International Hotel – 135 Cordova Street

International Hotel

This 1940 image was taken not too long before the building was demolished. Initially we weren’t sure when it was built, (or who designed it), but it was early in the life of the city. The early history seemed a little confusing; in 1887 A Boehlofsky was listed as the owner of the International Restaurant at 135 Cordova. In the 1890 and 1891 Directories it was listed as the International Restaurant and Hotel, proprietor F A Boehlofsky. In 1892 it had become the St Lawrence Hall, with waiters but no mention of a hotel operation. The ‘Daily World’ published a souvenir edition in 1891 that illustrated a number of buildings, including the Struthers Block, that looks quite a bit like the International. The 1896 street directory identifies 135 Cordova as the Struthers Block, which was completed in 1889 and designed by N S Hoffar for Alex Struthers. There’s an 1892 notice in the Daily World where Alexander Struthers sought the transfer of the licence for the St Lawrence Hall held by Tilly McIvers, confirming our identification of the property.

Mr. Struthers was from Ontario, a builder and contractor who owned land in Vancouver early in the city’s history, (he was on the 1886 voters list, although not in any list of residents at that time). His first appearance in the street directories is in 1889 and 1890 when he was living on Keefer and was listed as a carpenter, but his fortunes seem to have changed as in 1891 was listed as ‘successor to F W Clark’ in business with J Struthers (perhaps his son, James) on Cordova, with rooms in the International Hotel. A year later the family were resident on Barclay Street, and in 1894 on Georgia. The family seemed to have moved out by 1896, and Alexander seems to have died in the early 1900s, perhaps in 1904, although his son had title to the Vancouver property as early as 1901.

From 1894 to 1897 the block housed the Hoffman House, and the Hoffman House Restaurant, although in 1897 it appeared the restaurant may not have been operating, although there are a few residents at the address. In 1898 The hotel was called the Savoy for the first time, and that same year William Blackmore designed the Savoy Theatre, the smaller building to the right of the hotel in the photograph.

In 1899 it was listed as the Savoy Theatre, Hotel and Cafe. A G Ferrara was in charge of the restaurant, Cesar Ferrara was chef de cuisine and Antoine Ferrara was a waiter (one of many). Chas McNiffe was manager of the Savoy Theatre with S D Nesbitt. The Savoy Hotel was being run by Steve O’Brien and W R Jackson.In 1901 the Insurance map references the Savoy Hotel, with the Savoy Theatre to the east.

Major Matthews, the city’s Archivist recorded his memories of both the Theatre and the Savoy Restaurant.

“When I came to Vancouver in November 1898 there was a small theatre called the Grand Theatre on Cordova Street, in the middle of the block between Cambie and Abbott Street—north side. It is still standing.

This theatre was a small affair. Its frontage was twenty-five feet, and its depth presumably about one hundred and twenty. In 1898 the Imperial Opera House was still in use, but as a Drill Hall. The only two theatres at that time which I recall were the “big” theatre, and the “little one,” the former being the Vancouver Opera House, and the latter, the “Grand,” and it was customary to go first to one, and then to the other, for there was no other one to go to; we alternated.

The stage was very narrow. There were boxes on both sides. The boxes were just wide enough for one person to squeeze into, and were entered by a passage way, very narrow, from behind which led to the stage. Box holders sat one behind the other. All the formality of etiquette was observed by those using them; dress suits with white bosoms, and the ladies in low necked dresses. In the middle of the theatre were seats for the “common crowd” distant from the elite by a few inches only. In all, the boxes on each side of the small theatre probably held six persons (twelve persons in all) and these of course could reach down to those sitting in the seats in the middle of the theatre.

In the back was a very small gallery of some sort.

In the front was a tiny ticket office—about the size of a telephone booth.

In latter years the building was used, first as a moving picture house. I am under the impression that the first moving pictures regularly shown were shown there; afterwards half a dozen cheap nasty moving picture houses sprung up on Cordova and Carrall Street in several disused stores. After the war I think the building was used as a commercial warehouse—butter and cheese, etc.—and finally I think A.R. Gun and Co., the confectionary wholesalers, used it as a distributing warehouse.

In 1898 and for some years after, A.G. Ferrera, later the Italian Consul, conducted a restaurant about three doors west of the “Grand Theatre.” It was an excellent restaurant with small boxes, hung with heavy curtains. The cuisine was perfect, and it was famed far and wide. As with the theatres, so with restaurants; it was either the Hotel Vancouver or the Ferrera restaurant, known as “The Savoy.” It was a tiny affair as restaurants go now, built on a 25 x 120 foot lot, but it was exceedingly well conducted and the food was the best money could buy.

It followed then that the leaders of Vancouver society would drive up in their carriages, or perhaps hired broughams or hansom cabs, step daintily to avoid any little mud there might be on the macadam road, and sail into the boxes, where they observed all the forms of a more resplendent edifice, and after the “show” was over, would repair to the Savoy in all their finery for supper; and there, too, the waiters and others performed their parts with equal delicacy. It was a pretty performance of good manners in primeval surroundings; they lived to fare better, but not with greater grace.”

The Ferraras apparently didn’t stay at the hotel for many years, by 1903 the Savoy Restaurant was being run by Thomas Strange, and the Hotel by Jackson & McDonell. Two years later A G Ferrara has a Restaurant on Granville Street, and the Savoy was called the Hotel Quinte, with C Jarvis as owner and Mrs E Jarvis as proprietress, while Bentley Johnson was the bartender. In 1906 Dalton and Eveleigh supervised ‘major alterations’ to the hotel.

By 1912 the Insurance map shows the building has become the Cordova Hotel, a name it retained right through to 1935. George Nahrgang was running the hotel in 1916. By 1920 Arthur Worsley had taken over the theatre for his wholesale confectionery business, and the hotel was being run by George Smedley and John Martin. By 1930 much of the rest of the block was vacant except for Woodward’s auto parking just down the street – with space for 500 cars; the largest garage in Canada (the company claimed). After 1940 the building was demolished and later (in 1957) Woodwards expanded their parking garage onto the site – a use that’s still there today, although totally rebuilt by the City of Vancouver in 2004 to Henriquez Partners Architects design.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu N128

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