Persepolis Hotel – 351 Columbia Street

This modest rooming house has been operating for at least 110 years, but its development is something of a mystery. The smaller building to the left, with the arched entrance, is on the southern half of the lot. That’s Parr and Fee’s building for Borland and Brown, from 1902, and was home to The Horse Shoe Hotel. The part of the site in the picture was vacant until 1907. In 1908 there were businesses addressed here, so we can reasonably assume that’s when the building was constructed, in the dark years where building permits have been lost. We think James Borland would have been the developer. He built the Horse Shoe Hotel in 1902, and was still carrying out alterations and repairs up to 1912.

James was originally from Ontario, arriving in Vancouver around 1891. He started as a builder with two houses built in 1892 – both still standing. His death notice said that he arrived in Vancouver in 1888, although the street directories didn’t include him until 1892, and he appears to still be in Ontario in the 1891 census. He was born in Huron, Ontario, around 1864 and married Sarah Hamill, who was from Grey County, Ontario. They initially lived in the East End, then moved to the West End in 1901, where they stayed for over 20 years. When James died in 1937 he was living in Shaughnessy Heights. Over many years he developed a property empire, including several hotels and other commercial investments.

The 1912 insurance map shows this building as part of the hotel, and there’s no reference in the street directory to any separate lodging here initially. The 1908 directory shows McLean & Oliphant, real estate closer to the lane, and The Horse Shoe Hotel Grill next to the hotel. In 1909 Royal City Realty Co took over the real estate office, and a year later the Empire Shoe Shop and the Empire Tailor Shop. The Horse Shoe Grill expanded to take the whole frontage in 1912. The Grill closed a couple of years later. Annie Snider, a tailor operated here in 1915, and Maurice Glucksman offered a similar service in 1920. By then there was also a barber and B B Taxi – rivals to Central Taxi who were located immediately opposite. The ‘rooms over’ shown on the insurance map that year were still the Horseshoe Hotel, and the hotel bar was on the corner of East Hastings. BC Collateral, a pawnbroker had moved in to the other half of the main Hastings frontage.

A Hamill and S A Harris hired R Hill to make alterations to one of the stores in 1920, and A Babalos opened a barber’s shop in the unit. A Hamill also carried out more alterations to another unit in 1923. Alfred Hamill was a motorman for the BC Electric Railway, but he apparently also owned this property, and he built himself an expensive ($7,500) house on West 40th Avenue in 1926. The reason for his involvement in the building, and property, was presumably because Alfred was James Borland’s brother-in-law.

Stores came, and went over the years. B B Taxi stayed for years, joined in 1930 for example by Horseshoe clothiers and Horseshoe Tailors and Cleaners. Five years later the New Horseshoe Tailors were here, and Blue Cabs. By 1947 both Horseshoe Tailors and Cleaners and Blue Cabs were still here, but the upper floors had become the Sunshine Rooms.

By the early 1950s the property had been split. On Hastings, to the left, BC Collateral and Cunningham Drugs (who had occupied the stores for many years) were underneath the Toon W O Fong rooms, while here the ‘Frinces Rooms’ were run by Chow Choy. Wing Mah who ran confectionery store Wing Hong Co, lived over the shop, and Horse Shoe Tailors were still in operation next to the lane. (We have no idea if that was the actual name of the rooming house, or a typo).

The names of the businesses here continued to change over the years. In our 1978 picture Hing Hing was running a store next to Eddie’s Trading Post, that offered to buy or sell pretty much anything. In 2001 this was the Evergreen Rooms, still in Chinese ownership when it was ordered closed for a number of violations of the Standards Maintenance By-law (among other problems). The building reopened in 2008 as the Persepolis Hotel; still a privately owned SRO hotel with 27 rooms. The retail store was most recently ‘Farm’, an unlicenced cannabis dispensary, which was not approved to continue in operation when it sought to become legitimate.


Posted 14 April 2022 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Still Standing

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