Author Archive

West Georgia Street – 1100 block, north side (1)

The building on the right of this 1981 image is the Alaska Pine building, which we looked at in the previous post, but from a different angle. It was designed by Thompson Berwick and Pratt for Great West Life Insurance, who developed it for the Alaska Pine lumber and pulp headquarters. They occupied it in 1953, after Dominion Construction built it in under a year. Run by a Czech immigrant family, the Koerners, the lumber company was named for the alternate name for the hemlock, a tree previously considered as effectively valueless before they introduced European kiln drying practices that allowed it to be used for construction and box manufacture. The Shell Oil offices are further west.

Here’s another view of the building, past the McMillan Bloedel tower, and the Royal Centre (closer to us) in an undated image we think was taken in the late 1970s. Alaska Pine was replaced in 1992 with a 24 storey office building designed by Webb, Zerafa, Menkes, Housden and Partners. It was headquarters for BC Gas, (later renamed as Terasen and now known as Fortis BC), but it was developed by Manulife. More recently it was acquired by the Holborn Group, who incorporated part of the podium into their more recently completed Trump Hotel to the west.

The condo and hotel tower, the second tallest in the city, is carefully located on the block, towards the back of the plot, so that by twisting slightly on each floor the upper part of the tower avoids one of the city’s viewcones that limit tall buildings on part of the site. There’s a long, low swooping canopy over the front of the hotel that picks up the rhythm of the bays of the older office building.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W14.15 and CVA 800-59



Alaska Pine – Thurlow and West Georgia

We’re on the 600 block of Thurlow Street, looking south at West Georgia in 1981. The office building in the middle of the picture was the home of Alaska Pine, one of Canada’s most important lumber and pulp businesses. Founded in 1939, the company was incorporated by the Koerner brothers, Leon, Otto and Walter C. From a wealthy, fourth-generation lumber company in Czechoslovakia, they fled Europe in 1938-1939 and settled in Vancouver. The Koerners saw an opportunity by taking Western Hemlock, a species previously regarded as inferior and almost unmarketable, and after a seasoning process, rebranding it as “Alaska Pine.” They successfully marketed it by exporting to the UK and Europe; during the war they supplied 75% of the ammunition and ration boxes used by the armed forces of the British Commonwealth. After the war they expanded their business throughout British Columbia by acquiring older, run-down mills and businesses, and adding them to their expanding empire of lumber mills and stands of timber. They added pulp mills in the late 1940s, and employed almost 5,000 people when they moved into their new headquarters building in 1953.

Designed by Thompson Berwick Pratt it was in the international modernist style. Great West Life Insurance occupied offices on the main floor, and there was a bank branch as well. GWL had developed the building, and Alaska Pine were their main tenant. In 1954 the Koerners sold the controlling interest in their business to Rayoniere of New York, and in 1959 the Alaska Pine and Cellulose Ltd. name was changed to Rayonier Canada Limited, although Rayonier continued to make use of the “Alaska Pine” brand name. A 1956 Macleans article about Theo Koerner explains how the family arrived in Canada, established their business here, and the progressive ideas the family introduced to make the business a success. In retirement Theo became a generous philanthropist, and the family name is still attached to many facilities. Although Rayonier continue to operate a world-wide business, they no longer have any BC interests. They were acquired by three existing BC lumber companies in 1980, and continued as Western Forest Products, still headquartered near here in the Royal Centre.

The building didn’t last very long; by the late 1980s it had been demolished, and in 1992 a new 24 storey office building was completed, designed by Webb, Zerafa, Menkes, Housden and Partners. Manulife developed the building, and the region’s main gas company moved in as the lead tenant – first as BC Gas, then Terasen and now known as Fortis BC. Now owned by The Holborn Group, part of the podium has been incorporated into their more recently completed Trump Hotel.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W14.17


Posted July 15, 2019 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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Granville Street – 1200 block, west side

This 1981 view of the west side of Granville’s 1200 block shows Oak windshields and custom auto glass on the corner of Drake Street. Today it’s the wildlife thrift store, but it started life in 1917 as an auto garage, occupied initially by Dixon’s Motors, who sold Ford cars. The auto glass use was here in 1978, under a different business name, and we looked at that use more closely and at the building next door in an earlier post. It was built by Reinhart Hoffmeister in 1912, who probably also developed the next two buildings to the north (no longer standing today). He operated his electrical machinery and supplies company from 1271 Granville in the 1910s. In 1978 it was a piano store, and when the company moved here in the mid 1950s it was run by Elizabeth Williams, (listed for decades as ‘widow of W R Williams’).

The next 25 foot wide 2-storey building is a mystery in terms of it’s developer; in 1920 it was owned by W A Clark, who also owned and developed the next building north in 1911. We suspect he may also have built 1267 Granville as well. The three buildings were replaced in 2002 by Candela Place, a new non-market housing building designed by Burrowes Huggins Architects for the City of Vancouver, with 63 self-contained rooms managed by the Coast Foundation..

