at a cost of an extra $20,000. It was originally going to be called the Standard Building, presumably reflecting Melekov’s position as Managing Director of the Standard Trust & Industrial Co Ltd.

Leon Melekov was Jewish, and almost certainly born in Russia – possibly in 1874 (at least, that’s what most census records show – later in court and in one census he claimed to be a British born Russian). His wife Mary was born in Germany. They probably arrived in Vancouver in or around 1902. He seems to have had extensive business interests but his main position was as Vice-President of the British Columbia Refining Company Limited, one of only four refining oil companies in Canada at the time (and the only one in the west), with a facility in Port Moody.

By 1911 Leon was well established with his wife, two daughters, Rose and Martha, and their servant, Joy Robinson. (Martha was aged 10 months, and had been born in BC, but Rose, who was eight, had been born in Germany). Melekov was pursuing other opportunities – he was head of a $500,000 consortium proposing to create the BC Steel Corporation to be based in Coquitlam, but that didn’t happen. Instead Melekov started visiting the US (he already looks to have had some business interests there as a director of a Michigan theatre, apparently run by a brother).

There are almost no references to the Melekovs in any profiles of the time, although they were important enough to be noted when they stayed in other cities. However, Leon must have helped support the Vancouver legal profession substantially, as there are numerous claims and counter claims where his name appears in court cases, often in connection with investments where he was acting as a broker.

Whether it was one of these cases, or more likely the significant economic slowdown that accompanied the First World War, by 1920 Melekov was in California where he was listed as Secretary of the General Investment Co, with an office in the Van Nuys Building in Los Angeles. He built a home to his own design close to Wilshire Boulevard in 1922. In the 1930s he was President of an Oklahoma City based oil company, the Donleon Refining Co, although he seems to have done that from Los Angeles. That all went very wrong when he was accused of embezzlement (but was not found guilty), and he then attempted to counter-sue.  His attempt to pursue further litigation entered the legal textbooks when the case was not brought to trial as the Oklahoma based parties he was pursuing were served papers in California – thus negating the entire case against them. Much later – in 1953 – Melekov wrote a book about the petroleum industry – “The Greatest Fraud Ever Perpetrated in America” He died in 1963, still in Los Angeles.

Image source VPL, Leonard Frank, photographer

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Posted November 19, 2012 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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