Franklin Street east from Commercial Drive

Franklin east

There’s buried treasure on the City Archives website in the form of thousands of images uploaded from the City Engineer’s collection, but with no description of what the picture shows. Here’s one that we’re dating to 1976, which we have identified as Franklin Street running uphill east from Commercial Drive. Today it forms part of the Powell Street industrial area, but it once had quite a different character. For a start, it wasn’t always called Franklin Street; it started life as Albert Street but got renamed in 1929 to avoid the confusion with Alberta Street. While we know who Franklin was,  nobody seems know who Albert was, so that’s another benefit.

At least one remaining building is over a hundred years old – Franklin House on the north side of the street dates from 1913 and was designed by W H Chow for owner Ah Sing, costing $35,000 for the “four-storey frame stores and rooms”. This wasn’t an isolated Chinese investment, there was significant development for Chinese owners in the area around here, especially on Albert Street (where development was mostly occurring on vacant lots). Although many of the names of tenants in this area in 1913 were not Chinese, it looks as if the main floor was initially occupied by Lee On & Co, who were described as ‘merchants’. They also operated in the traditional heart of Chinatown, occupying premises on East Pender. By 1915 many of the buildings in this new Chinatown area were listed as vacant, but it looks as if the apartments were known as the Peterson Apartments, managed by Mrs. C Harwood.

Franklin Apartments, Inlet View Court 1944 VPLThe building next door was another Chinese developed building, with an apparently traditional Vancouver Chinese design (with open balconies on the upper floors, seen better in this 1944 Vancouver Public Library image). It was a $12,000 development for ‘Kee, Kit & Don, Chow’, built by Rigby & Marsden in 1912 and designed as a three-storey brick store, hall & rooms designed by E Stanley Mitton. It was probably what the Province newspaper described that year as Mr Mitton’s ‘commercial block for the Chinese Society’. Mitton was born in Birmingham, England and mostly designed arts and craft homes for wealthy clients on the west side and Shaughnessy, so this commission is a bit unexpected.

It wasn’t Mitton’s only building here; he also designed a two-storey brick store & rooms (apartments) across the street which is probably the building on the right of the 1976 picture. It was built by Wilson & Smalles in 1912 at a cost of $12,000 for Chow, T. Tong & Kee, Kit – probably the same developers who built the 3-storey building. Owners Chow, Ting Tong & Kee, Kit also commissioned Mr. Mitton for a house they built on the 1900 block of Albert Street, so that’s probably Mr. Chow’s full name (and T Tong also commissioned a $28,000 apartment building on the 600 block of Harris Street). Mr. Mitton also designed a more expensive project for a Chinese client in 1912, a $46,000 Market Alley building for Wing Sang where he housed his extensive family. (which these days is the Rennie art gallery). Chow Tong was listed in the street directory in 1912 living at 804 East 12th Avenue, a house that cost $5,500 and was designed in 1911 for Mr. Chow by Stanley Mitton. Mr. Chow was listed in the Chinese section of the street directory as being in real estate – which these developments clearly support. Ting Chow also had Black Brothers design some alterations to his property at 229 Pender Street in 1912, and he had other property on East Hastings, Harris Street and Carrall Street up to 1916. Mr. Kee also had Mr Mitton design some improvements to his house on Lakewood Drive, the addition of a garage.

Mr. Kee may not have generated his investment funds entirely from legitimate sources. It appears that Kee Kit was also sometimes known as Wong Kee Kit, and in 1920 he was shown in the street directories as being the manager of a grocery company shown as Kwong Wo Long at 262 East Pender. The company had been in Chinatown for some time; they received some compensation in 1907 for damage in the riots that year to their property at 13 Pender Street. In 1921 someone with the name of Kee Kit – described as a manager with the Wong Wo Lung Company – was identified in a newspaper article as the alleged owner of a farm on Lulu Island in Richmond where $30,000 of opium was seized (said to be the highest value of opium ever found). “The police state that the farm was a distribution depot and that opium was sent not only into Vancouver and surrounding towns, but also across the United States border,” the Vancouver Sun explained. “In addition to the opium a complete outfit, alleged to be used in cooking opium, was also seized.” “Totalling up the seizure the officers found that they had 40 large tins, the retail value of which they estimate at $400 each; 39 smaller tins, of the kind usually retailed in addicts and opium dens at $100 each, and a bucket containing enough opium to fill 40 of these smaller tins.” After spending the night in jail, owner Kee Kit, and seven others arrested with him, were released on $1000 bail.” We haven’t been able to find out what happened to Mr. Kee after this.

Nearly forty years later, apart from the loss of the two Stanley Mitton designed buildings not too much has changed. The large new premises at the top of the street, on the right, are part of a complex of buildings found throughout this area that are the processing plant for Hallmark Poultry, one of the largest food processors in the city, designed by Christopher Bozyk Architects.

Image source, City of Vancouver Archives CVA 800-227

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Posted April 6, 2015 by ChangingCity in Altered, East End

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