Archive for February 2013

Lacey Johnson house – Seymour Street

Lacey R Johnson

This is one of the earliest houses built in the city, in the newly cleared CPR land one block off Granville Street where they were developing their hotel and office buildings to create their new city centre away from Gastown. We know a fair bit about it because the owner’s daughter gave a detailed interview to Major Matthews, who recorded it in the early City Archives.

The owner of the house was Lieutenant-Colonel Lacey R. Johnson, V.D., first Master Mechanic, Pacific Division, Canadian Pacific Railway. Mrs Evans, the daughter in question recalled “As Mother and my brother, now Col. R.E. Johnson of Montréal, and two sisters, Grace and Julia, were travelling westwards on the train, a telegram reached us from Father which read in part, ‘Vancouver in ashes’ (13 June 1886), “so we got off at Yale. We had closed up our home at Carlton Place, Ontario, so our furniture en route went to Vancouver. Whilst at Yale, we lived, first, in a furnished cottage belonging to Dan McDougall” 

“We remained at Yale, and then came on to Vancouver in Father’s railway car, September 3rd , 1887, and lived in it for about ten days on a siding at the foot of Granville Street until our house, 455 Seymour Street, west side, close to Georgia Street, and now part of the site of the Hudson’s Bay store, was completed. Father had started to build before the Fire; the lumber was on the ground, but the fire destroyed the lumber; it had to be replaced.

“I recall that when we first went there, there were no buildings near; the view down the slope towards Water Street was unobstructed; then, later, the nearest building was the No. 2 Fire Hall, on the east side of Seymour, south of Georgie Street.”

“This photo of our first house, 455 Seymour Street; Father is on the steps with my brother Ernest, and I am looking out of the window. I remember it so well. Here is the Durham Block, on Granville Street, where Christ Church held the first service—in the evening—in one of the stores on the ground floor. You know that after Christ Church was built, the sheriff was going to seize the church for debt, and Mr. H.J. Ceperley, W.J. Salsbury, H.J. Cambie, and Father, four of them, contributed one thousand dollars each to ‘save it.’ I know that Father mortgaged our house to get his one thousand dollars. No, it was never returned to him.”

Georgia St 1917 The Bay #2 and #3 CVA 260-1043The family stayed in the house for three years, then moved to a new house on Beach Avenue. (Note that 455 later became 677 Seymour Street). The House stood until 1912, and must have been bought by the Hudson’s Bay Company as it is where they built the first phase of the existing building in 1913. (The first Hudson’s Bay store was in Gastown, and the second at Georgia and Granville. The expansion in 1913 was on Seymour, and then the second building was demolished and replaced to match the Seymour building in 1925. For a while both the 1893 building and the 1913 building stood side by side as the 1917 image on the right shows).

The architects were Burke, Horwood & White and the contractors Rourke, MacDonald & Moncreiff, and the first Seymour and Georgia phase of the construction cost $900,000. The architects were from Toronto, and specialised in designing large commercial 10 storey Baybuildings using historic styles but contemporary materials (favouring glazed terra-cotta, steel frames and fireproof construction methods). Although it was considered a new technique, the building had a reinforced concrete frame rather than steel (which had to be shipped from the east at considerable cost). Although a substantial building, at six storeys, the design included the possibility of an additional four storeys at a later date.

The design in part referenced Chicago architect Daniel Burnham’s store in London for American retailer Gordon Selfridge. This has been called a ‘decorated warehouse’ – which is in a sense what all the big departmental stores have been from that point on. The Vancouver design was deemed so successful other Hudson’s Bay stores were designed in the same style, starting with Calgary (which actually completed ahead of Vancouver) and Victoria.

Recent restoration of the terra-cotta, and the removal of a solid metal canopy with lightweight glazed weather protection have given the newly revitalised Bay building a new lease of life.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu P119 and CVA 260-1043


The Percival Building – Hamilton Street


The Percival is one the more dramatic transformations from when our 1981 photo shows that this Hamilton Street warehouse facade was mostly blocked up. The concrete window infill was added to the 1912 building after a fire in the 1950s. The building structure today is a mix of poured in place concrete, reinforced concrete floor beams and masonry brick walls which was how it was designed by G P Bowie – being described as a “six-storey brick & concrete warehouse”.

