27 West Hastings Street

The Army and Navy store closed its doors here in 2020, after 81 years in this location. Before 1939 the store was on the same block, but on the south side of the street. The building the business initially occupied here is the extensively glazed “Five-storey brick store building with basement and mezzanine on first floor; north side of Hastings, adjoining the warehouse of Wood, Vallance & Leggat;” This description was from a 1906 newspaper article titled “New block for Mayor Buscombe” So although the permits for that period are missing, we know the developer was Fred Buscombe, and the plans are in the Vancouver Archives so we also know that the architects were Parr and Fee. Smith & Sherbourne were the builders of the $45,000 investment.

Wood Vallance and Leggat occupied the building to the east which had been built around 1899 for E G Prior & Co. Later it was redeveloped as the Rex Theatre, and subsequently became an addition to the Army and Navy store. Our 1908 image shows Buscombe’s store here was called ‘The Fair’, and it replaced The Brunswick built in 1888 “on the fringe of the woods”. Perhaps this expansion of his business was a bit too much; a year later Stark’s Glasgow House moved in, having previously been on Cordova Street.

Fred Buscombe was mayor in 1905 and 1906. A merchant who had been president of the board of trade before he was elected mayor, he was elected to cut municipal spending, earning him the support of the business class and all three daily newspapers (who seldom agreed about anything). Born in Bodmin, in Cornwall, he was aged eight when the family moved to Hamilton, Ontario. He went to work for china and glassware company James A Skinner & Co. He visited Granville in 1884, and moved to Vancouver (as it had become) in 1891. He bought Skinner’s business in 1899, and had wholesale and retail businesses, as well as a Securities firm. He was also President of Pacific Coast Lumber Mills. A conservative, he was a prominent Freemason and a pillar of the Church of England, helping fund the construction of Christ Church. With his Ontario born wife Lydia the family had at least eight children, only five of whom survived.

Stark’s didn’t last very long here either; James Stark died in 1918, but this had already been renamed as The Hastings Street Public Market. A new tenant briefly moved in, but in 1919 “Terminal Salvage Co. is compelled to move so the entire building can be turned over to a Calgary Concern who will remodel the building for a public market”. This was the Cal-Van Market, and Buscombe Securities spent $3,000 in 1919 for the works for their new tenant. It was obviously a success, as Buscombe hired J E Parr to carry out another $25,000 of repairs and alterations in 1923, and Cal-Van was still in business through the 1930s. It had a boxing gym and whist arcade on the third floor.

The building has been altered behind the facade over the years, but despite the windows being painted over, it offers an opportunity to retain one of the most impressive early retail buildings still standing. The redevelopment of Army and Navy is apparently imminent, with a developer and architect working with the Cohen family (who ran Army and Navy, and still own the building) to design a rental housing, retail and possibly office project.

Image source: Vancouver Public Library

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Posted 27 September 2021 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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