Today’s Salvation Army Citadel at Gore and East Hastings was called “as modern as tomorrow” when it opened in February, 1950. Today it could be more accurately described as “as tired as the day before yesterday”. It’s days may be numbered as the owner since 2001, Vancouver Coastal Heath, have no use for it, and recently BC Housing issued an Request For Proposals for a non-market housing design for the site. Mercer and Mercer designed the monumental building in a somewhat retro art deco style (twenty years after the height of that style, in 1950). When it was built there was an auditorium, a gym in the basement and a kitchen and offices. It wasn’t the first Salvation Army building on the site – that was the building shown here in this 1950 Walter Frost image.
It opened in 1907, and it too boasted offices and a 600 seat auditorium. The hotel (the Hotel Welcome) behind on Gore was also run by the Salvation Army as a hostel for 100 men, with a library and other facilities. The press coverage of the day didn’t identify an architect, but the way that it had been designed with the experience of the Army in it’s work in other cities suggests it may have been the work of a Toronto architect, or a talented officer within the Army. There was also a basement ‘clean-up’ facility, where loggers could get a shower and a shave, and burn any rubbish (or verminous clothes) so that they could rejoin ‘civilized’ society and find a room in one of the many hotels in the area that catered to their needs through the winter season when logging and mining stopped. The auditorium had an arrangement that the Army’s Commissioner, from his Toronto office, thought worthy of replicating across the country. The chairs were arranged with their back legs in a trough that ran across the room, allowing them to remain in place to ensure the order the Army preferred, while allowing them to me manoeuvred singly when necessary.
It was still operating in 1923 when the Daily World reported “A man may be down but he Is never out.” This well known slogan of the Salvation Army is the first thing one thinks of on entering the Hotel Welcome, which is the big brick building with the geraniums in the windows, on Gore Avenue and Hastings Street. Here the Salvation Army has established a self – supporting home a small hotel which is a veritable refuge to the man who may be temporarily short of funds. “We never turn a man away, whether he has money or not, as long as we have enough beds to go around,” said Captain J. Birchall, the other rainy afternoon, as he concluded an informal tour of inspection. ‘The charge for the night is 30 cents. We don’t supply meals here, but we give the men meal tickets if they are short of cash and they are welcome to stay here until we can find them jobs. Often odd jobs, such as gardening and window cleaning, help to put a man on his feet when he is down on his luck. We try to help a man climb back, if he wants to.”
There is accommodation for fifty men in the Hotel Welcome, and a few emergency cots can be set up if the place is crowded. It usually is full. Instead of a dormitory system there are private bedrooms and single beds. Downstairs In the reception hall, where in pleasantly chintz – hung windows red geraniums bloom, there are many books on a big table, lots of comfortable chairs, pictures on the walls and a general air of homeliness that one can imagine must be very grateful to men who are at loose ends with life. A black cat purred comfortably in the lap of a man over in the window reading a well – thumbed copy of a History of the War. Captain Birchall and the janitor run the hotel, and when men stay there, waiting for jobs, as they often do, they too, “pitch in,” Captain Birchall says, and help keep house. “It’s more like a home than a hotel, I can tell you,” said a man with the Cockney accent. And three or four men sitting around listening to the rain splashing against the windows nodded approval. Across the street is the Salvation Army industrial store, where Captain Birchall spends part of his time when he is not finding work for men who need it, and doing other odd Jobs such, as writing out meal tickets and visiting the sick.