Abbott Mansions – West Hastings and Abbott se

Abbott & Hastings

This solid-looking structure dates back to 1909, and was designed by Hooper and Watkins for Song Mong Lin Co, (a company owned by Mong Wing, a Chinese housewife). It was altered in 1941, when Townley and Matheson refitted it for the Imperial Bank of Canada; Fred Townley had initially designed alterations for the bank here in 1919. These days the 5-storey structure has 70 SRO rooms, but it started life as an office building known as the Loo Building. Mong Wing was married to a very successful Chinese merchant Loo Gee Wing, so her development of the building was almost certainly at his behest. We’ve written a great deal about Loo Gee Wing elsewhere; as far as we can tell he started his business life in San Francisco, moved on to Victoria (where he was said to be the second wealthiest private landowner after the Hudson Bay Company) and then to Vancouver, where he developed extensive business interests including a number of properties.

We think he moved to Vancouver not long before this building was completed: he was still living in Victoria in 1907. This building cost $80,000 to build; the contractors, the National Construction Company, got into financial difficulties, and their subcontractors, Coughlin Brothers, went after the owners to get the $1,700 they were owed. When they tried to get payment, they discovered that the property had changed hands, and Loo Gee Wing was now the owner, and he argued the builders lien didn’t apply to him. The judge in the case was not sympathetic to this view: “The facts are that the defendant Mong Lin, wife of Leo Gee Wing, was the registered owner of the property at the time the contract was entered into by her with the codefendant, and she so continues to the present time. I strongly suspect that the transfer of the property to her husband was a piece of Oriental jugglery perpetuated in order to embarrass lien holders.”

When it opened, the Loo Building had dozens of companies taking space: it’s not a big building, so they must have each occupied modest offices. As well as a number of real estate companies were the Canadian Freight Association, several physicians including Dr Dyer, the Vancouver Fiber Co, the Beaver Realty Co and W A Cumyow, the city’s most important Chinese interpreter. Up on the third floor were a chiropodist and a Corsetiere, an optician and an osteopath alongside timber agents and land agents. On the fourth were building contractors Hemphill Bros, the Hardman Hat Co and the Vancouver Financial Corp Ltd along with the Union Express, City Express and Diamond Express. Apart from W A Cumyow they appear to be Anglo businesses in a Chinese-owned office building.

By 1920 the building had become exclusively residential. It had been acquired by the London, British & North America Co, who hired W J Northcott to make alterations. An advertisement in the Daily World announced the change, offering two-room suites, disappearing beds and well furnished modern conveniences for housekeeping; “elevator, respectable, reasonable rates”. It attracted some important people in the city; Basil Pantages, manager of the Pantages theatre lived here; Dr Martin Kroeger, managing director of Vancouver X-Ray Institute lived on the third floor; George S Sellers of the Cedar Cottage Painting Co on the second floor.

By 1935, when Wilfred Minto was managing the premises they were known as Abbott Mansions. Just selecting the surnames starting with the first two letters of the alphabet we find James and Harry Almas of the Almas Coal and Refrigerated Fruit Stand lived here; (a unique and unexpected mixture), P J Beaudreault, a carpenter and his wife Deliah, Jake Biket, a waiter and his wife Viola, Alfred Brett, a trucker with the CNR and his wife Kathleen, R J Brooks, an assembler with the Ford Motor Co and Elsie and Mark Butcher – Elsie was a stenographer. Somebody listed as Aug Dandruff lived here too – sadly, we don’t know if they were a hairdresser. F Glen Mitchell lived here with his wife; he was manager of the Piggly Wiggly on Denman Street. There were two waitresses living here, one from the New Good Eats Cafe, and one from the Cairo Cafe. Dr. Henry Powell had his consulting rooms in the building on Abbott Street.

In 1955, the last year we have a street directory for, the Mansions were owned by the Yorkshire Corporation. There were still plenty of working people living here: a glove cutter; Anne Bowes who was cashier at the Pall Mall Café; a fireman; William Cooper, a tailor; a candy packer for Nabob Foods and Magda Curie, a waitress at Eatons. Unlike in earlier years quite a few residents were retired; several of the residents were widows.

By the early 90s the residents were poorer; the building more run-down. Many residents had health problems. Now run by the Central City Foundation, it offers 70 rooms to Downtown Eastside residents in one of the better-run SRO buildings.

Image Source City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1399-37

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