Archive for December 2012

The Victoria – Homer Street

Victorian Hotel 2 1975

Round the corner from the Victoria Block is an earlier building called The Victoria on the 1901 Insurance map. The water permit (usually close to completion of the building) dates from 1897, although it appears to have first been in use in 1899. We’re pretty certain the owner was Art Clemes, an Englishman with extensive interests in Spences Bridge, but also active development interests in Vancouver (later he developed both the Pantages Theatre and the Regent Hotel on Hastings Street). His Vancouver agent was a contractor, James Young, who may have built the Victoria. There’s no identified architect; Young himself may have designed it from widely available standard plans. It’s quite possible that it had an American designer; the four multi storey windows are very like those found on buildings in San Francisco from the 1870s onwards. Equally, it also bears a strong resemblance to many British seaside hotels from that era – so almost any of the architects working in the city at the time could have been responsible.

The Victoria was a guest house, and the only name associated with the building in the Street Directory 1n 1899 was Miss Bertha Collins. The 1901 Census identifies her as aged 34, having immigrated into Canada in 1889, and the head of the household with three domestic servants and fourteen lodgers. In 1904 the proprietor of the Victoria changed to Mrs Frank Cudney –  in January that year Bertha got married; we know from the marriage certificate that she was born in Birmingham, and that her husband, Frankland Bradish Cudney was nine years younger and had been born in St Catherines, Ontario and three years earlier had been in the living in Yale in the Cariboo.

After a few years of marriage, guest house keeping apparently didn’t suit the couple. By 1909 Mrs C K Lee was running the Victoria House, and the Cudneys were apparently no longer in the city (and there’s no sign of them in Canada in 1911). However, we know that they certainly returned to the city; Bertha died in Vancouver aged 84 in 1951. Frank died five years later, aged 80, also in Vancouver, at the time married to Ruby Neff an American born in Clark, Wisconsin in 1886, who died in 1970, also in Vancouver.

Even in 1975 when our image was taken the Victoria didn’t look too bad – unlike many of the city’s building from that era, it still had all the cornices and mouldings. Today it looks even better, and the Victoria House and Victoria Block are combined into the Victorian Hotel – linked internally, and providing a genuinely historic hotel on the edge of the Downtown.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA  780-38



Victorian Hotel – West Pender Street

Victorian Hotel 1968

The current name for this building reflects its 21st century use, but the original name of the building is pretty close. The Victoria Block was built in 1908 as shops, offices and residential use designed by W F Gardiner for the British Columbia Permanent Loan and Savings Company. It was Gardiner’s first major commission in the city, and the style reflects his English architectural training. BC Permanent had also built the tiny gem of a bank building next door a year earlier.

Although the residential use is noted in the Heritage Designation for the building, you wouldn’t know it from the Street Directories for 1910 which show the upper (and basement) floors filled with real estate brokers, a timber company, the US Immigration department and the School Board Supervisors. Although the tenancies have almost all changed, all the tenants in 1918 are also companies (and also mostly brokers and real estate agents).

The reason is that the third – residential – floor was linked to the Victoria Rooms round the corner on Homer, although they had their own staircase entry. Under the headline “Big Building on Pender Street” the Feb 8th Daily World had the following story “National Finance Co., Ltd., to Erect Three-storey Store, Office and Apartment Block at Corner of Homer and Pender Streets. A notice has been posted on the vacant lot on the southeast corner of Homer and Pender streets to the effect that a three-storey brick block will be erected on that site in the immediate future, those financing the project being the National Finance Co, Ltd., of 412 Hastings street. The new block will extent from the corner to the new B.C. Permanent Loan & Savings company’s structure on Pender street, almost adjoining the Lyric theatre, and the tenants of the small row of stores adjoining the B. C. Permanent’s new building have been given until Feb. 29 to vacate. The proposed structure will consist of stores on the ground floor, offices on the first floor and apartment rooms on the second floor.”

A more detailed story in the March 14th Daily World gave greater detail. “The front elevation of the new block to be erected on the southeast corner of Homer and Pender streets for the British Columbia Permanent Loan & Savings company, and for which excavation work has begun, was selected from competitive plans received by the promoters from various local architects. The accepted plans were drawn by William F. Gardiner, Hastings street. The above elevation will face on Pender street. This building will cost at least $20,000 and will be somewhat unique in its structure. The ground floor will be laid out in commodious stores, the second floor in offices and the third storey will be composed of sleeping apartments directly connected with the Victoria house that will adjoin the building on Homer street.

