Not only are the buildings that housed the Mandarin Gardens no longer standing, the site they once occupied is now Columbia Street. The building seems to have been constructed in 1918, designed by E E Blackmore and built for Mrs Chance Wong Co for $20,000. It wasn’t the first building here because the permit notes “old bldg. on premises is being dismantled.”
The Daily World confirmed the identity of the developer “The Mrs. Chance Wong Co. has taken out a permit for the erection of a line of brick stores buildings, two storeys high” but there’s nothing else that we’ve found that tells us who, or what Mrs Wong was. In 1920 Man Sing Lung’s confectionary store, a general store (On Hung Lung) and a grocers were here. In 1928 there was a Chop Suey House – the Amer, and a restaurant, the Kwong Tong Café. The upper floors were residential – listed as ‘Chinese rooms”. The Kwong Tong was still there in 1935, but a year later the Mandarin Gardens had opened, charging 50 cents to get in on weekdays and a dollar on holidays and Saturdays. It was a cabaret, managed by W Alex Lee, but with an extensive menu (as a copy in the UBC digital collection shows). Although it opened at 6pm, the orchestra didn’t start playing until 10pm, and liquor was (at least officially)prohibited. Some of the food offered was ‘western’ (Chicken A La King cost $1.25, although you could get a Kraft Cheese Sandwich for a mere 45 cents), but the Chinese menu was longer, with Chow Mein or the Mandarin Special each costing $1. In 1943 Charlie Nelson, a Vancouver nightclub operator, took over the club and added more cabaret acts to the operation. In ‘Vancouver Confidential’ Tom Carter writes about local singer Mimi Hines who recalled playacting cowboy shootouts on a deserted Pender Street with Sammy Davies Junior after the club had closed for the night.
Next door was an older building, designed and built by S K Champion at a cost of $12,400 in 1902. Samuel K Champion was a builder and developer in partnership as a building materials supplier as Champion & White. The company had their own wharf, and Mr Champion was the first to attempt to bring aggregate off one of the city’s beaches – although the first time he tried to use the home-made barge to carry the gravel, it sank. Champion and White worked on the World Building (today’s Sun Tower) – we know that because they tried to get payment for some work – eventually going all the way to the Supreme Court (where the company lost the legal argument). There was a rival to the Mandarin Gardens here: while the Gardens had a full scale cabaret with burlesque and dancing girls (the Mandarinettes) in the 1950s, the Marco Polo Club was also operating next door. A poster in the Museum of Vancouver has a description that says it “opened in the 1960s, closed in early 1980s, the first Chinese-style smorsgasbord and nightclub in Vancouver’s Chinatown.” The venue featured acts like Sly and the Family Stone, but it had evolved from a late 1950s version run by Alex Louie where the venue offered a chorus line of “four pretty Chinese girls in strapless bras, short skirts and fishnet stockings”.
The Mandarin’s premises were demolished in 1952 soon after this picture was shot; for a while a small single storey building made up the difference on the remainder of the lot. The replacement building, built in 1984 by Marco Polo Holdings, was once a TV studio, but is now part of the Vancouver Film School.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-64