Franklin Street west from Commercial Drive

Franklin west

Here’s another image from the City Engineers image vault in the City Archives that’s a companion to the previous post. It’s from the same junction, but in this case we’re looking west towards Downtown. Way off in the distance is the Vancouver Centre’s Scotia Tower with a tower crane still showing, so from that we can date the image to 1976 (or perhaps the end on 1975). We’re looking at a number of commercial properties in this industrially zoned area. When the first buildings were constructed here, just over a century ago, the area was on a very different trajectory. Chinese merchant developers built a series of buildings here, some of which still stand today. That’s true on the left of the picture where there are several buildings that date back to 1912 when Soon Key and Chin Yuen hired Stewart and White to design a two-storey $26,000 rooming house. They obviously decided to increase their investment quite soon, as a few months later Stewart White and Peters were hired to design an additional storey built at a cost of $8,000. The three storey building is still there today, a rooming house now known as Royal Manor, and extensively renovated in 1970. Soon Key and another partner added another building just round the corner of Woodland Drive a year later. Assuming Soon Key was also Soon Kee, his family portrait is part of the Vancouver Public Library collection. The Daily World described Mr. Soon’s evidence to the McKenzie King inquiry into the 1907 riot on behalf of Ti Sing Co, although the official record shows Tai Sing Ltd were at 19 Pender Street, which sustained $88 worth of damage in the riot.

On the same day that the architects received permission to add the extra storey to the corner building, Stuart and White also sought a $26,000 permit for Mah Sam Yuen & Co for “Apartments/rooms; Chinese building, three-storey brick store & rooms”. Wood & Macdonald were the builders.

franklin-st-reformdetail (Franklin)Sam Lum Mah was the builder of the third building, also given a permit on the same day for another Stuart & White design for the Chinese Reform Society’s $26,000 “Apartments/rooms; Chinese building, three-storey store & rooms”. The plans from the Vancouver Archives (AP 289) show an extraordinary composition of traditional Chinese forms married to an Edwardian building. The roof crest is of particular interest. Of all of the society buildings in Vancouver this was one of the most elaborate to be constructed – and it wasn’t in Chinatown.

The Chinese Reform Society of the Americas (headquartered here) were the same as the Chinese Empire Reform Association, founded by Kang Yu-Wei, a philosopher and reformer who had to flee China in 1899 (ending up initially in Victoria). In Vancouver both Won Alexander Cumyow and Yip Sang were members. The organization was a rival to that of Sun Yat Sen, although funds for overthrowing the Manchu dynasty flowed from Vancouver to both groups of would-be revolutionaries.

These last two buildings are still standing, but significantly altered: they are now in industrial use and seem to have been altered initially in 1940. The 1970s image shows that almost all the Chinese detail had already been lost, and the metal paneled bay windows were in a pretty poor state, and these days they’ve all been removed. We found a little information about Mr. Mah, the developer; he was born in China around 1868, and in 1930 he was living in San Joaquin in California.

Stuart was Bertram Stuart, a Londoner who was only in the city for a few years before heading to Seattle: White was Howard E White who seems to have arrived around 1910, and was probably the source of the commissions as he worked on a number of Chinatown projects for Chong Yuen as a partner in Cockrill & White. He continued to work in Vancouver after Mr. Stuart headed south. White was secretary of the local branch (#1) of Ordo Templi Orientis – a fraternal organization with elements of Freemasonry (although initiates could not have been Freemasons) but also other more esoteric rituals developed by British occultist Aleister Crowley.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 800-223

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Posted April 9, 2015 by ChangingCity in Altered, East End

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