Herbert Oliver Lee – generally known by his initials – arrived in Vancouver in 1903 from London Ontario when he would have been aged around 26. Two years later he married Beatrice, who was aged only 20 and from Carlton Place, also in Ontario. The marriage took place in Vancouver where Herbert had already established a grocery store on Westminster Avenue (today’s Main Street), just north of the junction with Ninth Avenue (today’s Broadway). Here’s his store in 1906. The second floor seems to have been a hall, referred to as ‘Lee’s Hall’.
Mr Lee must have been successful in the fast-growing city, and by 1907 had apparently acquired a plot next to his store right on the corner of Broadway and Main. The corner was the home of the Mount Pleasant Methodist Church from 1891 until 1909, although it was closed a few years earlier. A 1907 advertisement in the Mount Pleasant Advocate placed by H O Lee said “For Sale or Rent, the old Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church Building.” Clearly he had no takers – or at least none he liked, because in 1910 he hired architect A J Bird to design the Lee Building for the site. There’s just the one reference to this scheme in the Province newspaper, although Mr Lee did take out a building permit for a $100,000 steel framed building that year with W C Stevens to be the builder, and Mr Lee himself as architect (which seems a bit unlikely). Nothing really happened for a year, and when it did it wasn’t Mr Bird’s design that was used. Instead Stroud and Keith were the architects for a $200,000 six-storey building (although as built it’s seven). Allan Stroud was a Toronto based architect who arrived in Vancouver in 1909, partnered with A W Keith in 1910 and designed very few buildings before leaving again after 1912. This is one of only two buildings still standing that the partnership designed, and easily the biggest that was built.
It was the largest building in Mount Pleasant for many years, and Mr Lee continued to live in the building with his family. Our 1939 VPL image shows it soon after his death, which was in 1937. His wife, Beatrice, died in 1948. The family apparently lost control of the building due to a debt of $12,000 to the Royal Bank, and eventually the building was sold in a rather unusual arrangement of joint shareholder ownership – almost a strata, but not quite. The building houses a mix of residents, offices and retail stores.
The shops are pushed back behind an arcade, but that’s not how Stroud and Keith designed the building. The sidewalk in front of the building was taken for widening Broadway in 1953 and the arcade – which is more like a corridor – was the compromise solution. Fortunately this was achievable with a steel framed building (erected by J Coughlin and Sons, who conveniently had offices in the same building as the architects).
The single storey retail stores on the left, on Westminster Avenue included a Safeway store in the 1930s. Today’s replacement buildings are still low, having been rebuilt in the past two years following a fire.