We’ve looked at the building on the right of this 1975 image in two previous posts; when it was a newspaper office and printing works, and a little earlier in 1922 when it was also a knitting factory. The building next door is slightly oldier; the corner building dates from 1911 but Thomas Roberts built the Roberts Block in 1908. We’ve looked at Mr. Roberts in an earlier post. He was responsible for a later Roberts Block on Water Street, designed by Hugh Braunton in 1911. Although the 1908 Contract Record itemized the cost of the Pender Street building – $24,0000 – it didn’t mention the architect, and the Building permit has been lost. The Vancouver Daily World reported in January 1908 that the new building being proposed would a 5-storey building, and that Mr. Roberts himself was supervising the construction of the tender to construct the basement but doesn’t reference a designer.
Mr. Roberts hired R H Bracken in 1903 to build a $25,000 addition to his hotel, and again in 1910 to design a stable for his West End home and Hugh Braunton to design the Grand Hotel in 1905 and the Roberts Block on Water Street in 1911. However, as far as we can tell, he designed this commercial building himself. He obtained a Permit to dig the footings in January 1908, and the main building permit in March. By August the Province were reporting “The finishing touches are being added to a modern business block just completed on the north side of Pender street between Homer and Hamilton street. It is a two-story brick fire-proof structure, with basement, extending the full length of lot, 120 feet. It is owned by Mr. T. J. Roberts, proprietor of the Grand Hotel. Mr. Roberts designed the plans and personally supervised every detail of construction.
The upper floor has been magnificently equipped for the purposes of a lodging house. The specious rooms can be used single or en suite. Every apartment has a steam heat radiator besides behind supplied with hot and cold water, gas heating pipes, fire alarm, city and house telephones.
The first floor has been divided into offices which are so designed that they can be converted into bedrooms if the entrée building should be subsequently used as a lodging house exclusively. The ground floor is occupied my Messrs. Greene & Simpson, undertakers. This large floor space contains a beautiful chapel, reception hall, inquest, embalming and stock rooms.”
By October the building was complete, and occupied. Very soon after this there was a fire, reported that same month: “Prompt Work of Firemen Saved Costly Blaze at Cabello Cigar Factory on Pender Street. Fire broke out late last evening in the bonded warehouse of the Cabello Cigar Manufacturing Co., in the Roberts block, on Pender street. Passers by who saw the smoke turned in an alarm and awoke the night – watchman, who sleeps at Greene & Simpson’ undertaking parlors, in the same building. By the time – halls 2, 1 and 6 arrived, however, the fire had got a good start and was blazing away merrily. The firemen worked with their usual skill and energy, and by midnight the flames were extinguished. It is not yet known how the blaze originated, but it is thought that damages will be about $1,000, as a large quantity of cigars and tobacco were destroyed. A number of caskets, belonging to Messrs. Greene & Simpson, were somewhat injured by the smoke, though fortunately not seriously.”
We covered the story of Tommy Roberts and his Water Street development in a post a year ago. Thanks to Andrea Butler, Tommy’s great granddaughter, we have this fabulous family image of Tommy Roberts (on the right, with his dog) and his uncle, Tommy Cyrs, in the middle, who probably developed the Grand Hotel on Water Street.
Tommy Roberts owned a fair amount of property around Vancouver, and even some in New Westminster and Coquitlam. He died after an intruder burst into a high stakes card game in the West End, and robbed the players. Reports said that Tommy Roberts wasn’t willing to give up the ring he was wearing, and was shot. There are suggestions that there was some cheating going on, and the robbery was rigged, but the thief got away and never identified. The huge diamond ring was not taken by the intruder, but it had disappeared by the time Tommy’s body got to the morgue.
Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-265