Unlike the Patricia along the street which was built as a hotel, and stayed in that use, the Astoria started life as an apartment building – initially named for its developer, R A Wallace, and simultaneously as the Toronto House Apartments. The Astoria name was attached to a building on Hastings Street from the 1920s until 1949. The building permit was issued in June 1912 to cost $53,000. It was designed by Braunton & Leibert, and the contractors were Allen & Jones. Robert A Wallace was the original owner; he was aged 37 when he developed the building, a real estate agent from Ontario who lived in the household of Peter and Bella Duffey. In 1911 They lived on Charles Street, and Peter was identified as a builder. He was listed in the census as ‘brother in law’, and as he wasn’t married, Bella must have been his sister. We think he was born into a Presbyterian family in Mount Forest, Ontario and was living in Egremont, South Grey County in 1881 when he was aged seven, one of nine children born to Irish-born Mary. His father, William was born in Ontario, and we think we have identified the correct family because he had an older sister, Isabella. He was married in 1913 when he was 39 to Lillian Carscallen, who was aged 33, from Belleville Ontario.
He moved into his new investment, which he also managed, in the year he was married. Mrs Etta Chatwin was the building’s housekeeper and the first tenants included Malcolm Morrison, a policeman, P H Thompson, another policeman, C A Blubaugh, I Cumcumm, G W Daligher, a printer, D R Fraser who taught at the Central High School, C Edward who was a grocer and C W Erickson who was involved with ‘timber’.
In 1923, when Stuart Thomson took this picture (in the Vancouver Public Library collection) Robert had moved back to Charles Street (to a different house than his earlier address) and was still involved in real estate from an office on Seymour Street. Chris Owens was the proprietor of the Toronto Apartments, and there were many more residents including two engineers, several loggers, two longshoremen, three salesmen, a meter man with the City, Mrs. Lilly Rollings who was a telephone operator with B C Phones, and Mrs. Agnes Fraser.
Robert Aubrey Wallace died in 1950 (the year the apartments became the Astoria Hotel) aged 75. He and Lillian were by that point living on West 10th Avenue. In 1949 the Toronto Apartments were being run by C and B Y Chan. On the same block, at 717 E Hastings Wallace Neon’s manufacturing plant was operating, run by William and James Wallace. As far as we can tell there’s no connection between the two businesses.
This building took the Astoria name in 1950 when it was first run as a hotel by Alex Bayer and William Sawchuk. Mr. Sawchuk was president of Astoria Hotels at both addresses, so transferred it when he moved his operation from West Hastings to East Hastings. Five years later the owners were still Mr. Bayer, now with Ludwig Radymski. Today the hotel is a single-room occupancy rental with 85 rooms, and a newly rejuvinated bar. The balconies have been removed, but the 1950s neon signs, that had gradually lost their lustre over the decades have been restored and now offer a pretty dramatic splash on what is otherwise a quiet part of the street.