Alexander Street – unit block

We’re looking east along Alexander with our back to Maple Tree Square. Our image is undated, but that’s a 1980 VW Golf on the right, so initially we estimated this was probably shot around 30 years ago. Today the trees are bigger, there’s a bike rack, and some new housing on the north side of the street completed in 1999, but the south side is almost unchanged.

Off in the distance the yellow building is one a building looked at earlier – but with a ‘before’ image that showed a locomotive instead of the building that’s there today. It’s the Four Sisters Housing Co-op, completed in 1988, so the picture must have been taken a little under 30 years ago. Closer to us, on the west side of Columbia Street is the City Hotel, built in 1905, expanded a couple of times (one major expansion was by Sam Kee in 1910, designed by W F Gardiner costing $55,000), and most recently called Alexander Court, a 59 unit privately owned SRO. That building has recently been restored, and now has the original brick façade rather than the painted upper floors in both these images.

Next door is another rooming house, but this one was purpose built. W F Gardiner designed this simple four storey building, three windows across and three storeys high, above a retail unit. The developer was Peter Drost, who also developed Hartney Chambers on West Pender a few years earlier. (At least, we’re reasonably certain of that; the permit is to E G Drost, but there was nobody with those initials in the city, and the architect and builder were the same as for Mr Drost’s earlier project). He was from Ontario, but worked his way westwards with several years as a grocer and flour merchant in Hartney, Manitoba and then Brandon. This rooming house cost him $21,000 to build, and he hired Adkinson and Dill (originally of Seattle) to build it in 1911, with completion the year after. In 1979 it became non-market housing and is owned by the City of Vancouver, known today as the Alexander Residence. When it was first built it was known as the Old City Lodging House.

Next door is the Grand Trunk Rooms, which today is addressed to Powell Street, like several buildings on this block. (The buildings are sandwiched between the two streets, and taper to a point to the right of the picture). The building, which sits on two lots, dates from 1906, and was initially the Grand Trunk Pacific Hotel, addressed to Alexander. In 1908 and 1909 it was run by Fiddes & Thomson – there was no identified proprietor in 1907, the year it first appeared. Both proprietors had run other hotels in the city, and both soon moved on to take over different establishments. In 1910 it was run by Borio & Berto; a year later it was Naismith & Campbell.

There’s no clear record of who built this structure, but there are some hints. There’s a permit for these lots in the right time frame that was issued to G D McConnell. Gilbert McConnell was an early developer in the city, completing buildings in 1889 and 1890. He was an Alderman in 1888 and 1889, and challenged David Oppenheimer for the mayoral position in 1890, but failed to get many votes. He started out in 1887, listed as ‘speculator’ and in 1888 as a builder, and by 1892 had become a clothing wholesaler with a home in the West End. By 1895 he was listed as “boots, shoes and gents clothing”. He continued to live on Haro Street, usually listed as manufacturer’s agent or commission agent until 1912. In 1913 he had moved to Barclay Street, where he was still living in the early 1920s.

Most census records suggest Gilbert Smythe McConnell was born in Quebec around 1857, (although his death certificate said it was 1855) and his wife, Nettie Agnes from Ontario was ten years younger. They married in Woodstock, Ontario in 1886, and their children were born in British Columbia; William in 1888 and Florence in 1890. Gilbert died in 1934.

The odd thing is that the Contract Record described the building to be designed by Parr and Fee here as a warehouse, but it was clearly a hotel from the day it was opened. The other curious thing is the name – Although it was the Grand Trunk Pacific Hotel, it doesn’t appear to be associated with either the Grand Trunk Pacific Steamship Co, (whose wharf was nearby) or the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. In fact the name didn’t last long; in 1914 the building was vacant, but that year Vancouver Breweries, Ltd. carried out repairs and a year later the Main Junk Co were on the main floor, and the Powell Rooms were upstairs (a name now attached to a building in the 500 block of Powell). In 1916 the retail unit was again vacant. In the 1920s the rooms were still the Powell Rooms, and there were two stores, both with Japanese businesses. They retained that name until 1932 when they were being run by a Japanese proprietor, then the building was vacant for two years before reopening as the Grand Trunk Rooms in 1935 (with a different Japanese operator). The Grand Trunk name has returned again (after briefly becoming The Warwick Hotel), attached to a building that nominally is an SRO Hotel but which offers the rooms at significantly higher rents than welfare rates. In 2013 these were $849 a room, to “students or people with student loans or work visas only,”

The single storey structure started life as a blacksmith’s shop for H Critch & Sons, built and designed by builder G Dunlap. The Crich business had been based here for some years, and in 1908 Kendrick & Dittberner, coppersmiths shared the lot. Improved in 1923, more recently the building has been a restaurant – in the late 1980s it was the Jewel of India, more recently it was a tapas bar called Salida 7 and currently Jack’s Taphouse & Grill.

The building on the right of the picture is the original Europe Hotel, originally built around 1887 with ‘brick additions’ in 1899 to the designs of W T Dalton.

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Posted June 8, 2017 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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