Archive for January 2014

Vancouver Public Library – Burrard Street


In 1957 Vancouver got a beautiful new library. It took two years to build, and it was designed by the city’s foremost contemporary architectural practice of the day, Semmens and Simpson. In a relatively short period the Canadian-born partners designed a series of simple but effective residential and commercial buildings across the city starting in 1949. Many, but sadly not all of their buildings are still standing, and some have been altered, few as much as the Public Library. This was almost their last work – the practice effectively split in 1956, and while Harold Semmens stayed in the city until 1962, Douglas Simpson moved initially to Hawaii in 1957, and later to Australia and Fiji.

Initially commissioned in 1954, the new library was a simple modernist structure that attempted to allow the public to see inside the building as much as possible. On the Robson facade there were vertical louvres designed to rotate automatically, controlled by photoelectric cells. The heating was from spare steam provided by the Hotel Vancouver. The building cost just under the $2 million budget, and the building structure was designed for a possible two additional floors. Our 1960 VPL image shows the building a few years after it was completed.

VPL nightBy the early 1990s the city had embarked on an architectural competition to replace the Burrard Street building with an even larger building. The new Library Square complex opened in 1995, combining the Library’s Central Branch, a Federal Office Tower, and retail space in a curved glazed atrium. Once decommissioned the former library was altered and re-used as TV studios and a three-storey retail space. Occupied by both Virgin Megastore and HMV, with the demise of CD and dvd sales the store’s most recent reinvention is as a branch of Victoria’s Secret, with pink fabric window display panels.



West Hastings Street – 100 block, north side (1)

100 block W Hastings

We’ve viewed this block – or at least a few of the buildings – from the other end. We’ve identified the Selkirk Block, (about halfway down the block) and the former YMCA that became the Hotel Astor. At the eastern end of the street we’re looking at the first building in Woodward’s new departmental store – the company having originally set up further east at Main and Georgia in 1892. This image (although dated in the Archives as c.1900)  shows the street as it looked in around 1904. The foundation for the new store was laid in June 1903, and it was completed as fast as possible. W T Whiteway was the architect, E Cook the builder, at the cost was $60,000. It was a four storey ‘brick and stick’ construction – a heavy wooden frame with a brick facade. A few years later Smith and Goodfellow designed the $35,000 vertical addition (in 1910). Three years later the store got a huge further addition, a $100,000 westwards extension designed by George Wenyon with a steel and concrete frame.

We’ve been unable to identify the two-storey building that was demolished to make way for the 1913 addition. It was built after 1903 – that year the site is clear (and it looks to be under construction in this image). The first name of a business appears in 1905 when John A Flett was running a hardware store, presumably in the new building. A year later they’re joined by White & Bindon, stationers, J W Gilmer selling carpets and Richard Mills, boots and shoes. In 1908 the hardware and stationers are still there, but the other tenants are the American Type Founders Co, Fraser and Pride clothing and H E Munday had the boot and shoe store. In 1909 the building was apparently owned by Mahon, McFarland & Mahon who paid for alterations to the storefront.

Today just the 1903 store still stands – looking more like the 1903 photo today than it has for a century. The Woodwards redevelopment (designed by Henriquez Partners for Westbank) retained the wood-frame building but added a concrete reinforcement on the western facade to give the old frame seismic stability, while the brick facade was tied back and the original lettering was faithfully restored after being covered in layers of paint for decades. New retail uses including a TD Bank now sit underneath office space, while further west the new part of the project here included non-market housing and Simon Fraser University’s Arts campus, as well as a London Drugs store.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 371-2102


Hudson’s Bay – Cordova Street

The Bay, Cordova

When the Hudson’s Bay Company built a new store in the new city of Vancouver in 1887, they hedged their bets on the location. It wasn’t in the rapidly establishing replacement for Granville – ‘Old Granville Township’ around Carrall and Water Street, where the 1870s fledgling city had grown, only to be destroyed by fire in 1886. But it also wasn’t on the rival centre being developed by the Canadian Pacific Railway on Granville Street, running from the  CPR Terminal to the new hotel, way off in the recently cleared bush. The Bay executives split the difference and put their new store roughly halfway between the two rivals, on Cordova Street. If there’s any indication of which side they might favour in the tug of war between the two developing centres it might be indicated by their choice of designer – T C Sorby, also responsible for the design of the Hotel Vancouver.

The building he gave them wouldn’t have looked out of place on any prosperous English High Street. That shouldn’t be surprising; Yorkshire-born Sorby arrived in Canada in the early 1880s and by the time he reached Vancouver in 1886 he was already 50, with a long career already behind him in England. Here’s how the new store looked in 1888 in a VPL photo.

The Bay didn’t stay in this location for very long. In 1892 C O Wickenden was hired to build a new store on Granville Street – confirming the company commitment to the CPR’s part of town. They still ran the Cordova store until 1894, and in 1895 Beaty and Hall had replaced them, greengrocer and produce merchants. In 1901 there was a druggist here, with a cigar store in the other half of the building. Eventually the building was swallowed up in the ever-expanding Woodward’s store, replaced recently with the 43 storey tower of the Woodwards redevelopment.


Posted 1 January 2014 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Gone

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