Archive for January 2013

The Gray Block – Homer Street (1)

Gray Block 1206 Homer 1928

There are a number of buildings associated with two brothers who are sometimes referred to as Grey – but whose name was actually Gray. They only arrived in Vancouver in 1906, but they quickly established themselves as investment advisers and developers of some substantial industrial buildings.

Vancouver’s warehouse district until the turn of the 20th Century was along Water Street and near the waterfront. By the early 1900s it was overcrowded and unable to absorb the demand for new larger warehouses, especially with rail access. The Canadian Pacific Railway opened up the wooded area below Homer Street next to their False Creek yards for warehouse development. With rail tracks laid into the streets and loading docks lining the western edge of each block the new area was purpose-built for efficient freight handling. The new warehouse district became known as Yaletown after the early settlement established nearby by the CPR men brought down from the town of Yale in the Fraser Canyon when the railway’s repair shops were moved to the end of the line in Vancouver.

The Gray brothers built several buildings in this newly available area, and here’s one of the bigger warehouse buildings in the area, a 1912 structure generally attributed to Thomas Hooper, but which we think was designed by H S Griffith. (That’s what the building permit says – we think the Hooper building was another Gray Brothers development). The six and seven storey concrete structure had several tenants when it opened – Office Specialty Mfg Co, Barber-Ellis Ltd (who later moved a little further down the road), the United Photographic Stores and Western Cloak and Suit Co. By 1920 Barber-Ellis are still there along with Western Cloak and Suit Co, and the other tenants are Carstens Ltd, wholesale tailors and Crawford Storage, as well as Gray Brothers themselves.

By 1928, when our photograph was taken, (in the middle of US prohibition) Barber-Ellis had been joined by His Masters Voice, Beach Foundry Limited and Joseph Kennedy Ltd, described as brewers and bottlers, whose headquarters were in the building. While bearing the name of the wealthy US industrialist (and father of the future President) the company was actually controlled by the Reifel family. A report of the Royal Commission on Customs and Excise published in the year the photograph was taken stated that the sole business of Joseph Kennedy Ltd was exporting alcohol into the US (and the picture shows that they were not exactly hiding their presence in the building). They were accused of forging US Revenue stamps, and the separate but closely related Kennedy Silk Hat Cocktail Co (whose offices were in the same building) were also accused of smuggling. The Kennedy in question was no relation to the eastern family with political aspirations, but rather Daniel Joseph Kennedy who was probably born in Nebraska, moved to Saskatchewan and eventually moved to Vancouver around 1918. He initially created a series of products that skirted the newly adopted prohibition rules, while maintaining a ‘healthy’ dose of alcohol. Later he marketed pre-mixed cocktails – export (to the US, not necessarily legally) was more important than importing.

Later in its life the building became the home of tea and coffee importers Murchies, who would stay long after many other companies had moved out of the area, until 1996. John Murchie arrived from Scotland in 1894, and initially established his business in New Westminster, but expanded into their new Vancouver premises after the 1950s. Once they moved out of the area to Richmond, Howard Bingham Hill designed the conversion of the upper floors to strata apartments, completed in 1997.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu N288


Mission House – 148 Alexander Street

Army & Navy Warehouse Alexander 1949

In 1912 Brown and Howey hired Braunton and Leibert to design a $50,000 5-storey brick apartment building for 148-156 Alexander Street. The builders were to be Egdell & Dixon. Seven months later the same owners and architects proposed a $16,000 two-storey brick warehouse. In fact, we think both buildings were completed – Brown and Howey’s feed warehouse was the two storey building on the right of the picture – the five storey building was entirely different.

Brown and Howey were William R Brown and Wesley Howey. Both apparently managed to evade the 1911 census, but fortunately Wesley was in Vancouver in 1901, so we know he was born in Ontario in 1868 with a father who had emigrated from Kilkenny in Ireland and a mother from Quebec. He was one of eleven children who scattered around North America. His sister Rebecca was in Minnesota, their older sister Margaret in Medicine Hat, Alberta, one brother in Brandon, Manitoba, another in Edmonton and his younger brother Dr Richard Howey in Toronto. His older brother George was a placer miner in Alaska who died in the shipwreck of the CPR Princess Sophia in 1918 . Wesley was described as a flour and feed merchant in 1901, staying as a lodger with William and Julia Soames and their family.

We despaired of chasing down William Brown – mainly because in 1911 there were 20 people in Vancouver whose parents thought William would be a fine name for their son. We know he was living on Davie Street, and fortunately in 1901 there were only ten William Browns in town, and so we know that he was born in New Brunswick, as was his wife, Jane, and his family background was Scottish.

