Here’s a news story from an August 1922 Contract Record and Engineering Review. Vancouver had been through a tough decade – after 1913 very few new commercial buildings were added to the city. There had been a massive amount of building from 1909 to 1912, then the bottom fell out of the real estate market, and World War One intervened. So in 1922 even a 3-storey building warranted the description ‘Large Business Block’. (The typos are original – we left them in to show that we are not alone in typing errors – and we’re not charging a subscription!)
Large Business Block in Vancouver, B. C.
First Building of the Knid of Any Considerable Size to be Erected for Some Time —Work Already Under Way
A contract has been let to Messrs Adkinson & Dill, contractors of Vancouver, for the construction of a store and office block on the corner of Granville and Robson Sts., Vancouver, B. C. The contract price is about $112,000, and work was commenced at once, excavation for the basement and foundation walls being already practically complete.
The building will be of three storeys, the ground floor being of steel construction and the two upper floors in mill construction. The ground floor will be devoted to stores. The first floor will be fitted up for use as doctors’ or dentists’ offices, or as general business offices, and the top floor will probably be arranged as an assembly or dance hall, with anterooms suitable to the purpose.
The architects for the building are Messrs. Maclure and Mort, of Vancouver, and the owner is V. D. Farmer, of Fort Worth, Texas, U.S.A., represented by Messrs. Sharples and Sharples, agents, of Vancouver, B. C. This is the first business block of any considerable size to be erected in Vancouver for some time, but several other buildings of this nature are in contemplation or in the plan stage at present, and a revival of activity in this line of contracting is quite likely to ensue.
We finally traced who Mr Farmer was – and why someone from Fort Worth was building in Vancouver after a long post-war recovery. He was Edward Disney Farmer, (so E D, not V D) an Irishman who, after a public school education in England moved to Minnesota and worked in a flour mill until 1875, when he moved to Fort Worth, Texas. He spent the next few years employed as a construction worker for $1.50 a day, saving enough to become a cattle rancher in Texas. He maintained ties with his nephew who lived in Vancouver, and as he did in Fort Worth, once he was successful, he invested in real estate – and not just the Farmer Block. He was described as “a quiet, soft-spoken bachelor who avoided publicity and preferred to make his extensive charitable donations anonymously.”
The architects were actually Maclure and Lort; Samuel Maclure was a long-established architect, and Ross Lort had worked for him from the day after he arrived in British Columbia (in Victoria). After the war Lort became a full partner and ran the Vancouver office of the firm. We’ve come across Sharples and Sharples before; they were associated with the construction of another building immediately opposite this one, in the same year.
The building seems to have found tenants quickly. The Vancouver Drug Co had the corner store, next door was a confectioners store run by Henrietta Owen, and beyond that along Robson the London Grill which became the London Cafeteria, as can be seen in the 1923 VPL image. Upstairs were Mae Dugdale who ran a beauty palour and chiropodists, Alphonse Errica, a tailor, Fred Anderson, a dentist and Edward Gallant, a chiropractic. The top floor was home to the Central Athletic Club.
Over the years the tenants changed a lot. By the 1950s the office tenants included two chiropractics and a couple of Union offices. As this 1967 image shows the Western School of Commerce occupied the top floor, as they had from the 1940s. The building lasted until 2011. It’s just been replaced with an office and retail building incorporating the heritage facade of the former Bank of Commerce next door on Granville. Designed by Musson Cattell Mackey it will be home to Old Navy, the clothing store which will be on two floors, with 3 floors of office space above (apparently already leased).