Leland Hotel Annex – 623 West Hastings Street

623 W Hastings

The Leland Hotel Annex was one of the earliest masonry buildings constructed in the city. The Leland Hotel itself was across the street, owned by Simon Hirschberg (who committed suicide in January 1887  and became the first person to be buried in Mountain View Cemetery). That was a substantial wooden frame building built very quickly after the fire. Simon’s widow continued to run the business. F W Hart remembered her as “the first white lady to come across the Canadian Rockies and it was to her that I presented the bouquet of flowers by the order of Mayor MacLean. She came on the first C.P.R. train from the east.” The hotel was very progressive as James England, secretary of the Gas Company recalled to Major Matthews “My recollection of the first gas service is that the Leland Hotel, a large four-storey frame building on Hastings Street, was the first building lighted by gas in Vancouver. I know it was common talk among the employees that this was so. It may have been on the 24th of May, 1887; it certainly was before my time as I did not come here until July 1887. I have a distinct recollection that the Leland Hotel account was No. 11 on the register of customers, but it does not follow that it was the eleventh customer that lit up; there was some holiday or special reason for getting the Leland Hotel going, and it was common talk among the men of the special efforts put forward to get the gas sent up to that hotel.” George Upham had his own take on the Hirshberg marriage “Make any man commit suicide to have a wife like that; a hard old bat; she was hard.

The Annex was built in 1887, the year after the fire. A souvenir edition of the Daily World in 1891 identifies a building developed by Benjamin Springer that was either the first or second in the city to be built of brick – the Leland Block. It decribes Springer (favourably) as developer of ‘a number of pretentious buildings’, one of which we already featured. We know that this site was owned by Ben Springer when he registered as a voter, and there’s an illustration of the building in the Daily World which is quite clearly the Leland Hotel Annex. It fits another identification – the first Springer-Van Bramer Block on Hastings Street, completed in 1887 and described in a January 1888 edition of the Vancouver Herald as ‘Hastings Street opposite the Leland Hotel’. This was also the first building to be identified as designed by N S Hoffar, although he almost certainly designed others immediately after the fire as he was in the city early in 1886. (We think it’s possible that the Daily World was mistaken – there’s an even earlier, but much more modest brick building that we think was developed by Springer and Van Bramer in 1886 on Cordova Street). When it was first built it was also illustrated in an 1890 Holiday supplement to the Vancouver Daily and Weekly World, where it was shown as being the home of Shannon & McLachlan’s real estate office.

623 windowLeland re-skinBy 1899 the Leland Hotel was run by William Hamilton, and the Annex was still across the street, as it was in 1906, when the Daily World announced “Madame Bayla, France’s most famous psychic palmist, has returned to Vancouver by special request and may be consulted from 1 to 9 p. m. every day at the Leland hotel annex, first floor. Everyone here knows about this wonderfully gifted woman. Her revelations border on the miraculous.” By 1908 Edward Stark’s shoes and E C Kilby’s furnishings were here, but there’s no mention of the upper floor use for the hotel, or the Leland on the other side of the street.

By 1927, when this image was taken, the building had become Famous Cloak and Suit Co; dressmakers, run by Isadore L Kostman. The manufacturing was taking place upstairs, as this detail of a seamstress working in the window of the top floor confirms. The 1927 directory offers us a suggestion of who might be working in the picture; while the company employed a sales staff of 25 or so, all of them women, Rosa Bell was the only seamstress recorded as working at Famous.

623 Hastings 2003In 1940 Famous occupied both this building and the adjacent Davis Chambers to the east, with a huge Art Deco shiny black sign. By 1943 the original N S Hoffar façade had been completely replaced with a simpler design with vertical window openings, (visible in an Archives picture from that year) and by 1974 the entire front of the building had been covered in pressed steel sheeting – a fate common to a number of Hastings buildings including part of the Army & Navy store. The stores in the building were still open in 2003, when we took this shot, but closed a few years later. This year the site was cleared, although so far there’s no application that we’re aware of to build a replacement, which sits on a block where two new office towers have recently been approved.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu N295 and CVA 586-1223 (extract)

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