The company only operated in their building for a few years. Next door the 5 storey apartment was altogether different. it was the Vancouver Rescue Mission, operated by the B.C. Protective Association. The heritage description notes “Designed to house 300 men per night, the Mission had a kitchen and dining hall. There were nightly gospel meetings. The charity offered by the mission was aimed at ‘neglected men’ – the working poor and the ‘derelict’ unemployed. The men who could afford to, paid for their accommodation, while those who could not paid with tickets issued by the City’s welfare department. The men were encouraged to try to find work through the Mission’s employment bureau and to help pay for their keep by working in the Mission’s scavenging business.”

By 1922 Gordon and Belyea were in the building as the base of their wholesale hardware supply company, and by 1949 when our VPL image was taken it was the warehouse for Army and Navy Stores. In 1982 it returned to residential use with just 16 apartments over commercial space (with an added sixth floor) designed by Tor Skjelvic in one of the earliest warehouse conversions in Gastown.


27 West Pender Street

27 W Pender 1920

27 West Pender Street is today’s address – when the building in our image was built it was numbered as 31 Pender (East Pender was still called Dupont). It was built for the Brackman-Kerr Milling Co, and designed by Townsend & Townsend in 1909. It was built to the west of the warehouse built by McLellan and McFeely, but later used by the United Warehouse Co, and by 1920 (as our photo shows) the McQueen Produce Co Ltd. In actual fact, Brackman-Kerr (the name on the building permit and the insurance maps of the day) was really Brackman-Ker. Henry Brackman (who made his fortune in the Cariboo Gold rush) initially partnered with James Milne, a Scottish miller and stonecutter in 1877 to manufacture rolled oats in North Saanich, but the company disappeared in 1879 and was resurrected when Brackman partnered with David Russell Ker in 1881. After Brackman’s death in 1903, Ker led the company in an ambitious expansion throughout Western Canada, including this Vancouver property. Their 1912 catalogue offered Grass and Clover Seeds, Seed Grain, Seed Potatoes, Fertilizers and Sprays.

van loo27 W Pender 1950We haven’t dug up much about D J Elmer; El Sidelo seems to have been a brand created by a Seattle company, while El Doro was a Canadian brand and the Van Loo Cigar Company were a Vancouver based manufacturer. They were fairly newly in the building, which might be why the photo was taken. For several years before the cigar company moved in the B C A Junk Co were in the building. By 1924 the operation was still there but called the Vancouver Tobacco Co. By the 1930s they had been replaced by Gough & Thompson Ltd who supplied electrical equipment. Then in the early 1950s, in a curious case of deja vu, Brackman-Ker were once again the building’s occupants. Perhaps they never sold the building, and the various companies through the 1930s and 40s were their tenants. (Brackman-Ker occupied a small modern building near the Georgia Viaduct in the 1930s).

Today the building on the site is Ian Leman Place, designed by Joe Wai for the Vancouver Native Housing Society. They are an organization dedicated to providing housing for the urban aboriginal community, funded by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation and BC Housing Management Commission through programs such as the Urban Native Housing Program, Low Income Urban Singles (LIUS) and Homeless at Risk Programs. In addition they provide programs that enrich and enhance the lives of tenants and others in the community.

Photo sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-1351 and CVA LGN 454


Posted January 24, 2013 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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Beacon Hotel – West Hastings Street

5 to 11 W Hastings 1978

We looked at the building on the right of this 1978 image a little earlier. It was built as a boarding house in around 1899, and we think its westward neighbour was built at about the same time, or possibly just before (as it already shows up in the 1899 Directories). It started life as a three storey structure, and at some point early in its life added a fourth. It also started out with a different address, as 19 and 21 West Hastings, but more recently has become 9 to 11 West Hastings and today is known as the Beacon Hotel.

In some ways The Beacon is a classier piece of work than its neighbour. It has rusticated stone lintels and cills, and arched brickwork on what was the top storey when it was built. We don’t know who designed it, but we’re reasonably sure it was developed by Henry A Jones, (most often called Harry) who was born in Liverpool, and was in the city during the great fire. His name is in the 1900 Street Directory as occupying the West Hastings Street building, and he’s still paying for repairs as owner in 1915. His second wife, Clara, was US born, as were his children, although he the family lived in Vancouver.

In the 1891 and 1901 census returns Harry is shown working in Vancouver as a real estate agent. He was obviously already pretty successful; by 1901 the family of four (there was a daughter, Ruth and a son, Harold) also had a domestic living with them and H A was listed as having $20,000 worth of property in 1889, doubling to $40,000 only two years later.

