Vancouver Club – West Hastings Street 2

Here’s the Vancouver Club’s 1893 premises for sale in 1930. To the west is the club’s newer building, designed by Sharp and Thompson and opened in 1914. Many published histories will tell you that the new building replaced the old, but as this picture shows, that’s not exactly accurate. The club developed their new building, opening on January 1st 1914, on the site where there was an earlier single storey annex to the first club building. That had been designed by C O Wickenden, and like the new club, was state-of-the-art when it was first constructed.

Initially the Club had occupied space in the Lefevre Block, which was opened in 1890. Many of the first members were associated with the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the club was seen as having the city’s ‘elite’ membership. CPR executive (and property developer) Harry Abbott and its chief surveyor, J M Browning helped found the club.

Once the club moved into their own building in 1894, David Oppenheimer, the mayor, and Isaac, his brother, and another important landowner were also members. The Daily World said “The idea originated in the minds of conservative men of a class who want a thing good and who are willing to have the patience to abide their time in order to secure the fulfilment of their desires.” The building was said to have been designed with ‘refined elegance’ and featured a lower floor with billiard room with two tables, and a bowling alley, as well as cold storage and a cellar. Upstairs were a wine room, a reading room and a refrigerated room. Above that were two card rooms and two dining rooms, with oak paneling, as well as the kitchen and pastry room. At the top of the building were bedrooms for ‘the help’. and also for members or guests.

Having moved again to even larger premises, the club retained its pretentions through the decades. Rafe Mair wrote about joining the club; “In 1966, the Vancouver Club was an English-style men’s club: dark and cheerless, where voices were kept at a murmur and displays of mirth beyond the hint of a smile were frowned upon. Women were allowed as guests and then only at dinner – escorted by a member, of course – and were not permitted to enter the premises through the main doors.” “The reading room was on the main floor, and boasted deep armchairs and a selection of all the right magazines and papers, such as the London Times, Punch, the Illustrated London News and, oh heresy, The New Yorker. That was where, after a liquid lunch, the cream of Vancouver’s business community slept it off before wobbling back to the office. They would return to the club at 5 p.m. sharp and repair promptly to the third-floor bar to top off the day with a few drinks for the road.” Women were finally allowed to become members in 1994, and more joined when the women-only Georgian Club merged its membership. The club has evolved significantly since then, in terms of both membership profile and activities.

The old building was initially occupied by the Great War Veteran’s Association, and later a new club, the Quadra Club was started there around 1923. That allowed members to obtain a drink – although prohibition had ended in BC in 1921, the availability of liquor and the rules for saloons were onerous; clubs had greater freedom. The Quadra Club moved a block to the west along West Hastings in 1930.

The building was demolished not long after it was sold (as this Vancouver Public Library image shows) and the site has, remarkably, never really been developed since then. In the 1940s and 50s it had Thompson and Graham’s gas bar, service station and privately owned parking lot. (There was also another gas station on the north side of the street in 1940). It was still a parking lot in the 1980s, and indeed, it is today, although you wouldn’t know from this image. The entrance to Lot 19 is on the next street to the north, West Cordova, and there are 409 city-owned underground parkade space underneath the civic plaza with a pedestrian right-of-way, and public art. This consists of the (unintentionally ironically named) ‘Working Landscapes, by Daniel Laskarin, installed in 1998 “Four circular platforms are set in the park throughway beside the Vancouver Club. Each platform has a park bench and a living indigenous tree in a round steel planter on it. The platforms are made of wood and rotate at subtle speeds based on the work week: 1 hour, 8 hours and 40 hours. The fourth platform represents the 20-minute coffee break.” The mechanisms have been repaired and replaced several times, but more often than not, it seems, they’re not working.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 677-67

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Posted 19 November 2020 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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