Kensington Place Apartments – Nicola Street

 

This majestic Italianate styled building has stood in the West End for over 100 years. Completed right at the end of 1913 (when the picture was taken), it was designed by ‘P M Julian’ in 1912 for Robertson & Hackett. It has a Nicola Street entrance but used its Beach Avenue address for the permit. Philip Jullien, the architect, was from Washington DC where he learned the Beaux Arts style while working in several offices there. (He ended the 19th century trying to make his fortune in the Yukon goldfields, which might be how he became acquainted with Vancouver). He arrived here in 1910, and this was his biggest commission here, although he designed much bigger buildings on his return to Washington in 1916.

Ironically Robertson and Hackett made their fortune owning a sawmill at the south foot of Granville Street in False Creek, but they chose to build their $75,000 five/six storey investment apartments in brick & concrete. They had over 40 building permits over the years, but apart from this they were all for relatively minor changes and additions to their sawmills, or a few houses they seem to have owned elsewhere in Downtown.

David Robertson was a Scotsman, who established a construction business in England in the 1870s. He travelled to Toronto, then headed west, meeting James Hackett for the first time on the train when he joined it in Winnipeg. They formed a construction partnership responsible for building many of the city’s prestigeous early buildings. In 1891 they opened a sawmill, which they moved to False Creek in 1895, then added a sash and door factory, which burned down in 1906, (so they bought out a rival to continue operations).

James William Hackett was born in Truro, Nova Scotia, and arrived in Vancouver in 1888 after a decade in the construction business in Winnipeg. James was elected an alderman in 1897, and was an active member of the Board of Trade. After his death in 1918 his widow lived in Kensington Place apartments. His son, George Robertson Hackett became Manager and secretary-treasurer of the business, and David Robertson was president. In 1921 David, who never married, was living with his nephew, Alex, who was manager of the sash factory, Elizabeth, Alex’s wife, their 10-year-old daughter, and Elizabeth’s younger sister, who was a telephone operator with BC Phones. David was still at the same address when he died in 1933, aged 83.

The building started life as apartments – 22 huge ones. There are only four suites per floor, most with two bedrooms and two or three bathrooms. The first mention of the building is at the end of 1913, when F Bruce Begg, ‘of the Begg Motor Company‘ got married in Buffalo, New York, and on his return to Canada would be living here (on the top floor). While the seriously wealthy were building houses in Shaughnessy, those in society who preferred to rent were moving here. George Kidd, financier and comptroller of the BC Electric Railway had a top floor suite. Dr George Worthington, a prominent physician who later owned the Vancouver Drug Company was in suite 20. Norman Ridley-Shield who had been business manager of the Kelowna Opera House had a penthouse suite. A C Brydon-Jack, a well-known and well-connected lawyer lived here in 1916. From New Brunswick, he was the senior prosecutor in most crown criminal trials in the city. He organized the Dominion Trust Company. In 1915 only his wife Vera, was mentioned as resident (and presumably their children, aged 14 and 13). She was daughter of a New Brunswick shipbuilder. Arthur was living in the Main Hotel. Unusually, their divorce made the newspapers, in 1917, the year that Arthur remarried in Seattle. In 1919, Vera Brydon-Jack also remarried, also in Seattle.

Mr. and Mrs. Campbell Sweeny and their family moved from their flat in the Bank of Montreal Building. Mr. Sweeny arrived in 1887 as manager of the first Bank of Montreal branch in the city. Mrs Sweeny died soon after in November 1914, just before her son, Benjamin, was able to leave Europe to visit. He was in the Royal Engineers and had been wounded in battle. Shortly afterwards the remaining family moved to apartments in the Hotel Vancouver.

In 1916 the owners (still Robertson and Hackett), agreed to allow an auction of the valuable and recently acquired contents of Suite 32 ‘as the owner is going to the front’. Everything had been recently purcahsed from the Standard Furniture Co, ‘regardless of cost’ including Persian rugs that had cost $185 each. That same year Mrs. John D McNeill was visited by her mother, Mrs. J T Hightower of San Francisco. Her husband was managing director of a coal company that distributed ‘jingle pot coal’.

In the 1940s and 50s, the building was home to the celebrated Canadian novelist, Ethel Wilson and her husband. In the late 1960s the owners were planning to redevelop the building, but tenants led by Terry Devlin successfully bought the building, and in 1975 it was an early conversion to a strata building, and is also an ‘A’ on the Heritage Register. The new owners gradually updated the building, led by architect, heritage advocate and resident, Charlotte Murray. The exterior was restored; the cornice re-built, and the windows (almost certainly from a Roberrtson & Hackett factory) restored. Suites now sell for up to $3m each.

Image source: Library & Archives Canada 3259566

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Posted 28 November 2022 by ChangingCity in Still Standing, West End

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