The Manhattan is a much-loved West End building that has survived for over 100 years. We took the contemporary image a couple of years ago, but fortunately nothing much has changed in the recent past. Lumber baron W L Tait hired Parr and Fee to design this building, as he did with his other significant investment, The Orillia, further east on Robson Street. His other major investment, also designed by Parr and Fee, was his home, Glen Brae, an enormous house in Shaughnessy completed in 1910 at a cost of $100,000. (Today it’s the Canuck place children’s hospice). Completed in 1908, when it opened there were 47 apartments and three stores on Robson street, a bakery, a drugstore and a skirt company.
William Lamont Tait was a Scot, born in Dumfrieshire in 1847. His 1913 biography says “In shingle and sawmill business, Gravenhurst and Orillia, Ont, 1870. Came to British Columbia, 1891; operated lumber mills in own name, Vancouver, 1891-1903; sold out to Rat Portage Lumber Co., 1903. Married Jane Gray Donaldson, Orillia, Ont., 1871; has six sons and two daughters.” The Manhattan was started in 1907 and completed in early 1908, with a wooden frame construction, and clad in Clayburn bricks.
Our image above dates from 1912. In 1908 the Daily World newspaper listed a $30,000 investment for an addition to the Manhattan which had been completed that year, but as far as we can tell nothing was built at that time. The postcard on the left dates from a little after the completion of the building, which clearly consisted of the structure still standing today. Four years late, in 1912 Tait hired the Jewett Design Co to add what was described on the permit as ‘a four storey building’ next door to the east of the Manhattan costing $20,000. What was built actually had five storeys, so either Mr. Tait went back to the design of his more expensive earlier addition, or Mr Jewitt adapted his design which borrowed the details from Parr and Fee’s original building both in terms of brickwork and bay windows. The 1912 Archives image shows the fifth floor of the additional building under construction, with the frame complete. Today it’s pretty much hidden from this angle by the street tree.
Since 1982 the building has been a housing co-op, converted from market rental, with Thompson Berwick & Pratt and Norman Hotson Architects working on the design of the renovated building.
Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P722