The Van Horne Block

This was one of the first of the city’s office buildings, seen here under construction in 1888. It was on the south-west corner of Granville and Dunsmuir, and was originally designed to be twice as wide, with four retail bays, but just two were built. It was commissioned by an American living in Montreal, William Cornelius Van Horne, the fomer general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway who became vice-president of the company in 1884, and president in 1888.

Having successfully negotiated a route, and to be given a substantial land allocation to put the railway’s terminus in the newly named Vancouver, the Directors of the CPR set about undermining the economy of the old Granville Townsite to the east by creating a new city centre, with Granville Street as its spine, and the new railway station on the waterfront to the north. They built their hotel a block to the south of here, (as this 1889 etching from West Shore, a Portland magazine, published in 1889, shows), and filled in some of the remainder of the street with their own investment properties, different office and retail buildings like this one, all designed in 1888. They mostly ignored the local architects, and favoured Bruce Price to design four of them. He was an experienced American designer based in New York. These would have been relatively minor commissions for an office designing Chateau Frontenac in Montreal and buildings for Yale University. (He also designed a version of the CPR’s Opera House, even further into the recently cleared forest to the south, but a different architect got the design commission for the building that was constructed in 1889).

‘Sir’ William Van Horne was given an honary knighthood in 1894, although as an American citizen he wasn’t technically supposed to use the title. Despite having the biggest salary earned by any North American railway executive, he resigned the presidency of the CPR in 1899, aged 56, and was involved in businesses across Canada, and around the world. He helped create a viable Cuban railway system, spending time in hot climates to help treat  bouts of bronchitis. He was extraordinarily gifted in areas beyond commerce. He was an accomplished artist, an excellent violinist, and an avid and knowledgeable collector of art, Asian porcelain and pottery and fossils. He was said to be able to outlast his friends at both drinking, smoking Cuban cigars and playing cards into the night. He died in 1915, three years after his office building was transformed.

That was stripped out and extended internally to create a movie theatre, the Kinemacolor Theatre, (which two years later became the Colonial), in a $70,000 reconstruction. The 1912 building permit was to the Ricketts Amusement Co and the architect was E W Houghton, a Seattle-based architect originally born in Hampshire in England (who had redesigned the CPR’s former Opera House in 1907). The facade was extensively altered with a different window pattern.

The final movie shown in January 1972 was ‘The Sun Also Rises’, from 1957, with Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner and Errol Flynn. (Flynn died in Vancouver in 1959 having been in the city to lease his yacht, accompanied by a 17-year-old actress). The theatre was demolished in April 1972 – the estimated one million bricks were carefully removed and sold at eight and a half cents per brick, to buyers who came from as far as Seattle.

After several years as a vacant site the third Pacific Centre Mall office tower was completed in 1981, designed by McCarter Nairne and Partners with a lighter colour than the earlier ‘dark towers’ to the south. From 2018 over a period of 18 months the building underwent a total reclad to replace the poorly-performing curtain wall, while the tenants continued to occupy the building. New double-glazed units designed by Perkins + Will were installed from a staging platform that worked from the top to the base of the building.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives SGN 92



Posted 26 January 2023 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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