578 Alexander Street

Marie Gomez was only in the city for a few years. In many ways her timing was unfortunate. She arrived in a boom; invested funds to develop her business, and then saw a combination of civic hostility, economic recession and a war see her financial return disappear. Claiming to design the building herself, Marie spent $9,000 to have R C Douglas build her new rooming house.

Although she commissioned it in 1913, this building didn’t appear in the street directory until 1915. Marie was already in town; in 1912 she was fined $200 for selling liquor without a licence at 621 Alexander. In 1913, under the name of Alice Graham, she was fined for running a ‘Disorderly House’ (the legal term for a brothel), and for serving liquor without a licence at another house at 407 Keefer. That was actually the worse crime – she was fined $102 for the liquor charge, but only $52 for the disorderly house.

In 1972 (six years before our picture of the building) Curt Lang photographed the doorway of Marie’s building. It shows that Marie wasn’t hiding where she lived; her name was picked out in the custom tilework in the doorway. The notes accompanying the photo say her establishment was for “Spanish sailors who came from Philippines to [the] nearby Rogers Refinery.” As Lani Russwurm has noted, it seems likely that Gomez might have been a Filipina, and that “Alice Graham” was her alias, rather than the other way around. As well as her name on the vestibule, Marie got her name into the street directory here in 1915, as other ladies were packing up and leaving, or finding less obvious premises to operate from. The police note refers to Marie’s premises on the 600 block as ‘The House of All Nations’. In 1916 this building was empty, and in 1917 it was listed as a Sailors’ Home – which wasn’t so different from a few years earlier, although the company was probably less exotic.

The building was run as an unnamed rooming house by Mark Zagar, and became the Camp Lodge Rooms in 1953.

The building was redeveloped a few years after our 1978 picture with a less-than-beautiful non-market housing building (seen on the right), named after Marie Gomez. The building only lasted 25 years. Managed by DERA from 1989, the wood-frame building was poorly built, and fire alarms triggering the sprinkler system left the frame rotting and mould in the walls. DERA owed $2m in a mortgage, but couldn’t keep up with repairs, and increasing numbers of stories of abuse of residents and visitors started to emerge. In 2006 a newspaper ran a story quoting a police officer who described the building as a “house of horrors”, where crack-addicted prostitutes were tortured and their heads shaved with razors by drug dealers collecting debts.

BC Housing acquired the building, demolished it, and in 2014 a new concrete building was completed with 139 suites on 10 floors, designed by GBL Architects, and operated by PHS Community Services Society.

We don’t know what happened to Marie, but in 1933 the Wilkes-Barre Times in Pennsylvania reported “Marie Gomez, alias Nancy Carroll, of 2 Dyer lane, charged with conducting disorderly house, was fined $100 and costs today in police court. A woman charged with being an inmate was fined $25 and costs. A man who testified that he was thrown out of the house and suffered a laceration over the left eye was charged with frequenting and was fined $10 and costs. A fourth man, who said he was a friend of the husband of the proprietress, when he Interceded at the hearing for the woman and acknoledglng that he was present at the time, was likewise fined $10 and costs on a frequenting charge.

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Posted June 1, 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Gone

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