550 Beatty Street

548 Beatty

Many, but not all the warehouses along the 500 block Beatty Street have been converted to residential use over many years. Here’s the first conversion, carried out over 30 years ago by architect Bruno Freschi. This 1974 image shows it when it was still a multi-tenanted warehouse operated, we think, by Johnston Terminals.

The architectural intervention for the residential conversion was significant – there are balconies punched into the façade held up by the heavy timber frame. The frame is far more visible as a result – much more than is true of most of the buildings from this period. That’s especially true on the main (and basement) floors where the widows and brick bases were completely removed. The conversion didn’t go smoothly – there were unexpected problems with the warehouse foundations (probably the lack of them!) and completion was delayed. The original partnership ended up forfeiting the building to a finance company, once the original bank financing was pulled. The contractor withdrew, and eventually completion of the project was only possible once liability had been settled by the courts.

The 1907 building is said in the Heritage Statement to have been developed by Mainland Transfer Co, part of C P Railways operations. Mainland’s warehouse was at Abbott and Pender for many years from before the early 1900s, and a variety of other companies occupied this warehouse, including Frederick Buscombe for at least a decade. Honeyman and Curtis designed a warehouse on Beatty Street for Mainland Transfer Co, and we therefore assume that this is the building (although the 1906 permit described it as “brick stable” – although at $40,000 it would have been an expensive stable). It was built by George Williamson, a contractor of a number of significant buildings around this period.

Apart from the Heritage Statement, there’s no evidence that Mainland was part of the CPR. It was founded in 1902, and Frank Gross, the manager who ran it then was still running  the company in the mid 1920s. A 1923 news story explained the history of this building. “In 1906 the Mainland Transfer Company approached the Vancouver Warehouses Limited with the idea of fusing their interests and a working arrangement was made. Under the joint auspices, business continued to grow so that at the present time the company owns and operates the largest warehouse business In Canada, one warehouse at 550 Beatty Street and one covering almost the whole of a city block, in the 1000 block Mainland Street.”

The Heritage Statement states that in 1914 Mainland created Vancouver Warehouses Ltd, to acquire the building and were based in the building until at least the mid 1950s with a variety of other tenants. As the quote shows, this is also incorrect. The company name had been around for several years before 1914. The 1911 insurance map, and the Street Directory both identify this building as being that of Vancouver Warehouse Ltd. Vancouver Warehouse had been formed in 1905, and was originally located on Cordova Street, and in 1908 was based here, managed by Willie Dalton, managing rather than occupying the warehouse space; four companies were listed as occupying the building.

Two more floors, with office space were added in 1928. The permit identified George Snider Construction Co. Ltd as the builder of $45,000 of new warehouse for Vancouver Warehouses Ltd., but we assume it wasn’t the entire building that was reconstructed. In 1932 occupants included the Columbian Consulate, the Chilean Consulate and the Northern Alberta Dairy Pool. By the 1950s there were over twenty businesses in the building.

Image source City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-4


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