The more substantial 5-storey ‘brick apartment house’, designed by Parr and Fee and built by Peter Tardiff at a cost of $60,000 was developed by W A Clark. He was a real estate broker, who also built the Albany Rooms (the Regal Rooms today) on the 1000 block of Granville in 1910, with the same architect and builder. He was from Ontario, and was one of two William Clark’s involved in real estate in the city, which must have been confusing at times. In 1911 he lived with his wife, May, their five daughters, and a servant, Tanda Ishira, who was from Japan.

When it first opened this was the Newport Rooms, although more recently it became the Granville Hotel. Acquired by the City Of Vancouver in 2003 for $2.8m, it’s still run as an SRO Hotel, the Granville Residence. The city paid over $4m more to repair the building, including rebuilding the façade which was in a pretty poor state in the early 2000s. The room count reduced from 100 to 82, and each is now self-contained with bathrooms, small cooking areas and averaging 160 sq. ft. in area.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W00.09


Elysium Hotel, West Pender Street

The Elysium was – according to the building permit – developed by C C Smith, who hired Sholto Smith to design the $95,000 investment, built by “McNeil and Marsegh” in 1909. The Daily World said the builders were McNeil and Manseigh, (and the street directory said he was Joseph Mansergh). The newspaper initially said it was going to be named The Mountain View Hotel, but it was named The Ellison when it opened, and the Elysium a year later. We have no idea who C C Smith was – this was the only project anyone of that name developed, and there was nobody apparently resident in the city with those initials.

The permit was issued in 1909, but a year later Christina Harwood was still listed as living in a house here. A year later the hotel was open as the Hotel Ellison according to the street part of the directory (but curiously, the Elysium in the name part of the directory). The owners were identified as “THE HOTELS CORPORATION LTD” – and their manager, J D Sheldon, applied for a liquor license for the Hotel Ellison in 1910, and it was still known by that name in February 1911. The name change was announced on March 15: it would become the Hotel Elysium, (with a huge name sign on the rooftop). The sign was necessary as this was a somewhat out-of-the-way location, and the timing for opening a new hotel wasn’t great either. Several other rival hotels had just been built, and by 1912 the economy was heading for a recession; then the war started, and by 1915 the hotel was offered for sale by court order, described as having cost about $300,000, but carrying a mortgage of over $100,000 at seven and a half percent interest. (The advertising extended as far as Portland, Oregon).

Two years later the hotel was taken over by the Returning Soldiers Club, who used it to house soldiers returning from the war, and a variety of related agencies like the Soldiers Aid Commission. The hotel was returned to civilian use in 1919.

The architect, Sholto Smith, had married Charlie Woodward’s daughter, but the marriage didn’t go well and Sholto left the city, initially for Moose Jaw (in 1912), and then to war, serving for five years, returning to Canada with some post-war injury from gas poisoning. He returned to Vancouver in 1920, although his marriage was by then over. He briefly went into partnership with Edmund Grassett, from Simcoe in Ontario, who was a contractor and then house builder (and self-described architect around 1909, although he was never formally registered). Although Smith’s biography says they designed the alterations to the Elysium to return it to civilian use, in practice the permit for that transformation was only submitted in 1921, a year after Smith had emigrated to New Zealand (where he would remarry and run a successful architectural practice in Auckland). Dalton & Eveleigh designed the $7,000 of alterations, with Baynes and Horie doing the building work and Macaulay & Nicolls supervising as agents.

The hotel reopened as the Elysium Hotel, with Stuart O’Brian managing. There were some permanent residents (who weren’t necessarily living in the hotel all the time, as at least one was a traveling salesman). By 1943 the hotel use had ceased, and the property became apartments, known as Park Plaza, with a redesign for the new role by C B K Van Norman. The suites were for families of former servicemen, who faced a severe housing shortage during, and after the second war. By the early 1950s it was once again returned to hotel use for a final time, before demolition not very long after this 1976 image was taken. In 1985 Hamilton Doyle’s design for an 18 storey office building replaced the hotel.

Image source City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-99



Posted July 7, 2019 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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False Creek North (2)

We looked at a view across False Creek a few years ago. That view – of the BC Place stadium and Cambie Bridge has already changed quite a bit. This one is more stable, as much of this stretch of Yaletown is built out (although there are some more distant towers that will fill in the background in a year or two). We first photographed this shot eight years ago, and we could have posted it at any time after that, as almost nothing changed over the next six years. Last year the tall tower on the left appeared, which led us to re-shoot.

