622 Granville Street

We’re seeing a 1925 store in an 1888 building on Granville Street. The Crewe Block (later recorded as the Crews Block) was one of a number of building developed along Granville Street by CPR Executives. Rather than trying to find local architects, most of the designs were drawn up in New York, in the offices of Bruce Price, who also worked on CPR commissions like the Opera House. The intent was to drag the city’s business district away from where it was founded, in Gastown, and closer to the CPRs new landholdings that ran southwards from their station on the waterfront at the foot of their new street, recently carved out of the forest.

Originally the building had sash windows, but some time later the second floor windows were slightly widened, and altered to centre-pivoted units. This is often a sign of the work of Parr and Fee, who favoured glazed white brick and pivoting windows in the many buildings they designed elsewhere on Granville. In 1925 Saba Brothers hired Townley & Matheson to design a $25,000 makeover of their premises. (The second floor windows had been installed before that renovation, as they can be seen in this earlier post which has an image from 1921, when Con Jones had one of his ‘Don’t Argue’ tobacco stores here).

Alex and Michael Saba who ran the store here were Christian Lebanese immigrants who were living on Vancouver Island before they moved to Vancouver. Michael arrived from Beirut first, and Alex joined him nearly a decade later in 1900 when he was only 17. He learned English by selling door-to-door, with a suitcase full of underwear, handkerchiefs and notions. By 1911 Alex was aged 28, had a 20 year old wife, Adma, a baby son, Edgar, and a home on Barclay Street that the family shared with Adma’s mother, Katherine Hashim. In 1921 Michael and his wife Freda were living on Pendrell Street, and the record shows Michael had arrived in 1891, and Freda (who was also Syrian, and 9 years younger than her husband) in 1893. Alex (recorded bizarrely as Axel) and Adma now had three sons, with Clarence and Arnold joining Edgar, and Catherine Hashim was still living with them on Balsam Street in a home that Alex had built in 1914 at a cost of $6,500. Alex was now managing director of the business, and various other Saba family members worked there.

The Saba Brothers sold ladies clothing and fabrics, especially silk, although they started out by selling a broader range of ‘Oriental Goods’. The History of Metropolitan Vancouver noted the importance of the business. “Saba Brothers opened on West Hastings  in November 1903. Two years later, the store moved to the 500 block Granville. By 1940, Saba’s was the largest retail house in Western Canada specializing in silks. Although hit by shortages in WWII, the business survived. In 1942, there was a riot when 500 women stampeded the store to buy 300 pairs of nylon stockings (no one was hurt)“. By the 1930s the store here was twice as big, as they expanded north into 628; in 1925 that was Hunter Henderson’s Paint store. In 1947, the company built a new five-storey $250,000 store here, designed by Sharp, Thompson, Berwick & Pratt. In 1954 they opened a Victoria outlet. Alex’s three sons, Edgar, Clarence and Arnold, later managed the business.

Today the loaction is part of the Hudson, a 400 plus unit condo tower developed in 2006 with retail and office space in the podium. Stores have generally been successful here, but the effects of the COVID pandemic has seen the closure of Swimco, the Calgary-based swimwear chain, and the unit was for lease in 2020.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1399-527

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Posted 14 December 2020 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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