The contract was yesterday let to Atkinson & Dill, formerly of Regina, who erected several large buildings in Saskatchewan’s capital, including the big Canada Permanent building, the King’s hotel, etc. Work will be commenced at once. 

The building will have a frontage on Pender street of 104 feet and a sixty foot frontage on Homer street. Naturally, it will be well lighted and properly ventilated. In the latter connection shafts will run from each corridor to the roof, so as to remove any foul air that might congregate in the building. The structure will be well fitted as regards sanitary arrangements and proper fire escapes will prevent the building from becoming a fire trap.

Access to the sleeping apartments on the third storey will also be given by a stairway from Pender street, but this stairway is so arranged that it does not conflict with the offices, and at night the second and third floors can be entirely shut off from each other without impeding access to or from the third storey. The basement will be used for heating and storing purposes. The building will be supplied with hot water radiators and electric lighting arrangements. The structure will be faced with red brick and stone trimmings and an imposing entrance will be built. Mr. Gardiner, whose competitive plans were accepted by the promoters, is a son of the well known architect, Frederick William Gardiner, of Bath, Eng., in whose offices the son spent five years prior to opening architect’s offices in South Africa. Mr. Gardiner has been in Vancouver four months.”

This wasn’t the only contract Gardiner let to Adkinson and Dill – or the last contract National Finance used Gardiner as an architect. The same architect and builder combination were responsible for 800 Main Street, a year later.

For many years the building looked increasingly sad, but a recent comprehensive restoration has seen it return to looking as good as it must have over a century ago. One of the delights of this restoration is the pediment and balcony balustrade metal work. Many buildings in the city featured galvanized tin architectural decoration; it was cheaper and more versatile than stone. Much of it could be ordered from catalogues as well from local metal shops. Our 1978 image shows that the building had lost its central balcony many years ago, and that Macleods Books once occupied the corner retail unit.


Columbia Hotel – Columbia Street

Columbia Hotel

In 1911 Holloway and Co built a $60,000 ‘6 storey brick building’ on the corner of Columbia Avenue and Cordova Street. Fortunately we know which corner, and that this was the Columbia Hotel, designed by Honeyman and Curtis for Boyd & McWhinnie.

Like many other buildings, there are some strangely inaccurate statements attached to the building’s history. We’re dating the building to 1911 from the Building Permit and the plans (available in the Vancouver Archives). For some reason the hotel itself thinks it’s older – here’s the quote from their website “Built in 1908 hotel specifically served hardy lumberjacks, miners and fishermen“. It is suggested that our photograph from the City Archives was taken around 1904 (which we think is too early). The Heritage Designation curiously attributes construction to between 1925 and 1950 – at least we know that’s not true – it’s clearly already standing on the 1912 Insurance Map. There is a smaller 3-storey part of the building to the south of the lot, and the street Directories suggest that dates back to before 1894 when it was the Columbia House owned by Joseph Dixon, then in 1896 McWhinnie and Murray (and a few years later Thomas McWhinnie owned it on his own). So while an earlier date is correct, it is not for the larger structure standing today.

Thomas McWhinnie was shown as being aged 42 in the 1901 Census, a Scottish-born hotel-keeper who was head of a household of 16 boarders. Ten years earlier he had been in New Westminster, a carpenter and at that time was married to Jennie, born in England. Actually, according to their 1890 wedding record she was called Hannah Jane, and she died just three years later. Later Thomas had another marriage to Etta and five children.

In 1905 E J Hunt, writing from the Columbia Hotel, claimed improved sleep from using Dr A McLaughlin’s Electric Belt which “Cures Varicoeoe, Rheumatism , Kidney Troubles, Lame Back, Sciatica, Stomach Troubles , Nervous Debility, Lost Vitality and every indication that you are breaking down physically”. Curiously, a few months later E J Hurst, also writing from the Columbia Hotel, praised the efficacy of the doctor’s belt which was said to invigorate ‘Weak, Run-Down Worn-Out Men’. Perhaps everybody who lived at the Columbia (and used Dr McLaughlin’s belt) had the initials EJ.

Although Boyd and McWhinnie developed the new building in 1911, McWhinnie is only shown as running the hotel until 1903. In 1904 and 05 James Guthrie was proprietor, in the next two years Conlin and Spearin, and  the hotel proprietors from 1908 to 1913 were listed as J M Conlin and Wm G Thompson. This seems to confirm our suspicion that ‘hotel proprietor’ in the Directories refers to the person running the hotel, but not necessarily the owner of the building.

