The East Hotel started life as the Hotel Reco in 1912. The architect was S B Birds, who it is fair to say is not known for his use of an abundance of decoration on the buildings he designed. The owner was Lee Kee, a Chinese merchant who headed the Lee Yuen (or Lee Yune) Company, one of the more affluent businesses in Chinatown, and the hotel was run by Mrs Margaret L Kennedy. Mrs Kennedy had previously run the Russell Rooms on East Pender and in 1911 was living there with her three sons and her sister, Lily Mathews who worked as a waitress in a hotel. The sisters were born in Ontario, as was her 18 year old son, Earle. Her middle son, John, was born in Alberta 15 years earlier, and her 12 year old, Cyril, was born in BC. The hotel was built almost exactly at the same time as the Hotel Stratford across the street.
In the years before the hotel was built Lee Yune operated an opium factory on Market Alley, and were one of the two opium companies compensated for damages in the 1908 riot. (Their letterhead described their company as ‘Manufacturers of the Celebrated “E Y” Brand Opium). The company also imported and exported goods, and were involved in labour contracting. They were one of the four most successful businesses in Chinatown. Once McKenzie King successfully closed the opium manufacturing operation Lee Kee continued in business, including developing this $65,000 building.
There were various businesses on the ground floor including the H Wong Agencies; the upper floors provided housing (as it still does today). Sing Sam ran a store in the building, hiring Braunton and Leibert to design the store in 1913, and in 1915 another permit for repairs said the owner was called O’Connor and Sam Sing was the tenant. In 1915 one of the building’s tenants was the Halibut Fisherman’s Union, and in the 1920s the same location was the home to the Chinese Methodist Kindergarten. In 1930 the Little Rose Confectionery store was run by Gow Gooey and Miss L Hong. In 1939 the name of the hotel changes to the Hotel East and Jack Matsui was manager. (Japanese businesses had been in the building for several years before this). In 1950 the name sequence had switched to East Hotel as it is today, and Chong N Low was in charge. Our 1972 picture shows the building is much as today – except today the street trees hide the building.
Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-452