The Rice Block – 404 Hawks Avenue

Rice Block 1

The Rice Block is another of the city’s ‘1912 boom’ residential buildings. Sitting on the corner of Hawks and East Hastings, it’s history is surprisingly unpublished. Originally known as the Thistle Rooms (in the Street Directory) and the Rice Block (on the 1912 Insurance Map), the recent restoration plan was written without the development history. It was designed by Otto Moberg for D H Rice, cost $30,000 to build, and was built by S J Lund. Moburg was a Swede who was working in Washington state in the early part of the 20th Century and came to Vancouver having won a design competition for buildings at the Pacific Exhibition. He also designed the rustic Tea House in Stanley Park, as well as several residential blocks including this one and today’s Ramada Hotel on West Pender. A couple of years after he arrived, when it became apparent that there was a building recession, he headed south, ending up in San Diego. The building contractor, Sefanias Johnson Lund was a Norwegian, born in 1879 or 1880, and he had also recently arrived in Vancouver from Seattle. By 1920 he had returned to King County, and in 1930 (and until his death in 1956) he was in San Bernadino County in California.

We weren’t completely sure about Mr Rice’s early history. There’s a Daniel H Rice living in Grand Forks in 1900, running a grocery store with James E Rice. There were two Daniel Rice’s shown in the 1901 Census; one was 26, boarding in Chilliwack, originally from England and working as  CPR Labourer. The other was in Rossland in the Kootenay, aged 30, married to Olive with a one-year old son, Lorne. He was a grocer, and listed as an American. It may be that our Daniel Rice was neither of these gentlemen, but we’re reasonably certain he was the American grocer. The English Daniel Rice was still working as a CPR Labourer when he was identified in the 1911 census – although now he was aged 42. There was a third Daniel Rice in British Columbia in 1901, a 29-year-old miner in Milford Creek. He unfortunately died that year; his death certificate recording the cause: “a blow from a bear”.

The first time he shows up in Vancouver is in 1905, as an Insurance Agent for New York Life, living at 552 Granville. A year later he’s manager of the Pacific Land Co, and has moved to 1255 Seymour, and in 1908 he’s living on Hornby Street. As well as the Land Co he was still acting as the BC agent for an insurance company; the Western Canada Fire Insurance Company. In 1911 he had offices on Homer Street, and was shown living at 404 Hawks Avenue – so we assume he redeveloped the site of his house with the apartment building.

Our reason for thinking Mr. Rice was an American is that James E Rice, who was born in Chatfield Minnesota was Managing Director of the Western Canada Fire Insurance Co in 1912. He had been a telegraph operator with the CPR, was Chairman of the Finance Committee in Rat Portage at the turn of the century and moved to Calgary in Alberta in 1903. It would be a remarkable coincidence if he wasn’t a grocer in Grand Forks in 1900. He was eight years older than his brother, Daniel, who was 9 in the 1880 US Census, both members of a large family whose parents had emigrated to the US from Ireland.

Mr. Rice was mis-named on the 1911 Census as Daniel Rise, and his children were shown as Lorne and Angila. As in 1901, he’s shown as being American. The Daily World in the same year reported “D H Rice, formerly of the Pacific Land Company, Is located at 401 Homer street.” He owned motor vehicle licence #1881 in 1912, where he was shown registered to 924 Granville Street, which was the address of the Dissette Motor Co. In 1912 he had a partner in D H Rice & Co, Frank J Fitz Simmons. In that same year he built this building and also hired Halloran Construction Co to move and alter a house on Pender Street. He had moved again, this time to 1054 W 10th Av. A year later his partner is no longer associated with his company. In 1915 the Rice Block is listed for the first time, and Daniel H was shown living there, listed as a notary public and as an insurance agent. By 1917 he has given up the other business interests – he’s shown as Dan Rice, managing the furnished rooms as well as running the Thistle Café.

Our 50 year-old image shows that the building is in better shape today than when it was 54 years old. That’s because it’s just been comprehensively restored as part of the $144 million program where BC Housing in conjunction with several partners is restoring thirteen SRO non-market housing buildings. For the first time in many decades the building has a cornice. It’s modeled on the Woodbine Hotel nearby, as there are no early images of this part of East Hastings. Barry McGinn, the architect responsible for the restoration plan noted “The building’s pronounced cubic massing was originally relieved by an attractive projecting sheet metal cornice, and an articulated storefront complete with its own sheet metal cornice. The removal of the upper cornice, insensitive alterations to the storefront, painting of the red brick masonry and random replacement of the wood double hung sash with aluminum fixed/slider sash has rendered this, originally, attractive building a poor facsimile of its former self.” That’s no longer the case; the restoration has created an attractive anchor for the corner and the basis of another century of residential use, these days managed by Atira Women’s Resource Society.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 772-23

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Posted September 24, 2015 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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