316 and 324 Powell Street

This pair of rooming houses were both built in 1912, and are seen here in a Nikkei Museum collection photo, which incorrectly suggests the picture dates from 1925; it’s likely to have been taken over a decade later. The car looks like a late 1930s Buick, and the building on the right of the picture, the Fuji Chop Suey restaurant, was only completed in 1931. The picture is additionally misleading because the third building in the row, the King Rooms, has been cropped out of the photo, although it was developed in 1912 in the same year as the two buildings shown.

This image shows both stores of Furuya Shoten at 318 and 324 Powell Street. The clothing store at 318 Powell Street displays women’s clothing on the right side of the window and men’s on the left. The goods store at 324 Powell Street displays Japanese staples in the large window and barrels of Japanese staples in the other. Beside the store is an entrance way to the Lion Rooms upstairs, and the Furuya Co. clock is hanging on the third floor level.

Today both the rooming houses shown in the earlier image operate under one name, the Lion Rooms, but earlier there were two establishments, the Lion Rooms and the Burrard Rooms (on the left). No proprietors were listed for the Burrard Rooms when they opened – they were just listed as ‘Japanese Rooms’, but the Lions Rooms were shown as being run by S Fukumura. Initially C Hagiwara, a watchmaker worked here, and S Kato, a shoemaker as well. The Powell Pool Room was next door, with the Yuen Lee laundry operating at the back of the property. The Nikkei Museum says that Ichiji Sasaki built one of the biggest bathhouses, the Matsuno-yu at 318 Powell Street in July 1916. It cost $4,600 to build and was ‘elaborate and popular’.

Interestingly, these buildings weren’t developed by Japanese investors; the 1912 permit for 316 was for N Symonds design for Mah, Sam  Yuen. It cost $23,000 and was built by R G Wilson & Co. Next door at 324 the same developer and architect had got their permit for a $25,000 building a few months earlier, and Norman Symonds also designed the King Rooms, and R G Wilson built it for $22,500. L A Lewis was the developer.

We’re not sure if the Sam Yuen who was an active Vancouver developer as early as 1899 is related – he protested to the courts when the health officer of the day wanted to burn one of his Chinatown properties. It’s quite possible as he came here from Guangdong Province in China to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. When these buildings were developed, Mah Sam Yuen was Manager of King Fong Co, and dealt with their financial transactions. He gave evidence (through a translator) to a 1910 Inquiry “regarding Chinese merchants attempting to enter Canada on Empress of China”. A recent profile of his grandson (who lives and works in Hong Kong, but who studied at UBC,) describes Mah Sam Yuen as ‘an entrepreneur who looked for business opportunities in both the U.S. and Canada’. The attempted move of Chinatown to Franklin Street in 1912 also saw investment there by Mah Sam Yuen & Co, whose offices were then identified as being located on on Carrall Street. A 1929 US Court case saw Mah Sam Yuen givi ng evidence to support a fellow Chinese merchant in Seattle, who was fighting deportation. The evidence reveals that Mah Sam Yuen was also known as Mah Ai Joon (his married name), and that he was still manager of the King Fung Store.

L A Lewis was probably a New Westminster mill owner, Lewis Allen Lewis, from Ontario who was owner of the Brunette Saw Mills. (No doubt to avoid confusion, he was known as L Allen Lewis). Norman Symonds was a relatively unknown architect, but over a brief period designed quite a few buildings constructed in the tail end of the early 1900s boom. He formed a partnership with W S Duncan, who moved to Vancouver from Calgary in 1912. He was from Ontario and lived with his wife, two children and three lodgers on Pender Street in 1911.

In 1919 S Misme sold cigars under the Lion Rooms, while Mrs K Ushijima had a dry goods store next door at 324 Powell, under the Burrard Rooms numbered as 324 1/2. The King Rooms were to the east. The stores remained in Japanese ownership, changing over the years. In 1930, F Takada ran a confectionery store with Powell Taxi run by H Sarayama and I Hashimoto sharing the floor beneath the Lion Rooms. H Higashiyama Co, a dry goods business were under the Burrard Rooms. Next door under the King Rooms U. Morimoto & Co. dry goods rented the storefront at 328 Powell in 1920 and 1921. Nearly a century later the company name is still written in the tiles at the entrance to the store.

Furuya & Co were based on West Hastings during the early 1930s. They moved to Powell Street – but to the 100 block – in 1935, and only in 1940 do we find Furuya & Co main floor (exporting Canadian Goods, and importing Japanese Merchandise and Products) and the Matsunoyu Baths in the basement. These are the companies shown in the image. Bessie Hakkaku had run Tokyo Archery at 324 for a number of years, and only disappeared in 1941 – our best guess for when the picture was taken.

Furuya’s growth was abruptly halted when the Japanese were all moved to camps away from the coast in 1942, and briefly Powell Street was almost deserted. This part of the street gradually reopened with Chinese owned businesses. In 1946 the Lion Rooms were still operating, with L Yet running a pool room downstairs. 324 Powell was still vacant, but the King Rooms had the Newcomer Café on the main floor, run by H Chee. That was still true in 1950, and the pool room was still operated by Yet Lok in 1955. At 324 an unusual situation was recorded – Kingo Matsumoto was operating a grocery here. He had fought in the Canadian forces in the Great War, and was one of very few to return to the former Japantown after internment (in his case in Slocan City). In 1947 he had written to the Federal government requesting the return of his fishing licence on the Fraser River, although at that time wartime limitations on Japanese ownership and location were still in place.

Today the Lion Hotel is still a rooming house; now one of the remaining privately owned SRO hotels in the area. In recent years it has featured as lacking heating and hot water, and breaching fire regulations, despite receiving government grants for improvements.

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Posted April 5, 2018 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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