300 block Main Street – east side

This 1951 image shows a series of buildings soon to come to the end of their existence. In 1953 Townley and Matheson’s Public Safety Building was completed where the earlier structures had stood. While the adjacent addition of the Public Safety Building was completed a year later, and was supposedly designed by Dawson and Hall (if you believe the Heritage Statement for the building), there’s an architects illustration in the Archives that suggests it was all designed as a single project and was all the work of Townley and Matheson; Dawson & Hall were a construction company, so that was presumably who built it.

The buildings that were replaced were built over a number of years. The 2-storey corner building pre-dated 1900, and we haven’t identified the developer. The largest building on the block was once the location of the Hotel Blackburn, then the Blackburn House Hotel and was later converted and renamed as the Lanning Apartments. Next door was a more ornate building, completed as the Star Theatre in 1921.

Albert E Blackburn had operated a hotel here from 1900. Before that he ran the Russ House on Powell Street. He was from an Irish protestant family, and born in Ontario (in 1854), where his wife, Aggie (who was three years younger) was also born. The couple almost needed a hotel just for their family; in 1901 there were 9 children at home, 6 girls and 3 boys, aged 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 16, 18, and 19 years. The family had moved around quite a bit; the oldest children (still at home) were born in the United States, then the next in Ontario, then in British Columbia, three in the US again (in Seattle), and the youngest in British Columbia.

In 1908 the Blackburn Hotel reopened, ‘entirely rebuilt and refurbished’ with steam heat piped to the ‘commodious rooms’. We haven’t traced a permit for the architect of the new hotel, but the rebuild cost $16,000 and the owners then were shows as ‘Boyd & Clendenning’ although we believe they were just the contractors at this point, not the owners. Patrick Gunn pinned down when the rebuild occurred: in July 1907 the Daily World reported “Mr. A.E. Blackburn’s request to be allowed to put up a corrugated iron building for temporary use while the Blackburn hotel is being remodeled could not be complied with as it would be a breach of the building bylaws.” In 1909 rooms on the European Plan could cost as little as 75c a night. A 1913 advertisement, when Mr. Blackburn was still in charge, noted the hotel’s convenient location for Orangemen – the Orange Headquarters were only a block away.

In 1914 Albert was appointed the Province as an Election Commissioner, and had given up his ownership of his hotel, selling it to what the Daily World referenced as ‘Boyd and Clendenning’. In fact, the new owners were Boyd & Clandening; Thomas Boyd, originally from Nova Scotia, and James Clandening from Ontario. The partnership had cleared much of the city, working on contract for both the railway company and the City Council. They cleared Granville street in 1886, worked on the Stanley Park road in 1888 and also on bridges, including the Westminster Avenue bridge. They also helped construct the BC Electric line to Cloverdale and in 1908 the Seymour Creek waterworks.

Invariably Mr. Clandening’s name was wrongly reported; in newspapers, in contracts, in the minutes of the City Council, and in the street directories. The Census however reported the correct spelling in 1901, identifying James, aged 62 with Eliza, his wife who was 17 years younger, and their children Nellie, Norma and Gordon. As early as 1898 (when the street directory managed to spell his name correctly) Mr. Clandening had owned part of the site, basing his contracting business here. At that time there was a grocer’s shop on the corner of Cordova and Westminster Avenue (Main Street) and Gordon Drysdale had his ‘People’s Store’ alongside. In 1903 Drysdale moved his business to Hastings Street and later to new premises that he built on Granville Street. Mr Clandening had first come to British Columbia during the Cassiar gold rush of 1873, but returned west before working on Vancouver Island helping build the E & N Railway in 1884 (when he had a crew of 60 working for him).

Thomas Boyd arrived in BC in 1883, in New Westminster, and helped build the Crow’s Nest Pass for the railway, and before that the Eagle Pass wagon road to help railway construction. He married in 1893, and had two daughters, one who died as a baby. Thomas had another simultaneous partnership, as Boyd and McWhinnie, and they had hired the same architects to build another substantial hotel quite close to here in 1911. He owned that property with Mr. McWhinnie as early as 1886.

In 1914 the partners hired Honeyman and Curtis to totally rebuild the site of the Blackburn Hotel, spending $75,000 and hiring J J Franz to construct the building described as ‘apartments, rooms, 4-storey concrete hotel’. However, it doesn’t look like they followed through, as out 1951 image shows the 1908 brick building still standing. They retained the Balckburn name, and Albert Blackburn was still shown as proprietor in 1916, although Harry Todd was managing the property. In 1918 they spent another $4,500 converting it to apartments, again hiring Honeyman and Curtis for the design work. Initially called the McDonald Apartments, it very quickly switched to the Lanning Apartments, a name it retained until demolition in the early 1950s.

In 1921 they hired the same architects to build on the plot to the south. This time the spent $20,000 to build “Miscellaneous; New; Picture Theatre; 49-ft frontage, 120-ft long; brick & tile with tar & gravel roof; provision made for two small stores on either side of theatre entrance; seating capacity of 450”.

The theatre was run by Mrs Annie Graham, who had been running the Star Theatre on the opposite side of the street since the mid 1910s. Before that it was run by Wilson and Allen, but Mrs. Graham made it a success and wanted to both expand and improve the theatre. When the owners were unwilling to invest, she presumably persuaded Boyd and Clandening to construct a new movie theatre, which continued in use until the 1953 redevelopment. Although her ambitions were for a 600 seat theatre, the new Star had 449 seats. The previous theatre space never reopened as a movie theatre.

Albert Blackburn died of a heart attack in Seattle in 1921, and was buried in Mountain View Cemetery. James Clandening died in 1927, aged around 90, and was also buried in Mountain View. Thomas Boyd died in 1938, aged 81, and was interred in the same cemetery.

Today the former police building is getting a complete makeover as an incubator for tech startup companies.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1399-100.jpg

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