400 block West Pender Street – north side

400 W Pender

Here are three buildings, each over 100 years old, that have survived on the same block. This 1947 Vancouver Public Library image shows the Niagara Hotel in the centre, built in 1913 and opened as the Hotel Connaught. It was designed by Otto Moberg for William Walsh. Next door is the taller, and narrower Hutchinson Block, designed by W F Gardiner for Dudley D Hutchinson. Gardiner used a design of centre-pivoted window frequently, but not exclusively used by Parr and Fee. The Connaught cost $55,000 and was built by H Murray, while the Huchinson Block, described as a reinforced concrete store & office, 8 storeys cost $60,000 and was built by Adkison & Dill in 1910.

niagara 1947When it opened the Hotel Connaught, run by local hoteliers White and Passarini, boasted a French chef, and fifty of the 120 rooms had a bath! (And in those bathrooms were “individual cakes of soap, little glass shelves and all the little dainty wrinkles that make for perfection“). The hotel boasted the first oil-fired heating plant installed in any hotel in the city. The hotel lasted a relatively short time as the Connaught; by 1922 it had become the Balfour Hotel, run by Albert Davis and only a year later it was rebranded again as the Niagara, run by E R Rickman and W A Badger.

The Heritage Statement of Significance identifies Walter William Walsh as the developer of the hotel; a successful lawyer and partner in Williams, Walsh, McKim and Housser. Originally from Montreal, after graduation he headed west and was called to the bar in Vancouver in 1899. Interestingly, biographies published in 1913 and 1914 make no reference to any property development activities, which made us wonder if he wasn’t the developer at all. Checking the Building Permit we found that William Walsh is named there. He was president of the Metropolitan Trust Co Ltd – so a much more likely candidate for a significant development (especially as they had offices on the third floor of the Hutchinson building next door). Born in Quebec he was aged 52 when the arrived in Vancouver in 1896. In Quebec he was a wholesale clothing merchant; here he reinvented himself as a financier. He had a new home built on Granville Street at Matthews in 1912 that cost $15,000, designed by N Murray who might easily be the H Murray who built the Connaught.

In 1947 the hotel was given one of the city’s finest signs, A replica Niagara Falls, 60 feet above the ground with 45 feet of spilling blue-vein neon water, cascaded down the building over four floors. Silver spray crashed onto neon rocks edged by neon evergreen trees. It was installed by Neon Products and designed by Laurence Hanson. Initially, after rebranding as the Ramada in 1998, only the lettering was changed. Then in in 2005 the dynamic elements of the design were removed, leaving just the oversized corporate logo.

Dudley DeCourcey Hutchinson arrived in the city from Winnipeg in 1906. Born in Barbados where his father, John Inniss Hutchinson was manager of a sugar plantation, he quickly established himself in the ballooning real estate business, and built his first investment on Pender. Keen to improve his financial position, Mr. Hutchinson appears to have been a little too keen on at least one occasion. Hired by Amos Fleming to broker a land purchase, he quoted $220 an acre for one piece of land. He successfully negotiated to pay only $180 an acre, but omitted to mention this to Mr. Fleming, thus pocketing the difference. On a second lot he claimed that he was going to have to pay more than an agreed initial price, and persuaded Mr. Fleming to pay that amount, while actually completing the transaction at the original price. Court records from 1908 tell the story: “The defendant then invested the profits he had made on these transactions in the purchase of four other city lots and the plaintiff, on discovery of the deceit and artifices which had been practised in connection with his business, brought the action for a declaration that the defendant was his agent and became trustee for him of the four other lots purchased by the defendant with the secret profits he had thus made, or, in the alternative, to recover the amount of the difference between what he had been obliged to pay for the two lots and the prices actually paid to the vendors for them by the defendant.” Having lost in court, and appealed and lost again, Mr. Hutchinson had to repay the difference in the price of the two transactions and not receive any commission. A year later, still aged only 25, he built the Hutchinson Block, and three years after that a West End apartment building, Grace Court.

When it first opened the Hutchinson Building had eight different real estate offices as tenants – and that was just on the ground floor. There were eight more on the upper floors, as well as others including the offices of the Diocese of New Westminster, the Central Coast Mission, the Western Canada Amusement Association, architects R M Fripp, and further up the building Claude P Jones, the Trussed Concrete Steel Co of Canada, the African Plume Parlor and Pacific Coast Lumber. By the end of the war, eight years later, the building was vacant. A year later it’s pretty clear that the building had been converted to residential use; half the tenants being women. There were a few offices on the lower floors; the Norwegian Consulate was here in the 1920s. Later the building got a name; the  Montgomery Apartment Hotel. Over time it became a more run-down SRO hotel the Park Hotel, until acquired by BC Housing who gave it an entirely new life with restoration of the high quality and highly detailed sheet metal cornices, spandrel panels and belt courses. The façade was fully restored to its original condition, replacing many of its prominent cornices and restoring the storefront to something closer to its original design.

The Empress, the smaller building on the corner is an even earlier structure,with rooms over retail space, built in 1906. The owner of the land was Chinese merchant Sam Kee who acquired the two 25 foot lots at the corner of Pender and Richards in 1904, although the building permits for that period are lost so no architect has been identified. Chinese investment outside Chinatown wasn’t encouraged, so often a go-between was used to manage the properties. These days the corner building is the home of MacLeods Books.

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