1126 West Georgia Street

Day Smith Motors 1126 W Georgia

The Vancouver Archives title for this picture is “Day-Smith Motors Ltd. showroom building on 110 block of Georgia Street”. Actually it’s the 1100 block in 1927; that’s Day Smith at 1126 W Georgia selling Dodge Brothers vehicles and next door were Bowell McDonald Motors at 1130 offering the rival Pontiac Six for $1,195 as well as Oakland cars. The cars didn’t come from California, like Pontiac; they were a General Motors brand and they were built in Detroit. Both Dodge Brothers had died suddenly in 1920, and Dodge was owned by Dillon Read & Co, an investment company from 1925 to 1928 when it was sold to rival Chrysler. This was one of the city’s automobile meccas; right alongside to the east were Begg Brothers, Chevrolet dealers, in a 4-storey 1926 building, and across Thurlow was Nash-Ajax Cars. There was another car dealership to the west, and then Willis Kingsley Motors on the corner of the block. (Apart from the First Church of Christ Scientist, the only other resident of the block was Mrs M E Ford – but we’re pretty certain her name is just a coincidence!)

1000 and 1100 W Georgia 1929The car dealerships here date back to before 1920; before that there were houses. We haven’t managed to trace the architect for the vaguely mission-style buildings, but Bowell McDonald did commission a $25,000 garage at 1130 West Georgia in 1925, so they would seem to have been the developers of these properties. There was a $10,000 garage proposed by R J Snelgrove for 1140 West Georgia in 1919: Robert Snelgrove was a real estate broker, so it was a speculative project and was the building next door at 1146 occupied in 1920 by Commercial Cars, of Luton, England, distributers of Commer and Stewart Motor Trucks. He claimed to be both architect and builder – which we rather doubt. The 1146 address disappears from the street directory by 1927, but it looks like Bowell McDonald occupied more property to the west as well at that time. The design of the single storey buildings here (from 1919 and 1925) was very similar, as this 1929 image shows when REO (makers of the Speedwagon) also had a showroom here, with Erskine selling Studebakers on the corner.

Day Smith were Harry Day and Ivan Smith, and up to 1924 they were in business on Granville Street – they started in business late in 1921 when they were selling the Light Six Studebaker. Early Neil Motors took over from Day Smith Motors in 1928, the year that Dodge became part of Chrysler. They continued to operate until around 1931, when the Dodge dealership was transferred to Begg Motors. (Begg were longer-established in the city and in 1930 were selling Cadillac, La Salle and Nash cars from their two buildings; the one on the corner, and the Begg Block to the east, designed by M E Williams in 1912). Begg took over these premises, selling Dodge and Chevrolet cars, and Bowell McDonald were next door still selling Pontiac and Oakland cars. Early Neil continued selling cars in New Westminster after 1931 but appear to have had no dealership affiliation.

This remained a car sales centre: in 1950 Begg Brothers had also taken over the Willis Kingsley building on the corner of Bute, selling Dodge and DeSoto cars. J M Brown were selling Studebaker cars in this building, with Dan McLean selling Nash and Hillman cars to the west.

In 1958 the location became known for a completely different reason: Isy’s Supper Club was established by Isy Walters in 1136 W Georgia and for over a decade combined top acts of the day – one bill shows Richard Pryor, Little Richard and Buddy Rich (on different nights) with ‘exotic dancers’. In 1962 Lenny Bruce was booked – but only managed to play for one night before the Morality Squad threatened to pull Isy’s licence. Isy had run the Cave nightclub in the 1950s, and before that had booked the acts at the State Theatre. One act at Isy’s combined the two aspects of the venue’s booking: the Ladybirds were an all girl topless band (3 shows nightly). As interest in live performance saw smaller audiences the venue lost the acts and became Isy’s Strip City in the 1970s – a return to Isy’s roots as he had started booking strippers in the early 1950s. Isy died in the club one Saturday morning in 1976, and the club died with him.

The single storey buildings were still standing as retail stores – Sleep Country had a Downtown store here – when the site was assembled by Westbank who hired James Cheng to design the tallest tower in the city – 62 storeys with condos above the Shangri La Hotel. Where the car dealerships stood is part of the development: an Urban Fare store to the west and an art instillation location curated by the Vancouver Art Gallery with regularly changed site-specific artworks.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives Bu N300 and CVA 99-3748


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