Based on the buildings that are visible on the left (and the ones that are missing), we think our before image was probably taken around 1978. The new seawall around False Creek South is completed, but the landscaping had not been planted, so there’s no tree visible on the left. The BC Electric Building is prominent centre left, and the tall (28 storey) tower to the left of that is The Century Plaza Hotel, designed by Peter Cole and completed in 1972, and to the left again, The Heritage, an early West End tower completed in 1970 and designed by Eng and Wright. It was built before the strata act, so is a 99 year leasehold building. It’s pretty much the only building visible in 1978 that’s still visible from this point today, so it was the only aid to lining up the images.

To the right is the cluster of Downtown towers; the tallest white tower on the left of the cluster is The Royal Centre, from 1973, and the tall dark tower is the TD Tower on the Pacific Centre, built in 1972. The smaller cousin of the TD Tower, completed in 1974, can be seen on the right, with the Scotiabank Tower (from 1975) to the right again. Furthest to the right, and looking small because it actually on the Burrard Inlet waterfront on the other side of the peninsula, 200 Granville, is a tower designed by Francis Donaldson and completed in 1972 for Project 200 (the 1960s scheme that would have seen the waterfront transformed and Gastown obliterated).

Today almost all the towers that hide Downtown are part of Concord Pacific Place, designed over 30 years by a variety of Vancouver-based architects. The most obvious background tower is the Wall Centre condo and hotel, now re-clad dark as the developer (but not the architect or the City of Vancouver) always intended. The recently completed tall tower on the left is another Wall building, this one designed by Dialog and offered as rentals rather than condos.


Posted July 4, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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Central Business District

We’ve been scouring our ‘borrowed’ images to try to match this 1956 aerial – it’s in the Vancouver Archives, and John Mackie says it was taken on December 27th by Bill Dennett – (the Archives didn’t record the date). Although it’s nearly impossible to find a contemporary image with the same angle, distance and elevation to match, this is a pretty good approximation, also take in December (the 10th) last year by Trish Jewison in the News 1130 helicopter, close to sunset, and posted on her twitter feed.

We can line the images up because the Hotel Vancouver is visible on the left, and although the Marine Building has disappeared in a forest of towers, the Post Office in the centre is still very clearly visible. Since December there are two big holes through the building, and two cranes on the roof (with two more to come). In 1956 the structure was just being completed – the largest welded steel building in North America, at the time. Now it’s getting two new office towers, an atrium retail space, and will be the largest building in Vancouver, with thousands of new office employees, many working for Amazon who have pre-leased much of the space. Before it was built in the mid 1950s the street had small houses and commercial buildings, just like the block to the east still had in 1956.

Across the angle of West Georgia was a Texaco gas station next to a building only recently demolished. It was one of ten gas stations we can identify in the picture – today there are none. There’s another gas station at the bottom of the picture, next to the Drill Hall, and on top of the Dunsmuir Tunnel, which can almost be seen, heading for the waterfront. The Vancouver Sun printing works can be seen across the road from the gas station, on Beatty Street. Today it’s the heat plant for the central steam system, but proposed as another interestingly designed office tower.

It’s also possible to see the Hudson’s Bay building, and Spencer’s Department store – now SFU office and teaching space. The block to the east of the Post Office (closer to us) is the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and Playhouse today, but in 1956 the block was still full of houses and small commercial buildings. They must have been close to demolition, as the theatre opened in 1959.

The same is true of the block to the south, which today has the Main Branch of the Vancouver Public Library. It too still had houses dating back to the turn of the century, (including this row on Robson) when this was a residential neighbourhood, with rooming houses and small businesses. While some of the houses had been cleared by 1956, the fire station was only recently opened. Larwill Park, in the foreground, hidden today behind the Spectrum residential towers, is still a parking lot (awaiting a decision on a new city Art Gallery), but in 1955 it was the bus station, opened in 1947.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 296-033; Trish Jewison, twitter.


Posted July 1, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

The Marlborough, 1111 Jervis Street

This 1928 image shows the just about completed Marlborough Apartments. They replaced a house that stood here for around 30 years. The Archives caption says the building is on the corner of Jervis and Broughton – which is impossible as those are parallel streets – actually it’s on the corner of Pendrell and Jervis. It was designed, built and owned by Oliver Lightheart, one of six brothers who all lived in Vancouver, and developed apartment buildings throughout the Downtown and West End. The family were from Nottawasaga, Simcoe in Ontario, (on Lake Huron), and Oliver was the youngest son, born in 1888.

In 1921 he was living with his PEI-born wife Margaret and their one-year-old son Lloyd, and their servant, Louise Bestwick, who had been born in BC. Oliver was listed as a contractor, builder. At the age of 31, (a year after the census) he built a $200,000 apartment building on Bute Street, The Berkeley, also still standing today. The Marlborough followed six years later, not long after he had moved to the $8,000 house on Cypress Street that he had built for Mrs. M Lightheart, (presumably his wife).

Ninety years later the building looks almost identical, and continues to provide rental homes in the heart of the West End.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Bu N263



Posted June 27, 2019 by ChangingCity in Still Standing, West End

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