Granville Street – 700 block west side (2)

Granville 700 block west side 2

We already posted this same 1920s image of the corner of Robson looking north along Granville four years ago – before the reconstruction of the Sears store as Nordstrom. As we’ve shown in our last few posts, today’s building looks very different, having had a James K M Cheng re-clad with the top four floors of the building being repurposed from retail to office uses.

The building in the foreground, Granville Mansions were built in 1906 for William Farrell at a cost of $125,000. He was an Englishman, 50 years old, a partner in the brokerage of Farrell & Tregent. He lived in the West End on Nicola Street (at Pendrell). We haven’t been able to find a reference to an architect for the building, but we have a likely candidate. Initially we thought it might be W T Whiteway; in 1900 Farrell & Tregent shared an office building on Cambie Street his practice. However, by 1906 they had each found new premises; Farrell & Tregent in the Flack Block at 161 Hastings and Whiteway up the street at 543 Hastings. Mr. Farrell’s next-door-neighbour to his home in the West End was English-born architect Sidney Eveleigh, a partner with W T Dalton in Dalton & Eveleigh. While we obviously can’t be certain (neighbours don’t always get on), it seems likely that they got the job, in part because a year later the same architects got the job of designing the BC Telephone Company exchange on Seymour Street near Dunsmuir.

In the early 1890s the Yorkshire Guarantee and Securities Corporation had taken a large interest in the New Westminster & Burrard Inlet Telephone Company. William Farrell was the manager of the controlling company. He worked to amalgamate it with smaller operations, eventually forming the BC Telephone Company Limited in 1904 with the other major stake held by Dr. James Lefevre. As president, William was the brains behind the expansion of BC Tel through the first 20 years. While he was president of the company they connected up the local exchanges in every community from Port Alberni to Victoria and Agassiz to Vancouver.

Wm FarrellWilliam Farrell moved to Vancouver with his wife Jessie Maude in 1891 as the first General Manager of the Yorkshire Guarantee and Securities Corporation. The company was backed by wealthy woollen merchants in Huddersfield in Yorkshire, and had extensive interests in early Vancouver, including a controlling interest in the Vancouver Loan and Securities Corp., and the city’s street railway. In 1897 the brokerage of Farrell & Tregent appeared in the street directory, and their entry continued to appear, although after 1906 William was referenced as President of the Telephone Company. In 1901 there were three children at home, Nora (11) Gordon (10), and Kathleen (2). In the 1911 census Gordon and Kathleen were still at home, with Sheila who was aged 6.  William had an 18 metre yacht built, named Sheileen for his three daughters. It was eventually renamed Kitchener and used in WWII by the Canadian army. Gordon Farrell served in the Royal Naval Air Force in WWI. He joined B.C. Telephone in 1919 as treasurer, was company president from 1928-58, and held numerous directorships (although the telephone company had been sold to US interests in the 1920s). It would appear that before he went off to the war, Gordon took over managing some of William’s assets; in 1913 G Farrell obtained a building permit for $300 of repairs to this building carried out by Electric Supply Co.

Mr Farrell didn’t always get exactly what he wanted. Initially the land was held on a lease from the CPR. The economics of development influenced the size of the building that was worth constructing. Initially Mr. Farrell planned an eight storey structure, but the lease CP were willing to grant only justified a four-storey building – which is what Mr. Farrell built. In July 1907 he applied for a liquor licence for the Mansions. His lawyer, Osborne Plunkett, tried to obtain a hotel licence. The Commissioner who awarded licences, Mr Hunt, disputed that the Mansions were a hotel, and suggested that Mt Farrell reapply for a restaurant licence. Mt Farrell wasn’t happy with this – it prevented the sale of whiskey (only beer and light wine) and it cost more. It appears he was unsuccessful, although he was able to obtain a permit to erect decorative street lights to the outside of the building.

In 1921 the building was sold to the owner of the building on the opposite side of Robson Street, Edward Farmer. The newspaper of the day said the building owned by William Farrell and Alice Lefevre was sold to Edward Disney Farmer, of Fort Worth, Texas, for $400,000. As a result the paper said the “Mr. Farmer is now one of the largest holders of real estate in the city, controlling as he does nearly a million dollars worth of business property on Granville Street“. It said that “Mr. Farmer has had quite a romantic career and is a man of outstanding and most attractive personality. He is an Englishman who came to the States many years ago and by his enterprise and business ability has amassed a very large fortune, his principal interests being in cattle and oil“. (Actually, Mr. Farmer was born in Ballybrophy, Ireland, the son of an Episcopal minister, although he did go to school in England. Some records say Mr Farrell had also been born in Ireland, but the census records say it was England, and birth records suggests it was Cheshire, like Jessie, his wife, and the older children).

Mayor L D Taylor lived in the Mansions for many years, as did his employee and future wife Alice Berry. In 1920 the Canadian Bank of Commerce moved in, hiring W F Gardiner to carry out the repairs, alterations and structural changes for the new bank. In 1923 there were further alterations to the building designed by Townley & Matheson. The Mansions were damaged in a 1957 fire, and eventually demolished to make way for the massive Downtown regeneration project in 1969, with the Eaton’s store located in this part of the site. (The image below show most of the tenants out of the retail spaces). There’s an unlikely connection to over 60 years earlier; in 1906 the Vancouver Daily World reported that “the most sensational rumor current in the city for some time was given publicity by a morning contemporary today, apparently with the sole purpose of contradicting it. This was to the effect that T Eaton & Co, the huge departmental concern with headquarters in Toronto and a branch establishment at Winnipeg, had obtained a thirty years’ lease for the purpose of carrying on a branch in this city” The paper went on to report Mr. Farrell’s plans for the Mansion, and noting that if Eatons has moved in “many business men think would be bad for local traders. A firm covering so many lines of goods, and with such immense resources, can afford top be content with a working profit of five per cent., and no small trader could live on such a narrow margin of profit as that“.

Robson & Granville nw 1

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 371-820 and CVA 2010-006.097

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