1339 Richards Street (1)

This picture from 1918 shows a relatively new Laundry building in what we now think of as Yaletown, (although an earlier newspaper article described it as being in the West End). Its development had been controversial. Despite being called the American Laundry, the name wasn’t fooling anybody – they knew it was a Chinese Laundry. It was developed in 1913 by W J Thomas, who hired N Y Cross to design and build the development. It had two permits – the first was only going to cost $1,250, but Mr. Thomas had to spend $2,150 on a brick building to meet the requests of the inspector.

In August 1913 the Daily World had reported “TAXPAYERS OBJECT TO CHINESE LAUNDRY Property owners in the 1300 block Richards street, have sent In a petition to the civic building comittee protesting against the establishment of a Chinese laundry in that block, on the ground that it would tend to depreciate the value of the surrounding property and that it would be a nuisance. Building Inspector Jarrett stated this morning that although he did not think the city had power to refuse the permit or license for such a laundry as it came within the No. 2 fire limits, he could, and would insist that a substantial brick building he erected with concrete floors and all sanitary conveniences that would tend to eliminate any nuisance.

Just to make sure nobody was fooled by the name the laundry was listed as ‘American Laundry (chinese)’ in the street directory, although they didn’t include it in the list of Chinese businesses. By 1918, when this picture was taken, the chinese aspect of the business had been dropped, although nobody was identified as being involved in operating the laundry. That year the resident of the rather fine house to the south was Salvator Dagostino, and Samuel Blair lived in the house to the north. There had previously been a house on this site too, which was offered for sale in 1910.

We aren’t completely certain which W J Thomas developed the building. One was William James Thomas who was living in the West End, and managed a factory (in 1918 it was Lyall Shipbuilding). Previously he had been a contractor; he sold a newly built home on East Pender in 1915. It seems odd that he would have hired another contractor to develop the building, but it’s possible. There was also Walter John Thomas who had a real estate business on West Pender, although he seems to have mostly sold property on the west side, including Kitsilano.

We can find William Thomas’s son, Earle Hartley Thomas, who by the age of 25 had a medical degree, another in dentistry, and one in medical jurisprudence. He went on to be an oral surgeon in Chicago, but he was born in Halton, in Ontario in 1891. From that we can confirm his father was William J Thomas, and his mother Elizabeth Burns. In 1921 William J Thomas was a resident on Barclay Street, and was foreman of a box mill. He was living with his daughter, Muriel, as his wife (who was known as Libbie, and whose name was actually Nancy, but she always used her middle name), had died the year before. She was from Burlington, Ontario, where Muriel had been born in 1895. In 1901 the family were in Durham, Ontario, where William and his wife were both shown (incorrectly) born in England, with William working as a manager.

In 1911 W J Thomas obtained a permit for alterations to the Barclay Street house he would occupy for many years. It had been built in 1894, but Mr Thomas spent $1,500 making additions to the front. He carried out minor repairs in 1923, and was married again to Isabel Donald, who was 19 years younger, in 1925. William James Thomas died in 1955, in Vancouver, aged 89.

Walter John Thomas was a broker who died in 1922, aged only 44, leaving a wife and three children. He was originally from St. George, New South Wales, Australia, and married Ethel in North Sydney in 1901, arriving in Canada in 1905. He was involved in real estate and was a notary. Either man would have had the funds to carry out this development.

The ‘American Laundry’ name seems to have been dropped by 1920, but Kwong Loy was listed here, and in the Chinese Business section. We’re not sure if he is the same Kwong Loy whose account book for a 1925 gambling den is in the Vancouver Archives. There was also Kwong Loy who ran a Chinese laundry on Albert Street in 1919 and through the 1920s, who was charged with operating an illegal still.

By 1929 Mock Sing had taken over the business. In October the Province reported “Bandit Robs Chinese Laundry at Point of Gun. Mock Sing. 1339 Richards street, reported to the police that a bandit entered his laundry Wednesday night, held him up and robbed him of $27.” The Sun took up the story a week later “VICTIM BRINGS ABOUT HOLD-UP MAN’S ARREST Lowell Chinn Pleads Guilty, Remanded for Sentence.

When Mock Sing, 1339 Richard street, saw Lowell Chinn, no fixed address, on the street. Monday night, he recognized him as a men who on October 2 held him up and took $25. The Chinese told Constable D. Johnston, who happened to be near and the officer approached Chinn, who put his hand to his hip in a threatening manner. Johnston was not intimidated but went for Chinn and placed him under arrest, charged with robbery with violence. Before Magistrate Shaw today the accused pleaded guilty to the Mock Sing charge and also to robbing Sang Kee, 570 Cambie street of 50 cents and Louie, 511 Hornby street of S11.30 on September 2. He was remanded until Friday for sentence. Chinn had in his possession a cigarette case shaped like a pistol with which he is believed to have menaced his victims.” Chinn was sentenced to two years for each offense, running concurrently. A month later the Sun revisited the story, with R D Bouchette adding tortured dialogue that these days wouldn’t be seen in print. “Lobbers ketchum help, bandits!” screamed Mock. “Be aisy, me bhoy,” comforted Denis Johnston. “I’ll get your bandit for ye.” (Constable Johnston was from Kildare. Mock Sing’s home town wasn’t identified).

Today ‘The 501’ is here, a 265 unit condo tower, designed by Hewitt, Tan, Kwasnicky. In the mid 1990s it was too big a project for either Onni or Amacon to take on, so they joined forces, and completed this project in 1999. The tower has a swirling snail’s shell spiral top, but at street level there are several retail units, including the barber’s studio seen here.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-729



Posted 13 March 2023 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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