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 approved at the end of 1909 as shops, offices and residential use. It was designed by W F Gardiner for the National Finance Co. (A 1908 newspaper report said it would be developed by the British Columbia Permanent Loan and Savings Company, but the permit, over a year later, was to National Finance Co). It was one of Gardiner’s first commissions in the city, and the style reflects his English architectural training.

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.


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