177 West Pender Street

The building in this 1943 image has proved difficult to pin down. With help from Patrick Gunn, and some complex photograph comparisons, we’ve finally worked out its history. The main complication was that this block, for no obvious reason, had street addresses that at one time had no logical sequence. When it was given a building permit, this was recorded as 151 (and 155) West Pender, located between 169 and 183 West Pender.

The 1911 permit is to ‘architect’ W J Prout: the owners and builders were shown as Parks and McDonald, and it cost $35,000 to build. “W. J. Pront [sic] 1101 Hornby st., has been awarded the contract for the construction of a 4-story brick store and apartment building to be erected at 155 Pender W., at a cost of $35k, for Parks & McDonald, 641 Jackson. There will be stores on the ground floor and apartments on the three upper floors. Hot water heating and hotel plumbing will be installed. The permit was issued yesterday and plans were prepared by the owners.”

In 1911 William J Prout was a 37 year old lodger living at 1101 Hornby, a contractor who had arrived from England in 1905. He was born in Cornwall in 1874, and married Margaret Warwick, who was a year younger, and clearly hadn’t joined her husband in Vancouver in 1911. By 1921 they had been reunited; Maggie Prout, William Prout and their children Beatrice (23, a telephone operator in a store), Florence (21, a milliner), Williana (18) and Dorothy (12) were living on 24th Avenue. All the children, like their mother, had been born in Ireland, and they had all arrived in 1913. Their 21-year-old son, Herbert was no longer at home – he was born in Belfast, so that was probably where the family had previously been living. Mr Prout wasn’t really a qualified architect, he was a building contractor, but he designed at least seven buildings in the city. Usually he built his own buildings – this is the only example where someone else is listed as builder, but it’s likely that he was really the builder as well.

We looked for possible developers called Parks, and others called McDonald – and there were a number of possible candidates. While that combination of names occurs elsewhere, as Parkes and McDonald, we’re not sure it is them. William A Macdonald & Robert Parkes were lawyers, and they operated as ‘front men’ for the Sam Kee company when the Chinese investment business wanted to create a hotel or rooming house outside Chinatown. “Sam Kee owned five hotel sites and buildings in central Vancouver and leased from German entrepreneur Edward Stolterfoht two sites on which it then constructed hotels for sub-leasing.  In managing its hotels, the firm dealt firmly with civic officials through its lawyers R. R. Parkes and W. A. Macdonald, K.C. It was possible that this was one of Sam Kee’s investment hotels, with the Building Permit being submitted by his lawyers.

However, there were two men living at 641 Jackson in 1911 called Parks, and McDonald. Donald Bain McDonald was a miner, aged 45 and from Scotland, and John Parks was also a miner from Ireland, and aged 34. It would seem that they had been more successful than most miners – they also had an earlier investment apartment building on Powell street at Dunlevy.

The Calumet was run by Richard S Morrison, and claimed to have ‘Every Modern Convenience’. It was mentioned in the press quite a bit in 1916 when a Mr. Morrison leased a room that was used as a base for ‘vote rigging’ by the Liberal Party in a by-election that year. Paid recruits from Seattle were said to have impersonated thousands of absent servicemen using forged documents, in an extraordinarily complex, expensive (and apparently successful) scheme. In 1918 the Calumet became the Parks Rooms, and in 1919 H A Benjamin was running the establishment. Later it became known as the Parks Hotel.

The hotel use – and we think the building – ended in January 1950. Apparently The Daily Province started using the basement of the building that year, and had 500 tons of newsprint stored in the basement. The fire, once it got a hold, was stubborn and devastating, and created huge amounts of smoke. The image has a note saying “the fire was attended at 1:05 pm and struck out at 5:24 pm, “34 overcome with smoke and 18 were hospitalized.” We were not sure if the building was destroyed, as the Daily Province continued to be identified with the address until the mid 1950s. However, an early 1950s aerial photograph clearly shows a hole here. After 65 or more years as a vacant site, that could soon change as there are plans for a 10-storey non-market housing building to be constructed here.

Image sources: Vancouver Public Library and City of Vancouver Archives CVA 354-134

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Posted April 24, 2017 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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