Although it’s sometimes called the Stewart and Cromie Warehouse, and that was the name of the owners on the permit, it appeared in the Street Directories from the year it was finished as the Percival Building. The most likely candidates for having built it are Robert Cromie, who was Manager of Foley, Welch and Stewart who were railway contractors based in the Winch Building. Mr Cromie was later well connected, as his wife was the daughter of Vancouver hardware magnate Edward McFeely. He was originally from Quebec and only 25 years old when the building went up. There’s also a connection to the Vancouver Sun, as this 2012 article by John Mackie explains

“The Sun was launched on Feb. 12, 1912, at the crest of a boom that had seen Vancouver’s population quadruple in 10 years. But the boom went bust as foreign investment stalled around the First World War, and the paper floundered financially. In 1915, The Sun was rescued by an infusion of cash from railway contractors Timothy Foley, Patrick Welch and John Stewart. Foley, Welch and Stewart had cut a shady deal with the provincial government to fund the Pacific Great Eastern railway, and thought a newspaper might be useful in advancing their interest in the PGE. But the deal became a scandal, and they had to repay $1.1 million to the province. In the midst of the scandal, running an unprofitable newspaper wasn’t a priority, and the trio gave control of the paper to Stewart’s secretary, Robert Cromie. One story has it that Cromie fished out some Sun stock that was being thrown out from a wastebasket, which gave him control of the paper. Robert Cromie’s grandson, Ron Cromie, says “family legend” is that Cromie was “given The Sun in lieu of wages owed him for a construction company McConnell [or Foley, Welch and Stewart] also owned that had gone bankrupt.” In any event, Cromie managed to make the paper profitable after acquiring financing from the owner of the Seattle Times and then buying up some competing Vancouver papers (The News-Advertiser and The World) to increase circulation.”

In 1995 the building was given a comprehensive restoration and converted to residential uses on the upper floors. Marshall Fisher Architects and Acton Johnston Ostry were the architects of the newly named ‘Del Prado’ – although these days as often as not is known by its original name – The Percival Building.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E13.32


1110 Hamilton Street

1100 Mainland 1

1100 Hamilton 1

These pictures from 1981 show how Yaletown has seen a dramatic transformation over 30 years – some buildings are on their second (or more) rebuild, and there has been a shift in the past few years from residential conversion to adding commercial space on upper floors of older warehouses.

These days 1110 Hamilton (on the corner of Helmcken Street) is the home of the Yaletown Brewpub, part of the Mark James Group. Back in 1981 it was in the middle of a substantial rebuilding to change it from purely warehouse to add some office use. Because it had been stripped back, a concrete shell can be seen on the Mainland Street side – although the building dates back to 1910 and was built as a ‘brick and stick’ structure. We assume the Hamilton Street image was shot a little later that year when the work was complete. It was originally designed by Smith and Goodfellow for R A Ogilvie. Sholto Smith (despite the Gaelic name) was an English-born architect who practiced briefly in BC and married Charles Woodward’s youngest daughter, thus ensuring that (for a while) he obtained commissions for their building projects. His partner, William Goodfellow, was a local, coming from New Westminster. Their client, Robert A Ogilvie would seem to have been a manufacturer’s agent who (like a surprising number of the people featured on this blog) seems to have managed to evade the 1911 Census. We think he was born in Grey County, Ontario and died in Vancouver in 1935.

In 2009 a much more dramatic remodelling was carried out. Two extra office floors were added in an uncompromisingly contemporary style. Designed by Simon Bonnettmaker at Gower, Yeung & Associates, the building uses corten steel plates on its new floors, a material that, despite looking as if it is rusting away, exhibits increased resistance to atmospheric corrosion compared to unalloyed steels. This is because it forms a protective layer on its surface under the influence of the weather. The building had substantial seismic upgrading during the restoration process. The substantial old growth wood frame timbers were in some places noticeably deteriorating, so the intervention was timely.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E13.28 and CVA 779-E13.30


The Hamilton – Hamilton and Davie

The Hamilton

Here’s another of the warehouses built on the land released by the CPR which came to be called Yaletown. This is on the corner of Davie and Hamilton – here we’re seeing the side that doesn’t have the raised platform that was built at the height of the railcars that lined up down the street. From the Building Permits made available by Heritage Vancouver, we think we’ve worked out the history of the building. There’s a permit for a three storey brick pier warehouse in January 1913, designed and built by builder George Baker for the Gray Brothers. Then later that same year there’s another permit for George Baker to build a two storey brick addition to a warehouse, designed by Thomas Hooper, once again for the Gray Brothers. The address is gives as 1198 Helmcken – which is distinctly odd as Helmcken Street ends at the 900 block. If the clerk had meant to record 1198 Hamilton, then that fits this building, and explains how a three storey building is today a five storey structure. It also suggests Thomas Hooper may well have been responsible for the design of the whole thing. One reason we think this is more likely is because even when George Baker was building a warehouse for his personal ownership elsewhere in Yaletown, he hired an architect to design it. Baker has arrived in Canada from England in 1889 and in 1911 was living at his home at 835 10th Avenue with his New Brunswick-born wife, three daughters and two nieces.

There were two Gray Brothers. J Russell Gray (he was christened John, but apparently known as Russell) emigrated to Canada in 1906. That was the year he married his Canadian wife, Ada. His brother Donald probably arrived a few years later, although we don’t know for sure as Donald somehow avoided filling in the census. Both were from Scotland, born in Rutherglen in Lanarkshire. Their father was also John Russell Gray (which may be why Russell was known by his middle name). Their first appearance in the City Directories is in 1907, when J Russell Gray is living at 1339 Barclay (a house he stayed in for several years) and John R Gray, retired, is at 850 Broughton Street. A year later Mr Gray senior is no longer retired, but an advisory Director with the Dominion Trust Company, while Mr Gray junior is working for Coast Quarries. In 1909 Donald has arrived and is living with his father, and both Donald and Russell are associated with their new company, Gray Brothers.

