More of Water Street’s commercial buildings survive relatively unchanged than most other streets in the city. This is the Pither and Leiser warehouse, built in 1905 and completed in 1906 by E Cook for a Victoria-based import company. It cost $10,000 to build, and was described as “three full storeys, deep basement; large plate glass front windows and wide entrance; Fensom electric freight elevator; first storey bonded warehouse, top storey for sundry duty-paid goods”.
There were three Leiser brothers in Victoria: like the Oppenheimers in Vancouver they were born in Germany (in Kerpen near Cologne) into a Jewish family, and like the Oppeheimers they succeeded in trade, operating grocery import companies and making their fortune supplying the gold miners, initially in the Cassiar, in Yale, and later the Klondike. All three were Freemasons, as well. One of the brothers, Simon, had the largest wholesale grocery in British Columbia in 1890, and his daughter married an Oppenheimer in Vancouver. Another brother, Gustav, was a partner in the wholesale dry goods firm of Lenz and Leiser in Victoria. The third, Max Leiser imported and wholesaled wine and liquor, and also cigars. The company warehouse in Victoria was on Wharf Street and Max later developed other property in Victoria including the Kaiserhof Hotel on Blanchard Street designed by Thomas Hooper.
Pither and Leiser’s business dated back to 1858, when an alcohol and cigar import firm was established by A Casamayou. By 1888 it was known as Boucherat & Co, owned by John Coigdarripe (a Frenchman) and Luke Pither (from New York). Max Leiser bought his partnership in 1893, when the name was changed. They were importers of Mumm champagne, Gordon’s gin and Johnnie Walker and Whyte & McKay whiskies.
In 1912 George Joy was manager of the Vancouver branch, originally designed in 1905 by Hooper and Watkins. (The company had initially set up shop in the city in 1900). However, if the directories are to believed the business had just moved next door, to the west, into a newly completed building. Oscar Brown, a fruit wholesaler moved into this building and made some changes. It looks as if the design used the centre pivoted windows generally associated with Parr and Fee buildings, so they might be the designers. Pither and Leiser stayed in business through to 1921, despite prohibition in British Columbia from 1917 to 1921. (In Victoria it’s suggested that the company’s alcohol ‘sales’ rose significantly during the period of US prohibition).
The next occupants of the building were Oscar Brown, effectively switching places with Pither and Leiser. They were followed in 1922 by Clarks’ Fruit and Produce – seen here in 1924, and still occupying the building in 1940. They had been on the block since 1918, initially next door, then two doors down. In 1950 there was a dry goods wholesalers and a clothing manufacturing company in the building. For more than 30 years, with the transformation of Gastown into a more vibrant retail street, it is the Vancouver store of Hill’s Native Art.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu N54