Afton Hotel, 249 East Hastings Street

This is yet another 1912 Hotel that became an East Hastings rooming house. However, for a while it wasn’t in residential use. In 1913 it showed up in the street directory as ‘new building’. A year later Vancouver postal substation B was on the street level, and a variety of Canadian government offices located on the upper floors, including Agriculture, Fisheries, the Inspector of Weights and Measures and the BC Hydrographic Survey. That arrangement lasted just two years. By 1919 all the offices, and the Post Office had moved a few doors to the west to the McArthur and Harper Building on the corner of Main Street – the Post Office moving first, in 1918. This building was vacant, and in 1920 reopened as the Afton Rooms, run by J A McMaster, with A Theodore’s confectionery store on the main floor.

The building was designed by A J Bird, and his client was R B Hamilton. He’s proven remarkably mysterious, despite a few hints. Another permit for someone with the same name, for a new building on Main Street, identified him as ‘R B Hamilton of South Vancouver P.O.’ As this was developed as a post office, it seems very likely that he’s the same person. However, diligent searching of directories and other historical records hasn’t found any obvious candidates, so Mr. Hamilton remains an enigma. Equally frustratingly, while The Dominion Government got the permits to create the post office, the subsequent 1919 permit to alter the premises (presumably to residential use) was to N E Hamilton, and there’s no obvious candidate with those initials either.

The Ovaltine Café opened in 1942 and has a fabulous neon sign (with a distinctive arrow), made by Wallace Neon in 1948. (The name over the door dates back to 1943). It’s a rare remaining fragment of Vancouver’s ‘golden age’ of neon, when there was reportedly more neon in Vancouver than anywhere in the world, except for Shanghai.

The interior of the café has survived intact, and includes a coffee counter, booths, mirrors and varnished woodwork. The decision taken many years ago  to plant a street tree right outside the building means that for half the year the sign is obscured. Wong Kee Look first operated the café, which was recently named one of the world’s 50 best cafes in a London newspaper, and has featured in dozens of TV shows and movies from Da Vinci’s Inquest to ‘I Robot’.

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Posted 30 July 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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