The Drake has been gone for a few years now; (we took the ‘before’ image in 2010), not noticeably missed in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood it sat in. Although a fair distance from Chinatown, in its early days it had a close connection. It was built as a four-storey brick store & rooms in 1912 for Kwong Wo Leung, designed by A E Cline and built at a cost of $30,000 by J J Frantz Construction Co., Ltd. Mr. Cline was an architect for many years in the city; his building permits stretch over the first 20 years of the 20th century. Most of his projects were for houses (which he often built as well), and the Drake appears to have been his biggest commission. It wasn’t completed until 1914, when it was called the Manitoba Rooms, replacing the Yuen Wo Co who occupied what was likely to be a modest wooden building here. Very confusingly, there were two Manitoba Rooms in the city – a longer established property on East Hastings, and this one, referenced (to distinguish it) as “Manitoba Rooms (Japanese) 606 Powell”.
According to Fay Leung’s ‘memoire’ Kwong Wo Leung was a Chinese meat and grocery store that was expropriated for the ‘slum clearance’ of Chinatown that saw McLean Park built in the early 1950s. The Chinese Times from 1950 say they were at 318 E Pender – which is where the China Villa non-market rental building stands, completed in the early 1970s. In earlier times the company were located in the heart of Chinatown, at 5 Canton Alley. It is possible the firm had moved north: it’s not a common name, and a business with the same name was based in Portland in 1882 on Second Street. In 1906 the company donated $3 towards the creation of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent society in Vancouver.
In 1955 the Drake didn’t look dramatically different from 2010, as this Vancouver Province image shows, (although then it had a neighbor to the east). It had been known as the Haddon Hotel (with the Haddon Hotel Beer Parlor in the 1930s) until it had its name changed to the Drake Hotel in the early 1950s.
As the Drake it would gain notoriety as one of the stripper bars that proliferated in the early 1970s after the obscenity laws were successfully challenged in BC Provincial courts. By the mid 1970s the Drake was considered one of the better bars to work in, and the managers of the Drake, and the nearby Marr spent $375,000 turning the mill and dockworker bars into ‘Show Lounges’ with state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems. The boom was relatively short-lived; a recession in the early 1980s saw the Drake’s bar receipts fall by over 25% in a year. The neighbourhood didn’t really change: the lounges just became more worn out to match their surroundings. Some of the city’s stripper bars became ‘respectable’, some closed down, and others hung on, but with little investment and fewer patrons.
The Drake was bought by the City of Vancouver in 2007 for $3.2m. The ‘last bash’ of the show lounge happened soon afterwards. The site was huge, with a large parking lot. The City briefly renovated the rooms to allow other Downtown Eastside SRO hotels to be decanted and renovated, but a 148 unit social housing project was being planned; the Budzey Building was developed by BC Housing, with the City of Vancouver providing the land. Neale Staniszkis Doll Adams Architects designed the new building; completed in 2015. The Drake’s 1950s neon sign ended up in the Museum of Vancouver collection.