In 1996 the building was converted to residential use on the upper floors, designed by Howard, Yano Partners. Renamed The Hamilton, it’s one of the more sensitive conversions, retaining the original glazing and avoiding adding balconies or residential details.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E13.25


1190 Homer Street

1100 Homer Smith Davidson

Smith Davidson & Wright were a newly formed company in 1907 established by Fred Smith, William E. Davidson and Francis Wright. They were primarily wholesale stationers and paper dealers, although they seem to have published postcards in their early years. They selected E E Blackmore to design a warehouse for their business to sit on the corner of Homer and Davie Streets, in the newly released CPR lands to the east of Homer (completed in 1911).

Smith Davidson 1930sFrederick Smith was from Toronto, and took the position of Chairman in the new company. Frances Wright was from Ashburn Ontario and worked at Toronto’s W J Gage, wholesale paper dealers, the same company that Mr Smith had worked for as well. Mr Wright became secretary and treasurer of the firm. We haven’t successfully identified Mr Davidson, or his role in the company.

Our photograph shows the company’s premises in 1921. By 1930, as the magazine advertisment here shows, they had expanded to Victoria, Calgary, Saskatoon and Edmonton. In 1953 the company, still occupying the same premises, became Smith Davidson & Lecky. The substantial terra cotta surround to the warehouse and office entrance, which had the company name inscribed on it, was totally rebuilt in appropriately matching style to reflect the new name of the business.

Smith, D Lecky sign 1Smith, D Lecky sign 2Although the company no longer exists, the warehouse still operates as an office building with new retail uses on the old rail dock at the back of the building (on Hamilton Street).

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99 – 3370, Museum of Vancouver.


545 Main Street

Keefer & Main

Here’s a building where our ‘current’ picture is no longer entirely accurate. The 2-storey brick building that we photographed at the end of last year is now being demolished to be replaced by a much more significant condo and commercial project (on our other blog). While there has been some comment that we’re losing some of Chinatown’s history, as our 1970 Archives image shows, the building that’s being demolished has very little original or historic material.

Although a building was constructed on this site in the 1890s, in 1978 it was almost completely rebuilt. The two buildings that existed (with alterations to link the upper floors into one hotel) were given a completely new brick façade, adding decorative elements that were never on the original building, and replacing all the windows and shop fronts. Almost all the interior spaces were demolished, with a steel frame being built to replace the original brick walls. By 1970 the tin cornice had long gone – the concrete cap to the brickwork was exposed, and the redevelopment replaced it with a new brick cornice.

Winnipeg Rooms (extract)The first building was on the corner of Keefer and Main, and was only 50 feet wide and sixty feet back (half the lot depth). There was a carpenter in the building in 1901, and a plumber and furniture store in 1903. To the north were two houses that by 1912 had been demolished and another 50 feet wide 2 storey brick building was built. The original building’s tin cornice can be seen in this extract from an Archives picture showing the reconstruction of the streetcar tracks down Main Street in 1912.

The 1970 Mayo Hotel was then called the Winnipeg Rooms, a name it kept until the 1940s when it became the National Rooms before the Mayo name was adopted in 1949. J McKune was the proprietor. A year earlier Joseph McKune, who was Scottish, had been a lodger on Hastings Street; J G Thompson was the previous proprietor.

There have been a number of these ‘recreations’ of brick buildings in Chinatown. The TD Bank across the street has been significantly refurbished from its 1901 roots, while the Chinese Nationalist League built a new building to the immediate north of this building in 2000 that looks as if it was designed many years earlier.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-308


Posted February 4, 2013 by ChangingCity in East End, Gone

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1200 block Homer Street (1)

1200 Block Homer 1

Here’s our third look at the corner of Davie and Homer. The first building is the Gray Block, which in 1981 was occupied in part by Ranken Tire Distributors. We’ve already looked at the 1940s building to the south, now occupied by Perkins + Will, architects. Beyond that are several more buildings – some of which we’ll look at on this blog soon.

What’s of note is that not all of this block was developed – there are several gaps that provided parking to the area’s businesses. The area was developed between 1909 and 1913 (with only a couple of exceptions almost everything in the Yaletown warehouse district dates from those years). The motor vehicle was just replacing the horse and cart for deliveries, and the private car was growing in popularity. In 1911 Woodwards built a stables and warehouse here. By the 1930s Ford Motor Co were assembling vehicles on Mainland Street. Parking was a need that hadn’t been factored into the area, so some lots stayed undeveloped for over 80 years.

Picture source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E13.09


Posted February 3, 2013 by ChangingCity in Still Standing, Yaletown

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