City Hotel – Powell Street

By 1911 the City Hotel looked pretty much as it does in this 1985 Archives image. The unusual shape was thanks to the railway track that sliced across the angle of the block that faced Columbia, leaving an irregular lot 50 feet wide on Powell Street, where there was a saloon, and closer to 80 feet on Alexander, where another hotel entrance was located.

There was a hotel here, called the City Hotel, as early as 1887, run by “Desantels & Co”. There had been an earlier City Hotel, in Granville, that burned down in 1886. The 1882 directory said: “THE CITY HOTEL, on Columbia street, Mrs. Bonson proprietress, is the only hotel in the city without a bar; has accommodation for 30 guests; it is well conducted, with moderate charges”.

The replacement, after the fire, occupied the middle 25 feet of the Powell frontage, (so the section of the Powell facade later rebuilt with the greater gap between the windows), with a Chinese Laundry occupying the back of the lot on Alexander Street. The wooden building was co-owned by Alphonse Fairon, a Belgian, and R G Desautels, who was from Montreal. M. Desautels had briefly been a butcher with Patrick Gannon, and after the fire ran the Stag and Pheasant on Water Street with M Fairon. Charles Doering (who was actually Carl) sold the Stag and Pheasant to Fairon and Miller in 1888. (Mr. Miller was almost certainly Jonathan Miller who had a wide variety of business interests and seems to have had financial partnerships with both Fairon and Desautels at different times).

Alphonse had arrived in Portland in 1872, and initially settled in Wisconsin, before moving north. In 1890 he owned the City Hotel with Louis Canonica, and in 1892 his housekeeper was Marie-Louise Desautels, R G Desautels’ wife. R G had apparently left the city, but on his death in 1898 was buried in Mountain View Cemetery. Alphonse then married Marie-Louise, who was nine years younger, and they are shown in both the 1901 and 1911 census records. Alphonse carried out repairs to the frame building in 1903, so we know it was still standing then. Marie Louise died in 1911, and Alphonse in 1918.

By 1905 the hotel had a new owner, Chinese merchant Sam Kee and Co. ‘Sam’ was entirely ficticious, but the company that bore his name was owned by Chang Toy, who had extensive business interests across Chinatown and in other parts of the city. Although there are no permits available in the early 1900s, the Province reported that he hired Hooper & Watkins to design a $10,500 brick building on the lot that held the wooden hotel, and the one to the east, with the angled facade.

He added to the building again in 1909, spending $16,000 on a ‘brick addition’ designed by Townsend & Townsend. Based on this 1912 image of the Columbia Street frontage, we would guess that was the top floor, which doesn’t exactly match the brickwork of the three below. A further more expensive addition in 1910 was designed by W F Gardiner, and we think that must be the part of the building to the west, which has a strange angle to the Columbia facade, that doesn’t match the earlier building, but which maximizes the space in the building. Costing Sam Kee & Co $55,000, it was built by R P Forshaw, like the 1909 addition.

Sam Kee were careful to ensure their investment wasn’t seen as a Chinese business. A variety of ‘proprietors’ ran the hotel over the years. Alberrt Paucsche & Joseph Tapella ran the hotel in 1908, and Robert Swanson in 1910. Wrongly identified as ‘Bill Swanson’ in the heritage statement, he was born in Scotland although his family roots were Swedish. Married to an American, Charlotte, the census said they had arrived in 1904 and by 1911 had two children, Margaret and John. Robert’s widowed father, John Swanson, also lived with them. The census wasn’t entirely accurate, as Robert Swanson married Charlotte Turner in Nanaimo in 1903. He ran the Provincial Hotel there with a partner, William Hardy, and was apparently briefly a wrestler (but not a successful one). Robert Swanson went on to manage the Belmont Hotel on Granville Street, and was able to ensure all the patrons were safely evacuated when fire broke out in 1937, severely damaging the building. He died in Vancouver in 1955.

Charles Doering, the brewer, apparently continued to have an interest in the hotel. When he died in 1927, it was part of his estate, valued at $65,000 and described as ‘registered in the name of Chang Toy’. By 1940 the hotel had become The Anchor Hotel, taking a Columbia street address. In 1972 the bar still operating with the required men’s and ladies’ entrances. The Background / Vancouver Project, photographed the building that year.

A variety of clubs and bars have occupied the main and basement floors in more recent years, with clubs like sugarandsugar, and more recently Brooklyn Gastown.

Upstairs the rooms are no longer occupied by welfare recipients, as the SRO rooms have been ‘fully renovated’ as micro units, with rents to match. ‘Come with a kitchenette: sink, mini fridge-just need to bring your own hot plate. Shared washrooms cleaned daily. 4 bathrooms per floor. Coin operated laundry on each floor. No pets. No Smoking.’

A new extensively glazed ‘vertical addition’, designed by K C Mooney, has been constructed in wood frame by utilizing the existing light well as the location of a new exit stair, while constructing the new addition as an independently supported section above the SRO floors.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 790-2421, CVA 359-32 and Background / Vancouver.

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