Third Hotel Vancouver

Georgia & Hotel

Here’s a 1939 image showing the Hotel Vancouver, and the Hotel Vancouver – the second one to the east dressed in bunting for a Royal Visit and the one to the west (on the right) just completed in time for the King and his wife to stay there.

When the Canadian Pacific Railway came to Vancouver, they were given valuable tracts of land by the government and city businessmen to persuade them to build the terminal station here. When the Canadian Northern wanted to start services from Montreal and Toronto to Vancouver, it was a different matter. While  construction on the line started in British Columbia in the summer of 1910, details of the terminus were still undecided. In February 1913 Mayor Gerry McGeer negotiated to provide the land for the railway to come into town. In exchange the railway would build a 500 bed hotel, a tunnel under Grandview to the Main Street stations, extensive station works and development of the filled False Creek Flats and electrification of the terminals (the Northern Pacific Railway were a party to the agreement as well). Altogether the works were estimated to cost $8,000,000 (The railway company had to fill part of False Creek in – but that wasn’t really an issue as they needed the new land for their operations).  

However, back when it was first announced it wasn’t going to be without a rival if the CPR had anything to do with it. They started construction of the second Hotel Vancouver  in 1913, and the final wing was completed it in 1916. That wasn’t the end of their ambitions for the hotel; on October 15 1920 the Contract Record reported further plans for the Hotel Vancouver.

“Plans Now Here, Provide for Rebuilding of West Wing and Interior Alterations.

At a cost of probably considerably more than one million dollars, extensive changes and an addition are to be made in the near future to the Hotel Vancouver. Besides many important interior alterations, the plans for the enlargement of this big hostelry include the tearing down of the present west wing of the hotel, which is of quite modern construction and was built only about fifteen years ago, and its reconstruction on a much larger scale to conform to the architecture and size of the rest of the big caravansary.

It will be remembered that Mr. J. C. Wetmore, a noted New York architect, who designed the famous Biltmore hotel as well as a number of other modern skyscrapers in New York, was here last summer in company with two of the C. P. R. chief architects, and went carefully over the hotel with a view to determining what would be the best means of enlarging the structure to meet the pressing demands of increasing tourist travel, especially during the summer months. That these architects have not been idle in the interim is proven by the fact that very complete plans for the contemplated improvements have now arrived in the city. Coincident ‘with the arrival of these plans comes Mr. F. L. Hutchinson of Montreal, general superintendent of the C. P. R. hotel system, who is to confer with local C. P. R. officials in regard to the best time to start work on the alterations and the rebuilding of the west wing. While not definitely decided yet, it is expressed that an early start will be made on the work and in that case the demolition of the old west wing may he commenced in January and an effort made to have the new wing completed in time for to alignment the accommodations for the midsummer tourist travel. The Hotel Vancouver now contains. a total of nearly 800 rooms, but with the rebuilding of the west wing on a much larger scale, the new plans give the hotel nearly 1,000 rooms, which will mean a large increase in capacity.

Among the interior changes provided for on the plans are the shifting of the main entrance to Granville street and’ the retention, of the present entrance on Georgia street a special doors for women. The present ballroom on the ground floor of the Granville street frontage will be done away with and the space absorbed into a much larger rotunda to obviate much of the congestion which now exists when ocean liners or large excursion trains arrive. A new and larger ballroom, is to be. provided for on the second floor of the west wing and larger dining loom space also planned in that section on the ground floor of the rebuilt wing. Many other improvements that will make the Hotel Vancouver one of the greatest hotels on the continent are also included in the plans.”

Hotel 1926As far as we know, nothing ever came of these plans. Meanwhile the rival CN grand hotel was on hold as well. The First World War got in the way – and the economy was already slowing considerably up to the war (With the exception of the CPR’s hotel, relatively few large buildings got started between 1913 and 1919). By the end of the war the railway was under the Canadian National banner with federal support as the Canadian Northern had been forced into bankruptcy, and the government had taken over.

While pressure was applied to revive the 500 bed project after the war, nothing happened, although in 1925 the Winnipeg Tribune announced “At a conference with Mayor L. D. Taylor, today, Sir Henry Thornton, president of the Canadian National Railways, intimated that it was practically assured that a large hotel would be erected by a local syndicate and operated in connection with the Canadian National Railways. Provision of a hotel was undertaken about 12 years ago by Mackenzie and Mann, the railway builders, as part of the terms by which they secured from the city for railway terminals“. In 1927 the city started court action to get the hotel built, claiming $1,500,000 compensation from the two railway companies (CN and Northern Pacific). Finally CN agreed to build the hotel, and in exchange the city agreed to let the CNR off from building the tunnel and station works – as this 1926 Ottawa Citizen clipping shows the company estimated the uncompleted work would have cost them over eight million dollars.

hotel-1931&32The designs for the new château style hotel (by Montreal-based architects Archibald and Schofield) were approved and the framework finally started in December 1928, the steel frame of the new hotel took several years to complete (as this 1931 image shows on the left). By 1932 the cladding had been applied, but the hotel sat unfinished for several more years, a constant reminder of the depression the economy had entered.

In 1938, with the prospect of two huge rival hotels in the city, the City Council agreed to allow the new hotel to be run by a joint CP and CN Board of Directors as the Hotel Vancouver Company, an arrangement that continued through to the 1980s. The news coverage at the time said both hotels faced the prospect of operating deficits, and promised the existing hotel would close, but have a new use – although the Montreal Gazette pointed out that no alternate use was actually identified. The prospect of a Royal Visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the city finally prompted the completion of the new hotel and it was opened during the royal visit in 1939 having cost $12 million.

With the agreement to jointly run the new ‘huge grey stone structure’, CP closed the second hotel. Some suggest that construction of the second hotel might have been of indifferent quality and the building was deteriorating but there’s no evidence of this, at the time it seems to have been purely an economic decision based on demand for hotels in a period when the economy was still shaky and the country was just entering a second period of wartime uncertainty.

CP never found an alternative use for the second hotel, and homeless Second World War veterans occupied the vacant hotel building at the end of the war. It was officially turned into a barracks before finally being demolished in 1949. The site sat empty for many years until the construction of the Pacific Centre Mall got going in the early 1970s. Today the Eatons/Sears portion of the mall is getting a total reconstruction around the 1970s frame, while the Hotel Vancouver is also receiving a facelift.

Image sources, City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1376-154, CVA 99-3679 and CVA 99-3710

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Posted December 23, 2013 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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