1590 Powell Street

The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada published a Journal for 50 years from the 1920s. It was heavily eastern-centric, mostly featuring buildings in Toronto and Montreal, but very occasionally it featured western buildings. For some inexplicable reason a 1946 edition of the Journal featured an architect’s sketch of the new Powell Street premises of Alliance Ware, a national supplier of plumbing and bathroom suites. The building was designed that year, and completed in 1947 – there’s a slightly out of focus Archives image of the building from that year. It was a fairly early work of Sharp, Thompson, Berwick and Pratt. A year after the building was built, Crane Co, another US based plumbing supplies company took over the business, but it remained as a separate but integrated part of the new, larger entity.

Vancouver these days isn’t an industrial city, but in 1946 this was a new plant to make bathtubs, kitchen sinks and other porcelain-on-steel products. The factory was an early example of a green building – a manager explained in 1958 “The excess heat from the furnaces for making bathtubs is enough to heat our Powell Street plant”. (That year Crane opened a large new vitreous pottery factory in Coquitlam). When it opened, the Journal of Commerce published further details, and the same illustration. The company built a powerhouse on Franklin Street, and the building has a steel frame with concrete block walls, built by Armstrong and Monteith Construction. Allied were an arm of Dominion Rustproofing, whose rustproofing operations moved from here to West 1st Avenue to accommodate the new building.

Today the building has been changed relatively little, and is the warehouse and headquarters of Relaxus, who supply massage equipment, essential oils and related products throughout North America. Currently PPE has become an important and expanding part of the company’s business.

The building to the west, 1516 Powell, was built here in 1912, designed by Townsend & Townsend for S Flack, and costing $50,000 to build. By 1921 the rooming house was owned by Credit Foncier. Samuel Flack was manager of Flack Estate and Investments, from Ontario, born in 1866, and the earliest we find him in Vancouver is in the 1891 census, when he was a streetcar conductor. Samuel died in 1928, and his death notice says his father was John Flack and his mother Ellen Fallis. He married Ida McGillvray, who was ten years younger in 1901 in Ontario. When Samuel died in 1928 he was described as “pioneer real estate broker of this city”. The couple had two sons, Chauncey and Cyril, and two daughters, Kathleen and Eleanor. Ida was 90 when she died in 1964.

As far as we can tell, while Mr. Flack had his offices in the Flack Block, that was a convenient location for him, but he was not a relative of Thomas Flack who was a successful English-born miner, who had developed the building in 1899. The rooming house opened before 1914 when it was called Manvers Lodge, run by D Pettigrew, offering ‘completely furnished suites’. By 1930 it had become the Terminal Hotel, and then the Wicklow Rooms by 1940. In 1978 it finally got a $200,000 makeover, reported in the Vancouver Sun in depth. “John Brown, a 71-year-old retired welder who lived at the Wicklow on and off for about 11 years before the renovations and who moved back in last week after the renovations were completed, stirred a pot of home-made stew. “Cockroaches were just about packing it away,” he said. “There was no warm water and only a dribble of cold water. Sometimes the heater would go and there would be no heat.” Brown, who lives on a $200-a-month pension, now pays $95 each month for a warm, comfortable sleeping room with wall-to-wall carpets, a small refrigerator, a bed, chairs and a kitchen table. It’s now named ‘The Flint’ and run by Atira Housing Society. Jesse P Flint owned and ran the adjacent rooming house to the west at 1514 Powell, and somehow his name has mistakenly got attached to this building.

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Posted 26 November 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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