H A JonesJ W Horne treeHe’s listed as having an office on Carroll Street (sic) in the 1887 publication “City of Vancouver, Terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway”  We can find his office on Cordova Street in an 1888 Street Directory. In 1890 he was one of the founders of the Vancouver Loan Trust Savings and Guarantee with at least three other partners; H T Ceperley, J W Horne and R G Tatlow. He was also identified by Mr. H.P. McCraney, ‘a very early pioneer’, in conversation with Major Matthews as being in this noted Vancouver image, supposedly taken by Harry Devine in 1886 on Granville Street soon after the fire that destroyed the city.

When it first appears in 1899, one of the building’s tenants was Thomas Dunn. A couple of years later in 1902 the upper part of the building is the Ramona Rooms. J L Walworth and Co were operating their creamery supplies business, and Mr Jones is no longer listed but another real estate company, R J Blake & Co are here. The businesses change many times over the years – in 1908 the Clark Rooming House is upstairs, Greene and Simpson, undertakers are downstairs and Wray and Dick’s clothing store is next door. In 1910 it’s the Wallace Rooming House and Rickson Brothers downstairs (who sold notions, etc), next to Wray and McKee who now run the clothing store. By 1915 the rooms are the Pacific Rooms and William M Harrison’s drugstore is downstairs, with the other retail space vacant.

During the 1930s Gregory & Reid’s Paint store and G E Snider’s jewellers are beneath the Grand Central Rooms, and by 1950 the Beacon Hotel Rooms are upstairs over Beacon menswear. The stores would continue to change, and the building became increasingly run down (as seen in our early 2000s picture above). By 1978 Hershsons have the clothing store, and there’s also still a jewellers, but upstairs a few years later the Backpackers Inn would be known to the Vancouver Police Department as ‘BC’s worst drug hotel’ (as The Tyee noted). BC Housing acquired the building a few years ago, and have already competed significant improvements. The paint has been removed from the facade, and more bathrooms have been added for tenants inside. Management has been introduced, and the Blue Shell Laundromat offers a valuable service to the neighbourhood. Now the Beacon Hotel is going to get further upgrades as part of an extensive renovation and restoration program for 13 of the Province’s Single Room occupancy hotels.


Posted January 22, 2013 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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245 East Georgia Street

245 E Georgia

Here’s one of the last houses in Chinatown. By no means the final example – there’s another similar building on the same block – one by one they’re disappearing as new development replaces them. This building dates from some time between 1903 and 1912, and despite our digging we don’t know who built it. We do know that it wasn’t the first structure on the lot – right at the back of the lot, almost on the lane, is the original development which dates back to 1892. At that time the name and numbering was different, so this parcel was known as 225 Harris Street. The water permit was signed by Johannes Buntzen, book-keeper with Tatlow and Spinks, real estate brokers and sometimes developers. He had arrived from Denmark in 1889, lived nearby at 431 Harris, was married to Marie and by 1901 could afford to have a Chinese cook, perhaps because by then he’d moved on to become business manager with the Vancouver Electric Railway and Light Company. Whether he owned this property himself or signed as part of his job, we don’t know.

Various Street Directories tell us that the buildings saw quite a few changes in occupant over the years. In 1894 George Adams, a labourer lived here, and in 1895 George Sprung, a teamster working for Thomas Dunn. For two years it was vacant, Then in 1898 Robert Holland, a mason was here, and in 1899 Arthur Worsley, a candymaker moves in, and stays for at least 5 years until 1904, through the period that the street was renumbered and this became 245 Harris. In 1905 and 1906 James Fletcher, a motorman was living here, in 1907 it’s vacant (which may be when the building you see today was added on the street) and in 1908 Kato Soca, a laborer was resident.

In 1909 it becomes the Guey Wo Laundry, and it stays with that use (although the name sometimes gets recorded as Quey Wo) until the 1920s, through the renaming of Harris to East Georgia. (There were four Chinese businesses on Harris Street in 1910 – all four were laundries, and three were in the 200 block). In the early 1920s it changes name to the Georgia Laundry, which it still is in our blown-up Vancouver Archives 1933 image. We saw the truck in an earlier post – it’s Ah Mew’s vegetable delivery truck.

One similarity between 1933 and 2013 is that the building was for sale. The difference this time is that the building probably won’t look the same in a year or two, as this time it has been sold for redevelopment as a 9-storey rental building.

photo source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-4379 (detail)


Posted January 20, 2013 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Still Standing

5 West Hastings Street

5 W Hastings 1920

The fancy stone clad building at the corner of Carrall Street and West Hastings Street today has been there just over 100 years – the Merchants Bank was built in 1912. The red brick building next door pre-dates it. The official records say it’s from around 1904. There’s a photograph with a suggested date of 1898, with the edge of the four storey building at 5 West Hastings just showing, but Street Directory records suggest that is a bit too early.

