West Pender – 500 block (3)

500 Pender south 2

We’ve looked at the eastern end of this block in two earlier posts (most recently here), but this corner of West Pender with Seymour Street is about to dramatically change. The building on the corner hasn’t been positively identified before in terms of its developer and architect, as far as we know. By a process of elimination we’re reasonably sure that it was a 1905 investment by A St George Hamersley, designed by Honeyman and Curtis. The small building next to it dates from the mid 1930s, and the two are soon to be redeveloped as a new office building.

There’s an announcement for the block ‘at Pender and Seymour’ in the Contract Record in May 1905 for ‘A. St. George Hamersly’. Across Seymour, also on the south side of the street the Clarence Hotel was already built. To the north was the Delmonico Hotel which had been built in 1892. The fourth corner was redeveloped in 1908 with the Imperial Building, designed by Parr and Fee. That leaves this corner for Hamersley’s investment.

Alfred St. George Hamersley was from a well-off English family from Oxfordshire where he lived first at Haseley House and later to Church Manor House in Pyrton. He was educated at Marlborough College and at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich. He moved to London where he became a Barrister-at-law in the Middle Temple in 1872, and two years later moved to New Zealand. He practiced law there, at the same time acting as a military officer (involved in the last military actions against the Maori) as well as being credited with introducing rugby to the youth of South Canterbury and founding the New Zealand Grand National Steeplechase Club. He married there, and started a family, before moving to the fledgling city of Vancouver in 1888.

Newly arrived in Vancouver he somehow managed to become the first City Solicitor – a role he retained until he left the city some 17 years later, fulfilling the role from his private office on Hastings Street. He became first president of the BC Rugby Union in 1889, and also founded the Amateur Athletic Club of British Columbia. His many interests, law practice and role as City Solicitor may explain why the published 1892 credit rating for A St. George Hammersley (sic) was “Very slow, too slow for desirable credit”. He was in partnership as Hamersley and Hamilton in 1893, was appointed a Queen’s Council in 1901 and J J Godfrey joined him as a partner in his law firm in 1903. He bought 640 acres next to Kootenay lake in 1897, and became increasingly interested in real estate. The wearing of wigs was abolished in British Columbia in 1905, and Hamersley is said to have abandoned his legal practice as a result – it’s unclear if that’s what caused him to leave, or whether he had decided to return to England already. In the 1890s he had R M Fripp design a house on Seaton Street overlooking the Inlet. (Seaton was the smartest street in town; today’s West Hastings; the Hamersley home was the last on the street before the cliff edge at the end of Bute Street). Mrs Hamersley hired an architect called Blackmore – either William or his son Ted, to design alterations to the house in 1901.

In 1902 he had acquired an entire District Lot on the north shore from the Lonsdale Estate.  He had Honeyman and Curtis design “Langton Lodge”, set in park-like grounds. Today it’s called Hamersley House and is a large Tudor Revival estate home set back on a large lot in a residential area east of Lonsdale Avenue. It’s two and a half storeys high on a full basement, and is unusual for having the main floor built of poured concrete. As a commuter to Vancouver from the North Shore, it helped that Hamersley had a controlling interest in the North Vancouver Ferry and Power Company, which established a regular ferry service across Burrard Inlet. He set about selling his new investment, initially as the Townsite of Lonsdale but later as North Vancouver.

One frequently mentioned episode relates his involvement in selling property to writer Rudyard Kipling. It’s not at all clear that Hamersley was the agent who sold Kipling land – although the two apparently did meet. Several inaccuracies exist in some of the versions of the story; (one has Kipling knowing Hamersley as a fellow lawyer – while in reality Kipling never attended University). The common content has Hamersley initially not knowing who Kipling was, and later (on a subsequent visit) suggesting it was Hamersley who sold Kipling some real estate including two lots at Fraser and 11th. Kipling wrote about the city after his first visit in 1889. “Except for certain currents which are not much mentioned, but which make the entrance rather unpleasant for sailing-boats, Vancouver possesses an almost perfect harbor. The town is built all round and about the harbor, and young as it is, its streets are better than those of western America. Moreover, the old flag waves over some of the buildings, and this is cheering to the soul. The place is full of Englishmen who speak the English tongue correctly and with clearness, avoiding more blasphemy than is necessary, and taking a respectable length of time to getting outside their drinks.”  He might have had Alfred St George Hamersley in mind when he wrote that. Apparently he had an introduction to Hamersley, although he was only 23 years old, and only just starting to be recognized as a poet and author. Kipling apparently bought the two lots in Mount Pleasant in 1892, on his second visit. He bought 20 acres on the North Shore in 1906, and as the Hamersley Estates were being actively marketed at the time, it could be hamersley weddingwhere the land was located – although A St George himself had moved to England by then. (Or so we thought – until we dug out this 1907 cutting in the Sunday Sunset newspaper, which lists both Surrey and Vancouver as the family residence).

Kipling wrote about the first purchase in his book Sea to Sea “He that sold it to me was a delightful English Boy who, having tried for the Army and failed, had somehow meandered into a real-estate office, where he was doing very well. I couldn’t have bought it from an American. He would have overstated the case and proved me the possessor of the original Eden. All the Boy said was: “I give you my word it isn’t a cliff or under water, and before long the town ought to move out that way. I’d advise you to take it.” And I took it as easily as a man buys a piece of tobacco. Me voice, owner of some four hundred well-developed pines, a few thousand tons of granite scattered in blocks at the roots of the pines, and a sprinkling of earth. That’s a town-lot in Vancouver. You or your agent hold it till property rises, then sell out and buy more land further out of town and repeat the process. I do not quite see how this sort of thing helps the growth of a town, but the English Boy says that it is the “essence of speculation,” so it must be all right. But I wish there were fewer pines and rather less granite on my ground.” As Kipling wrote fiction, it’s quite possible that Hamersley is the subject – although he hadn’t (in anything we’ve read) – tried for the army and failed.

sale 1908In 1905 Hamersley returned to England where he set out to re-establish his credibility as a local, with the eventual (successful) intent of being elected a Unionist (Conservative) Member of Parliament (in 1910). At a dinner given in his honour in North Vancouver when leaving for England he extolled the

Alfred St George Hamersley c1910

Alfred St George Hamersley c1910

virtues of sport, manliness and the empire. Despite being aged 66, Colonel Hamersley was initially in command of an artillery battery during the First World War, handing over command to a younger man in 1916 when the battery was drafted to Ypres and the Somme (although he was in France in 1917).

Although he had apparently returned to England, Alfred continued to have a significant involvement in Vancouver. This Seymour building was completed in 1905; in 1906 he hired Parr and Fee to design a commercial building on Water Street, and in 1908 the North Vancouver land was still being subdivided and sold off. In 1906 he was still being quoted in the press concerning decisions his ferry company were making about the ferry service between Gastown and the Lonsdale Gardens, a recreational estate established by the company.

Alfred St. George Hamersley died in 1929, but his wife, Isabella (who was apparently known in Vancouver by her middle name, Maud) lived to the age of 102 and died in 1955.

The building was occupied as both offices and stores, tenants changing often over the years. In this 1974 image the Yorkshire Trust had their offices here. Most recently a Korean-based language school operated in the premises; before that there was a clothing store.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-282

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Posted December 22, 2014 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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