Granville Street – 800 block, east side (2)

We saw another view of this block of Granville in an earlier post. This 1967 image misses the corner with Robson, but shows the Art Deco entrance to the Capitol Theatre – a cinema – that was first opened in 1921 and given several new lives (and entrances) before closing in 2005. The facade on Granville led to a ramp, and staircases, leading up to a bridge over the lane behind; the cinema was actually on Seymour Street. We can’t pin down the installation date of the art deco facade seen here – the latest we’ve found of the original 1921 facade is 1937, and the earliest image of this one is 1943. There was another by the early 1980s, and after the cinema was redeveloped there’s now a double-height glazed retail store in that spot.

Down the street is the Commodore Ballroom, developed by ‘Vested Estates’, a company founded in 1924, and mysteriously described in 1929 as ‘a syndicate whose identity is not disclosed’. In 1928 their name started appearing in the press for their property purchases, and then development activity. By mid 1929 they had acquired at least 14 lots on Granville Street, and had commenced construction at 840 Granville of a 25 foot wide building costing $17,500, designed by architect H H Gillingham. As leases came due they closed the adjacent businesses down, and in early 1930 announced a $100,000 block to add another 125 feet to the south of their 840 Granville building. The facade of the recently completed building was to be altered to match the new building, which would have eight store fronts, a second floor cabaret club, and a bowling alley in the basement, costing $100,000 to build. By December it was complete, and took the name of a cafe demolished for the construction, The Commodore.

The site acquisition took a while, and after demolition had commenced, in January 1930, the premises formerly occupied by Vancouver Oster and Fish Co, and the Novelty Cloak and Suit Co caught fire. The owners of the fishmongers, George Canary and George Zerbinos had given up their lease early, in exchange for a promise of a lease at 837 Granville, another Vested Estates property. However, the lease was never issued, and they sued for nearly $10,000 in damages. At this point the owners were revealed; Harry F Reifel was identified as Vested Estates’ president, and W F Brouham the company’s lawyer. In court, he declined to answer questions about the business, but was required to do so by the judge. The case was dismissed, (and subsequently appealed).

Harry’s father, Henry Reifel, and his brothers Conrad and Jack had come from Germany and established a number of breweries, (not all immediately successful). By the early 1920s they had a range of interests in alcohol production; breweries as well as distilleries, based in BC. They had weathered the relatively short-lived prohibition in the province and the new restrictions in the US offered new business opportunities.

Faced with new significant payments that each Canadian liquor exporter had to pay, they helped organise Consolidated Exporters, to pay a single fee covering almost all the Canadian rival operators. They shipped locally produced and imported beer, wine and spirits past the US, with paperwork showing Mexican and South American destinations. There were a variety of freighters heading from Vancouver and Victoria, and they often returned empty without ever actually reaching their destinations (although the ship’s paperwork often told a different story). Instead the freighters would hold station outside US waters, with their cargo transferred to smaller, faster boats that could outrun the US coastguard ships. Often those were based in the US, but some were also owned by the Reifels.

Consolidated owned a number of ships, but the Reifels also owned two different shipping businesses, Northern Freighters and Atlantic and the Pacific Navigation Company. Their City of San Diego was probably the first ‘mother ship’ to set off southwards, in 1922, and they continued running alcohol south, supplying the US, through to 1933. They were careful to pay all the duties on exports that the Canadian government levied, but their profits were massive. In only a few years the owners of Vested Estates had an excess of cash – (much of it no doubt untraceable). Henry’s sons, Harry and George each built grand mansions, Casa Mia and Rio Vista and in 14 months in 1928 and 1929 spent at least $1,115,000 on buildings on Granville Street.

By 1931 the company had assembled 19 lots between Robson and Nelson, and their assessment for taxes jumped from $944,150 to $1,141,300 – a situation they appealed. They lost – and were accused of having created the increase in value because they over-paid for the properties in question.

Another contemporary family of developers has been acquiring sites on Granville Street, including most of this block. They are proposing a massive 17 storey office building, retaining the older facades, and bridging the Commodore Ballroom in its existing form. City Council have yet to decide what they think of the idea.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-51



Posted 16 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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