Burrard Inlet waterfront from above (2)

We have a post from a year ago with an aerial view of the Downtown waterfront in 1965, shot from over Stanley Park, looking eastwards. This one is a decade older.

Our ‘today’ shot is actually from May 2020, and missing two new office towers that are still being built, but there are only a few recent shots that line up with a historic aerial image like this. It’s an image that’s thought to be from 1955. it’s clearly not from before 1955 when CBK Van Norman’s Customs House was completed on West Pender next to the Marine Building. On the bottom edge of the image the roof of the Hotel Vancouver can be seen. Today, on the west side of the street the Burrard Building can be seen, but it’s not in our ‘before’ image. That was completed in 1956, so that means the image must date to the later half of 1955. That was when the city started to see a new wave of development, after a significant wartime and post-war slump.

There are two substantial looking buildings to left of centre. They’re both on Thurlow, on the 1100 block of West Georgia. The narrower building to the right was known as The Alaska Pine Building. Developed by Great West Life (who also had their local offices there) it was designed by Thompson Berwick Pratt and completed in 1953. It was leased to Alaska Pine and Cellulose Ltd, who re-branded western hemlock as Alaska Pine, and so found a way to market a previously disregarded forest tree.

The larger building to the south was developed in 1950. It took the base four storey car showroom developed by Chevrolet in 1926, and added three additional floors. Initially budgeted at $850,000, the work to add the  floors and clad the entire structure eventually cost the government, the developer of the building, $575,000 more. Questions were raised in Ottawa because the contract was let on a non-competition basis to Allen and Viner, who a local Conservative member argued were given the contract as ‘friends of the government’. It became the tax office.

Neither building survived very long. The Government building was demolished around 1983 and stayed as a parking lot for several years. There was an office building proposed in 1994, but that wasn’t built and the land was incorporated into a larger site, it now has the Shangri-La hotel and condo tower, the tallest in the city (and the whole of Metro Vancouver, although not for much longer). The Great West building became the Fidelity Trust Building, but was redeveloped in 1992 with a new 24 storey office building developed by Manulife and leased to BC Gas.

Amazingly very few other buildings in the area were more than three storeys high. There’s just one other bigger building, to the left of the two office buildings. Surprisingly, it’s still standing today, albeit looking very different from 1948, when it was built. 1145 Robson Street was also a government office, developed by Allen and Viner, and also the subject of the same partisan political debate. While the company were just the contractors on the Begg Brothers building, they were the developers here, and the sale to the government for double the land cost and building permit value combined left the Conservative member for Quilchena asking pointed questions about deals for ‘friends of the government’. (Carefully worded questions; the member was a lawyer). The minister replied “I do not know these people at all”.

There’s just one small red building visible in the forest of towers in today’s image. That’s the Banff on West Georgia, which was built as Florence Court between 1909 and 1911. The Stadacona, behind it to the north on Bute, is blocked from this angle by towers. Both were easily visible in 1955, as was the Felix Apartments a block to the west, and also still standing today. The large cleared site on the waterfront was the site of Pacific Coast Lumber’s sawmill. By 1955 it had been cleared away, and the oddly located Bayshore Inn was built here at the end of the 1950s, (at the time) completely surrounded by industry.

Image source: West Vancouver Memorial Library Digital Collection 3385.PR

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Posted 2 January 2023 by ChangingCity in Uncategorized

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