Thomas disappears from Vancouver Directories from 1904 to 1906, but reappears in 1907 living on West 4th Avenue, listed as ‘farmer’. Apparently he retained the hotel but also acquired a Penticton fruit ranch, and was still living at the 4th Avenue address when he died in 1922.

On the basis of a former logger’s story (recorded in 1945) it seems the Columbia was in part used as a seasonal hotel for resource workers, as many hotels at that time were. “Sometime in November, people from the logging camps came in and stayed for the winter. That’s what I used to do: come in November and stay all winter in the Columbia Hotel. In the spring you went back to logging. Most of the entertainment was in the beer parlour, or a wild woman once in a while.”

These days the Columbia (which for a while became the New Columbia) is partly a tourist hotel / hostel, and partly a single room occupancy hotel. This leads to some interesting comments on tourist review websites, given the hotel’s location and the Whiskey Dix bar downstairs – visitors expecting a quiet evening might check the clubzone listing “A million dollar renovation has turned the bar at the historic Columbia Hotel into what is sure to be the new hot spot for Vancouver party goers. Get ready for the Whiskey Bar experience!”

Photo source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 359-3


Barber-Ellis – 950 Homer Street

950 Homer 1931

Barber-Ellis was a company formed in the 1870s in Toronto when John Ellis and James Barber created a bookbinding company with around 30 employees. By 1926 the company had over 500 employees across Canada including a factory at 1206 Homer Street in Vancouver. They had dropped book-binding, and instead made envelopes – over 400 million in that year, a third of all those manufactured in Canada.

In 1931 the company built new premises at 950 Homer, and hired local architects Townley and Matheson to design a poured-in-place-concrete building – (it’s still under construction in our picture). The firm used an art deco motif similar to other buildings they had designed a few years earlier. A few years later the building was expanded using the same design. Today it’s home to a furnishing company, with offices above. Behind, and alongside the building, Buttjes Architecture designed a three-tower residential complex called Yaletown Park, completed in 2007.

Picture source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-4094


Metropole Hotel – Abbott Street (2)

Metropole Hotel 1978

We have already seen the Metropole Hotel when it was the Traveller’s Hotel, developed by Dr R C Boyle and designed by W T Whiteway.

Here it is back in 1978 when it had a substantial canopy over the entrance. This picture also explains the full height doorways that run down the southern face of the building on the lane. Although it looks as if there was some sort of warehouse use, that isn’t the case. Back in the earlier 1923 image there was a fire escape that ran down the outside of the building, which was still there over 50 years later, but not today.


Hickey Block – Abbott Street

Hickey 1898

The Hickey Block has recently had a dramatic transformation to restore it to something like its original appearance – although inside it’s far more open than it would have been when new. It’s a building that dates back to 1889, built by Patrick Hickey and for many years used as the Cosmopolitan Hotel Rooms. The 1890 Directory says Lizzie Turner (widow) was the chambermaid, and we assume there was a relationship with the Cosmopolitan Hotel that was at 101 Cordova Street nearby, run by Jake Cohen. Downstairs the Alcazar Saloon occupied the corner half of the building, with the bar run by James L Farrow. In 1890 Captain William Clements ran his shipping and insurance agency here, as did the San Francisco Union Marine Insurance Co. Although our image supposedly shows the building in 1898 when Mrs. Scully ran the furnished rooms and J Cooper the People’s Restaurant, it probably dates from a year or two after this by which time the restaurant and hotel was known as the Acadia, run by A E Fraser (although Adams and McCurdie had the restaurant, and Mrs. Scully still ran furnished rooms in the southern end of the building).

We don’t know who built the structure, which cost $14,000 to build, according to the Daily World, but we know that Mr. Hickey, like some other developers of Vancouver properties nearby, was an absentee landlord. The Victoria Daily Times in March of 1889 reported that Victoria architect John Teague designed a 2-storey brick block in Vancouver for Patrick Hickey. While there were two possible Patrick Hickeys in the province when the building was completed, one was a miner in Greenwood, and the other was a Victoria based marine engineer who we know to have acquired and sold (at a comfortable profit) land at English Bay in 1886, where he was listed as one of the ‘extensive buyers’ of government land. In 1895 he had J Gerhard Tiarks design a ‘handsome’ house at the corner of Cook and Bellot in Victoria. That same year he was one of a number of unhappy creditors of the Green-Worlock bank, a Victoria based financial company with complicated and extraordinarily badly managed finances. Mr. Hickey favoured auctioning off the assets and winding up the estate, but more creditors favoured hanging onto them in the hope that they would grow.

