Alexander Street – unit block, north side

We have seen a number of the buildings on this block in earlier posts, but not all of them. The one on the left of our 1996 image is the oldest on the block. The owners, Lowtide Properties, would have you believe it dates back to 1896. In fact it dates to 1900, when owner Thomas Dunn moved his ship’s chandlery business here to a rectangular brick building he commissioned, designed by N S Hoffar. It was three storeys over a basement, with the top floor having huge arched windows. Dunn operated the building for only a very short time, until 1902. In 1903 hardware dealers Wood, Vallance & Leggett were based here, having bought out Thomas Dunn’s chandlery, with Dunn continuing in the hardware business in premises a short distance away on Water Street. They also took over his Cordova Street premises (in the building he developed with Jonathan Miller).

This building was sold to Boyd, Burns and Company Ltd., dealers in engineering and mill supplies, who moved here in 1904. They added a new warehouse in 1907, hiring Parr and Fee a year before to design a new 26 feet wide building to the east costing $60,000, angled differently to line up with the rest of Alexander Street. They then sold their company to Crane Co, a Chicago based business in 1908. Crane retained the plumbing interests, initially based here, but sold the ship’s chandlery part of the business to a newly formed company, Simson-Balkwill Co. Ltd. Ship Chandlery and Engineering Supplies. Boyd ran that company from the new eastern half of the building, and built a bigger Powell Street warehouse in 1911. They were replaced by H W Petrie’s machinery company.

By 1914 the building was vacant, and the older half was still empty in 1916, although the newer half saw Vancouver Scale & Butchers Supply Co move in, and the situation prevailed to the end of the Great War. By 1920 both buildings were occupied, although the tenants were not as prestigious as in the early years. The Canadian Pacific Junk Co were in 5 Alexander, and Fujita & Co in 7 Alexander. They were importers and exporters, with Y Uchida managing. They occupied the building for several years, while there was consistent turnover of tenants in the older building, including the British Wire Rope Co, anf Gibsons Ltd who were “Manufacturers and Wholesale Distributors of Modern Logging  Equipment, Wire Ropes, Welded Chains, Donkey Engines, Logging Blocks, Oil Burning Equipment, Mill Supplies, iron, steel and “Gorilla” Axes. They had moved out, leaving the building empty again in 1926, and Alexander Murray & Co moved in to the younger building, dealing in roofing and flooring materials. They were still there in 1930, and a number of other businesses had moved into the older building including Canadian Western Cordage. A decade later all the businesses in 1 Alexander had changed, but Alexander Murray still operated from 7 Alexander, and by 1950 they had expanded to use space in the older building, joined by Aero Surplus who sold radio supplies and a firm of mechanical engineers.

Next door, in our 1996 image, the Alexander apartments are under construction, with the adjacent Alexis apartments completed a year earlier. The Alexander incorporates the two storey façade of the building built for the B.C. Market Company, approved in 1906 to cost $25,000. Thanks to Patrick Gunn we now know this was designed by Alexander Maxwell Muir, a Victoria architect. As far as we know this is the only significant building he designed in Vancouver.

In October The Daily World announced a slight delay in construction under the heading ‘Dr. Underhill’s Very Latest Problem’ “I do not see what we can do with these Indians,” said. Medical Health Officer Underhill, this morning. “I have been down to see the encampment on the site of the proposed building of the B. C. Market company, next to the Boyd-Burns building. These Indians have just come from hop picking and on their way home to the vicinity of Port Rupert and Port Harvey. They have money to spend for supplies for the winter and it is only fair that local merchants should get the benefit. Still at the same time their encampment, where they are, is very bad, from many standpoints. It is a physical and moral menace. But where can I send them? The Indians have been in the habit of camping along the foreshore after the canning and hop picking seasons for many years I have been urging the finding of a suitable place for them to camp for some time and the police have also had something to say about the matter. The police have urged, and wisely, too, that the encampment should not be put anywhere where it could not he easily supervised.” This 1898 picture shows that First Nations had been camping on the beach beyond the tracks at Alexander Street for many years.

In 1908 the builders, Smith & Sherborne, had to go to court to get final payment for the building’s construction. The building was last occupied by the Vancouver Supply Company, before both buildings were offered for sale in the mid 1980s. The Alexis has an earlier 4-storey façade of a 1907 building first occupied by first by Knowler and McCauley, candy distributors. That was designed for Alderman Jonathan Rogers – a prolific developer – and cost $12,000, although we don’t know who he hired to design it. In the 1930s all three buildings were used by the Supply Company, a wholesale grocery business. Two buildings we’ve already looked at can also be seen; the Captain French apartments can be seen just tucked in behind the flatiron of the Hotel Europe.

Historic image source; City of Vancouver Archives CVA IN N12

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Posted January 21, 2019 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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