We’re looking north on Granville in 1939. Looking much darker in those days than it does now, the 1908 Canadian Bank of Commerce is behind the car, and beyond that is the Royal Bank’s half skyscraper from the early 1930s. Closest to us is the Merchants Bank of Canada, built in 1915 in a classical style to make its modest three storeys look more imposing.
The large office building on the corner of West Pender is the Rogers Building. It was built by Vancouver businessman Jonathan Rogers, who hired Seattle architects Gould and Champney for his biggest investment in the city. He was born at Plas-Onn, near Llangollen in Denbighshire, North Wales, and grew up speaking only Welsh. At 16 he moved to Liverpool where he worked at various jobs while perfecting his English. In May 1887 he headed for Montreal and crossed Canada, arriving on the first transcontinental train to arrive in Vancouver. Soon after his arrival Jonathan attended the first public auction of parcels of CPR land within the newly created city. He bought four lots outside the area already built at that time, although now located in the heart of downtown. He started work as a painter, and then became a construction contractor.
The massive speculation that had accompanied the arrival of the railway in 1887 was soon halted when the economic realities of building a new city set in, coupled with a collapse in lumber prices south of the border. Jonathan Rogers held on to his land through this depression and in 1893 with James and Thomas Hunter built a 2-storey building on Columbia Street, near Powell Street known as the Commercial Block. He became one of the city’s most successful contractors (and was elected to City Council), and over a number of years added a series of modest buildings on West Hastings Street. The Granville building was in an altogether different class. Initially announced as ‘The Glyn Building’, (although on completion it would bear the Rogers name), Jonathan spared no expense on his state-of-the-art reinforced concrete structure (the biggest the city had seen). He toured North America and Europe with the architect, A Warren Gould, to identify the best materials, and understand the most up-to date building finishes and techniques. Fifteen carloads of enamelled terra cotta came from Chicago. The ornamental iron was purchased in Minneapolis and St. Paul and five of the most up-to-date elevators were bought in Toronto. Nearly 60,000 feet of cork flooring and 60,000 feet of linoleum came from England and 8,000 barrels of California cement were used. During construction The BC Saturday Sunset said “The building is designed along the lines of the modern French Renaissance (with an) exterior of polished Glasgow granite, in combination with cream-colored terra cotta facing . . . All the interior finish woodwork is to be of hardwood with white Italian marble corridors and stairs throughout… The building will be a monument to Alderman Rogers, whose faith in the future of this city is exemplified in the erection of a building which, when completed, will represent an expenditure of nearly $600,000.”
The Engineering and Contract Record reported noted “One wing of the building will be fitted up for doctors and dentists, for whose convenience special electrical and compressed air appliances will be introduced. They continued “the basement will contain a large cafe and kitchen, barber shop, etc., as well as heating and power plants, electric generators, and refrigeration machines for the cafe.”
Rogers sold the building in September 1927 to General F. A. ‘One Arm’ Sutton for a sum “exceeding $1 million” – the largest real estate transaction in the city to that time. Around 1940 he bought it back – although by then his wife Elizabeth was managing the family interests.
Jonathan Rogers died in 1945 and left what at that time was a very large sum of money, a quarter of a million dollars, to various causes in Vancouver. The largest single bequest of $100,000 was given to the City of Vancouver to create a neighbourhood park in a poorer part of the city. (Rogers served on the Parks Board for 26 years). After several delays Jonathan Rogers Park was finally opened in 1958 on 8th Avenue, in Mount Pleasant.
Today the Rogers Building continues to offer office accommodation to a wide variety of tenants, and although the basement barbers no longer operate, the stores on the main floor continue to thrive.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1376-147