West Cordova from Abbott (2)

We saw a view westwards from Abbott along Cordova from 1889 in an earlier post. That was the south side of Cordova – here’s the north side seen in a more recent image – it’s an undated postcard that we guess is from the late 1900s.

The block on the left is G W Grant’s first known project in Vancouver “commercial block for W B Wilson, 1887”. It was illustrated in an 1887 promotional publication “Vancouver – Pacific Coast Terminus of the CPR”. William Bell Wilson was from Nova Scotia, and he lived in St John New Brunswick before moving to British Columbia in 1862. He worked in Victoria as an accountant, and Kamloops as a merchant. He married, had two children, and then became a widower when his wife died in 1879 when the children were aged 1 and 3. He was obviously successful financially, owning at least four lots in the city in 1886. In 1887 he was listed as a real estate agent in this building, and that year the city’s handbook listed him as a ‘Principal Property Owner’ with $25,000 of assets, one of the more significant landowners. By 1891 the block was owned by Rand Brothers, and Mr. Wilson’s finances had suffered, and he became Collector of Customs in Rossland, and then Trail.

He died, of dropsy, (these days it would probably be identified as edema due to congestive heart failure), aged 55, in Spokane. The Trail Creek News published his obituary “Mr. Wilson went to Spokane in July, for treatment. From the first no hopes had been entertained of his recovery. Last week his son was telegraphed for, and was with his father when he died.

Mr. Wilson was appointed collector of customs at this outport last November, at the time the outport was created. Prior to that time he had been with the Rossland office. Of his previous history the Rosslander says: “Mr. Wilson was a pioneer of the province, and is well known to most of the earlier residents.  During the C.P.R. construction he was a partner with J.A. Mara, ex-M.P. at Kamloops, where they built three steamers for conveying supplies from Tacoma to the eastern end of the Onderdonk section at the head of navigation on Shuswap Lake. These did a very large carrying business. Mr. Wilson went to Vancouver when that city was young and owned valuable property there, but he became interested through further investments in Anacortes, and with the depression in that city lost considerable money. Mr. Wilson had few intimate friends, but a wide circle of acquaintances who admired his many good qualities and learn with sincere regret of his death.”

A man in Mr. Wilson’s position has little opportunity to make friends, but the writer, with many others in Trail, knew him well and had the friendliest feelings and the greatest of respect for the dead officer.”

Today the base of a 31-storey condo building, part of the Woodwards redevelopment. occupies the site.

Today the Runkle Block sits on the north west corner, but in 1901 it was the two-storey wooden Cosmopolitan Restaurant. In 1910, according to a building permit, J C Runkle hired Sharp and Thompson to design the building standing today. It cost $28,000 and was built by Robert McLean. The developer was a total mystery – although we have identified what appears to be a likely subject. The initials for ‘J C Runkle’ come from the building permit, but there’s a cartouche on the building with the initials ‘J R’.

Runkle is a relatively unusual name, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find the developer. In fact, in 1911 there was only one person in Canada listed in the census with the surname ‘Runkle’. Fortunately for us, he lived in Vancouver. Unfortunately, he was called Gordon Runkle, so J C Runkle didn’t match. He had lived in Vancouver from 1906, and died in Nanaimo in 1943.  He was married in the city in 1914, and he had the same architects design a house on Marine Drive in 1922. His father, John D Runkle was a resident of Brookline, Massachusetts, the President of MIT (the second in the institution’s history), and also a chairman of the Brookline School Committee and an early advocate of mathematics and science. Gordon had an older brother (sixteen years older) named John C Runkle. Our guess is that Gordon, at the height of Vancouver’s property boom, managed the development on behalf of his brother – an absentee American east coast investor. In 1900 John worked for the National Coal Tar Co, in 1910 he was Vice President of a manufacturing company, and in 1930 he was an executive of a lumber supply company, living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1908 he bought an old house dating back to 1765, had it moved, and hired architect Lois Lilley Howe to reconstruct and remodel the house.

Only one of the three buildings looks the same today as it did in the early 1900s. That’s part of the Cook Block – the western-most 4 storey element is said to have been completed in 1892. That part of the building has bay windows on two floors. Next door was a three storey building that has had an additional floor added to make it a matching four storeys today. They were developed by Edward Cook (who also constructed the Wilson Block on the left, laid the foundations of Christ Church, and was the builder of the first courthouse among many other projects). We don’t know if Edward hired an architect – and if so, who he chose.

In the 1891 census Edward was shown aged 35, born in Ontario, with a wife from Quebec, and four children under 8; Edna, May, Winifred and baby Wallace (listed as Douglas a decade later). In 1901 his wife is recorded as Miri, (actually she was Maria) and the four children now have three siblings, Beatrice, Francis and Elsie. His wife’s sister Elibeth (sic) Douglas, and son-in-law, Thomas Forman were shown living with the family (Maria and Elizabeth had a brother in the city; Frank, of Kelly, Douglas & Co). Edward arrived from Manitoba in 1886, and built a house for his family, that was burned down before they could arrive. They were travelling from Quebec, overland through Chicago , Portland and Tacoma, and then by steamer to Victoria and then Vancouver. They arrived days after the fire and their first home in Vancouver was a tent on Carrall Street, near this location. Edward was elected an alderman from 1901 to 1905, and was a very successful resident of the city. Maria died in the spring of 1940, and Edward four days later.

Beyond the Cook Block was the Eagle Hotel, which was added to in 1906, helping us date the picture. The Eagle was lost when Woodwards built their parking garage. The upper floors of the Cook Block were, for a while, residential, known as the Marble Rooms, but they closed in 1974. Today the three structures of the Cook Block and the Runkle Block (all three are only half the depth of the lot, so sixty feet deep) have been combined into a single building, with a restaurant on the corner and commercial uses on the upper floors.

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Posted June 24, 2019 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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