311 East Pender Street

The three-storey building on the left is 110 years old. It came close to not making it to standing today, as a few years ago a storm ripped apart a partially-built six storey concrete block wall on an adjacent construction site, doing significant damage to the building and the house to the east, which has still not been repaired several years later. It’s impossible to see the facade in any season today, as the evergreen tree, fairly newly planted in our 1978 image, hides the building year-round.

The building was commissioned in 1910. The architect was recorded as D McAuley. He was shown in the street directory that year: Daniel McAuley, architect. Lives North Vancouver. This is one of only two buildings that he designed in Vancouver, but others were on the north shore and in New Westminster. The developer of the $9,300 investment was recorded as J B Johnston. Other permits showed him developing a few houses near here, and one in the West End on Comox Street in 1908. That helped pin down the developer, as there were hundreds of Johnstons (and Johnstones and even more Johnsons). John Binns Johnson was (at the time) in partnership with George William Richardson in an Insurance, Real Estate and Finance business on West Hastings. There were many more permits for J B Johnson, the correct spelling of his name, including another East End apartment building.

He was from London, Ontario, but at 19 moved to Chicago. He was a clerk there, and back in London for two years to 1885. That year he moved to Victoria, then Nanaimo, and then briefly to Seattle. He married Bertha Mohr in Ontario in 1889, and ran a store in New Westminster from 1890 to 1895. He moved to Rossland, and made money, not by mining, but from miners. He was a real estate, financial agent, and mining broker. He was an alderman there in 1897 and President of the Board of Trade in 1901, and was still resident in 1905. He first showed up in Vancouver a year later; initially he had rooms in the Hotel Vancouver, then he moved to the West End, and into the house he commissioned in 1908. He was a member of the Pacific Coast Stock Exchange, a rival to the Vancouver Stock Exchange. It became the Vancouver Mining Exchange, and in 1910 he was president. In 1914 he moved to a new house on Angus Drive in Shaughnessy Heights, but in 1920 moved back to the West End. His wife died in 1924, and he remarried in 1926, and died in 1933.

When the building was first occupied the retail stores were definitely part of Chinatown. While upstairs were the Russell Rooms, on the main floor were Sang Yick Chan Co, grocers joined later by Tom Yick watchmaker. Mrs Margaret L Kennedy ran the Russell Rooms in 1911 and was living here with her three sons and her sister, Lily Mathews who worked as a waitress in a hotel. The sisters were born in Ontario, as was her 18 year old son, Earle. Her middle son, John, was born in Alberta 15 years earlier, and her 12 year old, Cyril, was born in BC. She moved on to manage the larger Hotel Reco, and by 1915 Lily Matthews had taken over here. In 1920 Hong Yan Tong had a grocery store, and the rooms were vacant. Two years later Lin Hin Fong’s store was also here, and the apartments were just ‘Chinese Apartments’.  In the 1930s the Good Samaritan Mission, aimed at making converts to Christianity among the ‘Orientals’ of the Province, occupied the main floor, and in 1932 the Pender Rooms opened upstairs, run by Mrs. R Petit; advertised in the Vancouver Sun: “9 ROOMS, NICELY FURNISHED. CLEAN, bright. 311 E. Pender”

In 1942 The Missions to Orientals had taken over the main floor, and the rooms had no name again, and the residents were listed as ‘Orientals’. That year the press reported that “Wing Wong On, 60, was admitted to General Hospital Monday night for treatment of a deep axe cut on the left side of his neck. The Chinese told police the wound was inflicted by an 84-year-old countryman after an argument He was struck by the axe after he threw a cup of water over the other man, he said. The alleged axe-wielder is held at police headquarters for investigation“.

Ten years later the rooms were run by Gee Hing Jong and Gee Jack Ting, and the Glad Tidings Mission were in 313 E Pender. The building was in the press again that year: “Poo Jen Jew, also known as Chew Quan, 70, of Room 16, 311 East Pender, was found dead on the floor of his room Saturday by police who broke down the door after being summoned by the landlord. Detectives from the police science branch photographed the room and took samples of food’ from it for analysis. Poo’s son Chew Yuen, No. 1 Road, Steveston, told police his father had never been under treatment by a doctor.

Our 1978 image shows the building’s main floor home to the Chinese Cultural Centre, who were based here before their building was completed in the heart of Chinatown in the 1980s. Today this is home to The Lee’s Benevolent Association, who moved here in the 1980’s after their original headquarters was destroyed by fire. There are no residential spaces in the building today. In 2010, as part of the Great Beginnings Inter-governmental Initiative, a mural featuring Lao Tse was installed on the west wall of the Lee Benevolent Society building. When the adjacent site was developed with a six storey rental building, the mural was obscured, but it has been repainted is a smaller format on the upper part of the flanking wall (after it was rebuilt).



Posted 5 August 2021 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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