We think this is a building designed in 1899 and completed some time during 1900. And we believe we may have identified who built it, and designed it. In January 1899 The Province newspaper announced that on Hastings Street, near Carrall Street, G W Grant would supervise the construction of a four storey block for B.B. Johnston & Co. There are insurance maps published by Charles Goad and Co available for Vancouver in 1901, and they identify the number of floors for every structure. Checking those maps, there are no other buildings shown at four storeys on Hastings Street on either side of Carrall Street – just this one. While today the building to the west is 4 storeys, it started life as a 3 storey building, and we have a photograph of it to confirm that. Although not immediately obvious as a G W Grant design, looking at the Ormidale Block which is also on Hastings, designed by Grant a year later, it’s possible to see a number of similar design elements and almost identical brick and terra-cotta detail.

We’ve recently identified Mr Johnston as the co-developer of a building lost to the construction of the Pacific Centre Mall. Here’s an early description of his life. “Mr. B. B. Johnston is a native of Toronto, where he received his early education in the schools of his native city. After leaving school he entered the mercantile agency office and subsequently published The Mercantile Agency for the city and country. This he conducted successfully until 1881, when he removed to Emerson, Manitoba, and engaged in real estate. Here he was very successful in his operations and accumulated considerable wealth. He took a prominent part in the upbuilding of the gateway city, was a member of the council, serving one term and declining a re-nomination and was also Justice of the Peace for the Province of Manitoba up to the time of his departure for Vancouver, in 1889.

Upon his arrival here he engaged in the real estate and commission business operating alone until December, when he formed the present partnership with Mr. Douglas. Mr. Johnston is a Notary Public for the Province of British Columbia. The firm soon forged to the front and are to-day amongst the heaviest dealers in real estate in Vancouver. They do a general real estate business, buy and sell property, rent houses and negotiate loans on real estate securities for residents and non residents in England, Eastern Canada and the United States. The firm controls and has the exclusive sale of some of the most desirable property in the city and vicinity and controls the sale of several valuable additions and sub-divisions notable among which are Sub-divisions 628 and 629 on Mount Pleasant, beautifully located, bounded on the east by Westminster Avenue and on the west by Ontario Street. Although progressive they are alike conservative in their transactions, and all business placed with them receives prompt attention, and the most careful supervision is given to all negotiations and transactions of landed interests.”

5 West Hastings was first occupied as a lodging house around 1900 with Mary Gowdy in charge. She was aged 45 in the 1901 census, was head of the household, had four children at home aged 17 to 26 and seven boarders (including a 15 year old and a couple in their 30s, Nora and Samuel Woods – apparently he was American and a hairdresser). She was born in BC in 1856 but we haven’t managed to trace her in the 1891 or 1881 census records. In 1905 Mrs Caroline Tyler is running the rooms; in 1907 W R Carpenter took over, Mrs Ellen Bullock in 1910 and Lydia Smith in 1912. A year later it became the Drexel Rooms, which it remained into the 1980s – so that was what it was known as in 1920 when our VPL image was taken. More recently it became a Single Room Occupancy hotel called the North Star Rooms, although it has been empty for many years (closed in 1999 for repeated code violations) except for a brief period when it was squatted in 2006.


Posted January 17, 2013 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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Fraser Building – 540 Seymour Street

540 Seymour 1974

Here’s a modest building seen in this Archives image when it was in its early working years – just 26 years old. Although it’s only two storeys, it’s still standing today and it would be eligible for a pension, as it turns 65 this year. In the image you can see a sheet music retailer, Modern Music and a Scottish Imports store.

When it was built back in 1948 the retail store included an E A Morris tobacconists store, while the rest of the building had a variety of office tenants, including Traders Finance Corpn Ltd, Precision Housing Co Ltd, J H Read construction structural engineers and a couple of stock broking firms. Precision Housing and J H Read shared an office and they shared with a third tenant, and it’s that tenant that gives the building some significance. CBK Van Norman, the architect, had his offices here, and he was the designer of the pre-fabricated Precision Housing system in the 1940s.

We’re reasonably certain that the Fraser Building wasn’t just Van Norman’s office – we think it was a Van Norman designed building. Although the plans, which are in the Archives, are still protected by copyright (as the building is still standing) they seem to match the building. The building doesn’t currently appear on the ‘Post 40s Register’ of important more recent buildings.

Today it’s had some changes to the store fronts, there are different screens below and above the windows, and the colour scheme has been reversed (at least, from the way it looked in 1974). But for the most part it’s still looking pretty good (for a pensioner).

Photo source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-402


Posted January 15, 2013 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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