Gaslight Square – 131 Water Street

Gaslight Square

This contemporary building (when it was completed in 1974) represented a sign of success for Gastown. The picture was taken some time in the early 1980s; The entire block had been threatened with total annihilation only a few years earlier. Designed by Project 200 colour 1968 1Henriquez and project-200Todd for Marathon Realty, it filled a hole in Water Street that would have seen this block developed as part of a wall of huge contemporary buildings for Project 200, the massive redevelopment that dated from the early 1960s. (Here’s how that project looked in the late 1960s brochures).

Some of the buildings were to be apartments, there was a hotel, and obviously office space as well – including 200 Granville Street, the only tower actually built as part of the plan. While much of the construction would have taken place on elevated decks over the rail tracks (and a waterfront freeway extension), the 100 block of Water Street would have gone as well. The development partnership started buying up land in anticipation of the project proceeding – which is why Marathon (one of the partners in the project) ended up owning this site.

Project 200 was officially presented to City Council in 1966 (although it had been around longer, and was well known by councillors), and while some versions of history suggest it was the fierce opposition to the scale of the project, or the effect on Strathcona and Chinatown of the freeways that cut through those areas that sank it, really it was the exploding costs and a failure to agree on financing between the Federal and Provincial levels of government.

Once momentum was lost, a change in party control in Vancouver to TEAM ensured it wouldn’t return. Marathon Realty, CP Rail’s development arm ended up with this site, and with no prospect of a mega-tower, commissioned a more scale-appropriate project, with a courtyard, office and retail. The design was a contemporary interpretation of the bay windows found down the street, with a warm brick finish to match the warehouses. The screen of the façade had a gravity-defying extension beyond the flank wall.

The stairs that climb up inside the western end of the interior courtyard (on the left of the picture) were originally intended to be the entrance to a bridge that spanned the tracks to a new government-funded Fisherman’s Wharf style market on the waterfront. That idea was dropped when the even more radical Granville Island idea emerged, with Minister Ron Basford ensuring Federal funds (and control) to make it happen. That leaves a small coffee shop at the end of a flight of stairs with a great view over the rail tracks – if the freight cars aren’t blocking it.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 800-4922

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Posted July 16, 2015 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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