Patrick Hickey was either aged 43 or more likely 48 when the building was developed, (depending on whether you believe the 1881, 1891 or 1901 census return) living in Victoria with his younger wife, Emma, and their five children. Patrick and his wife were from Irish backgrounds, but both had been born in the USA. It would seem that the family had moved between the US and Canada, as their oldest and youngest children were shown in the 1891 and 1901 census returns as having been born in British Columbia, (when the family lived in New Westminster) while the middle one (or two, depending on which census return you read) was born in the United States.

Hickey @ Historicplaces 2004Captain Hickey’s nationality became an issue in 1905 when the shipping master, William E Laird, attempted to prevent Captain Hickey from commanding the CPR’s Princess Victoria – which Laird considered to be a British ship, registered in Britain, and therefore subject to a tax of 80 cents per crew member which Laird would personally receive. Laird lost that argument as a the minister of marine ruled that a Canadian certificate (which Hickey held) allowed him to command the vessel. In 1908 he was still sailing, although on a river rather than at sea, as he was engineer on the Hazelton, a river steamer on the Skeena River.

Hickey’s building changed uses many times over the years – by the turn of the 21st century it was in poor shape, as the photograph accompanying the Heritage Designation shows. An extensive restoration in 2011 for the new occupants the Montreal-based Montauk Sofa Co by Mallen Gowing Berzins Architecture has returned the building to an impressive contribution to Gastown.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Str P60


Wood, Vallance and Leggat – West Hastings Street

Wood Vallance Leggat Hastings 1908

We showed Wood, Vallance and Leggat’s West Cordova Street retail premises a few posts back. Like the Army and Navy store today, the company operated on both sides of the alley between Cordova and Hastings. Here’s the wholesale and office portion of the business, on West Hastings Street as it looked in 1908, six years after the company bought out Thomas Dunn’s hardware and ship’s chandlers business. However, on Hastings Street the previous business owner wasn’t Dunn, it was E G Prior who sold hardware and machinery.

Prior was a Yorkshireman who trained as a mining engineer, and worked in the Nanaimo coal mines. He was appointed Inspector of Mines in 1877, living in Victoria, representing that city in parliament from 1886 (and establishing his trading company a few years earlier on Yates Street). Prior was elected an MP but lost his seat in 1900 because of violations of the Electoral Act. He became Premier of BC in 1902, only to be dismissed in 1903 following a charge of conflict of interest, He remained an MLA until his defeat in 1904, and was appointed lieutenant-governor of BC in 1919, only to die in office in 1920.

Prior 1893E G Prior & Co were operating in Vancouver some time after 1891 (as this 1893 advert shows) and established the Hastings Street premises around 1900. They apparently didn’t sell the business to Wood, Vallance and Leggat as they had Thomas Hooper design a new warehouse on Beatty Street in 1910. The company also had premises on Pender Street that were expanded in 1901 by a Victoria architect, W R Wilson.

We haven’t been able to discover the architect of the Prior building which looks as if it was built in 1899. It could be W T Dalton, who designed a number of Hastings Street premises around the turn of the century. In 1903 Wood, Vallance and Leggat hired Dalton & Co – (presumably Mr Eveleigh) to design a $9,000 addition to the building.

Rex Theatre W Hastings 1950 VPLThe building in the picture didn’t last very long. Hastings Street had become an important public street, full of theatres and department stores, and wholesale warehouses were moving elsewhere.

In 1913 architect P M Julien applied for a permit for the Rex Amusement Co to build a $40,000 theatre, and the Rex Theatre appeared soon after (it was operating by 1914). It’s listed as a 922 seat theatre, and was used for some vaudeville acts before transforming to a movie house. J A Schuberg, a theatrical impresario from Winnipeg bought a half share in the theatre in 1916 and by 1918 the Rex was described as the leading highclass photoplay house of the British Columbia metropolis” Schuberg’s First National Exhibitor Circuit Exchange of Canada distributed movies throughout BC and the prairies, with exclusive rights to Charlie Chaplin’s movies.

It was still operating in 1950 when this VPL Artray photo was taken, but in 1959 was closed to be incorporated into the adjacent Army and Navy store. Sadly, underneath that ‘modern’ metal screen there are no vestiges of the theatre facade – it was replaced with concrete blocks..

Photo source, City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu P500