Archive for the ‘Altered’ Category

Ormidale Block – West Hastings Street

For decades this building has been wrongly attributed. The architect has never been in doubt; it was G W Grant, a designer with an eccentric architectural style. While many architects attempted to achieve perfect symmetry, Grant was quite happy to throw in a variety of design elements, in this case stacked up on top of each other on one side of the façade. There’s an oriel window on the top floor, over two floors with projecting bay windows, over the elaborate terra cotta entrance, with an arched doorway.

The Heritage Designation of the buildings says: “Built in 1900 by architect George W. Grant for R. W. Ormidale, the building housed the offices of several wholesale importers.” With a carved terracotta plaque saying “Ormidale RW 1900” above the oriel window, it seems an appropriate attribution, although quite who R W Ormidale might be was never made clear. There are no records of anybody in the city with that name, (or indeed, in Canada).

An entry in the Contract Record, and an illustration in the 1900 publication ‘Vancouver Architecturally’ solve the mystery. The brochure, which was a promotional booklet put together by several of the city’s architects, shows a sketch of the building, but identifies it as the ‘Walker Block’. In 1899 the Contract Record announced “G. W. Grant, architect, is preparing plans for a four-storey block, 48×120 feet, to be built on Hastings street by R. Walker.”

This confirms that the developer was a Mr. R Walker – hence the ‘R W’. A 1900 court case clarifies that the developer was Robert Walker. Mr. Walker signed off on a payment owed to a builder in G W Grant’s office, for the ‘Robert Walker Block’. There was a Robert Walker resident in the city, He had arrived around 1890, with his wife Susan. He was from the Isle of Man, and a carpenter, and she was born in Quebec. They were still in the city in 1901, living at 1921 Westminster Avenue, and he was still a carpenter, and the family had grown to four, with two children at home. He designed and built a house at the same address in 1904 for $650. In 1911 Robert had become Clerk of Works for the City of Vancouver. Home was now called 1921 Main Street, and the house must have been pretty full as the Census registered 22 lodgers, fifteen of them from the Isle of Man. It seemed unlikely that he had the funds to develop this building in 1900 on his carpenter’s wages, but he was the only person with the right name in the street directory.

However, an 1898 list of eligible voters identifies another Vancouver resident – Robert Walker, miner. He was living in the Pullman Hotel. (The list shows there were seven Robert Walkers in BC, including a blacksmith and a missionary). The adjacent building, the Flack Block, was developed in 1899 by another successful miner, so it’s quite possible that the Ormidale Block was developed with the proceeds of the Klondike gold rush, perhaps by someone with Scottish roots (if the Ormidale name is significant). We haven’t been able to confirm that hypothesis, in part because of Robert Gile Walker. While he’s unlikely to be our developer, he was successful in the Klondike. Between 1897 and 1901 he made five trips in search of gold. After his fifth and final exploration in Nome, Alaska, Walker returned to Tacoma, where he married in 1901 and continued to run a successful real estate business.

Our developer may have been Robert Henry Walker, and it’s possible that the Scottish connection was indirect. It may be a coincidence, but in 1885 Robert J Walker, a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, lived in a house called ‘Ormidale’, in Leicester, England. A Robert H Walker died in 1912, and was buried in the Masonic Section of Mountain View Cemetery, but we haven’t found anything to confirm he was the developer here..

The façade of the Ormidale block has recently been repaired and returned to its asymmetrical splendour, with a brand new office construction behind. It uses an unusual construction system; a hybrid structure consisting of an innovative wood-concrete composite floor system supported on steel beams and columns. This floor system allows for exposed wood ceilings throughout the office floors, a nod to the heritage aspect of this project, while achieving increased load-carrying capacity and stiffness by compositely connecting the concrete slab to the wood panels. At the back there’s an entirely contemporary skin consisting of rusted corten steel, and there’s also a green rooftop patio. Our top ‘before’ picture was taken in 2004, and the lower only five years ago, when the building was probably in its worst state. The bay windows had been removed many decades ago, although we’re not exactly sure when as the last image we have that shows them is from 1941.

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Posted December 2, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, East End

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118 Robson Street

This gas station, on the corner of Robson and Beatty, was developed in 1922 by Imperial Oil Ltd. It cost them $8,000 for Dominion Construction to build it, and Townley and Matheson designed it. We suspect that underneath the changes that have seen the building converted to a bar, the bones of the structure are nearly 100 years old. It almost certainly won’t make it to a century, as the site has been approved for redevelopment (along with the Catholic Charities building to the west, which started life as Northern Electric’s factory). The gas station part of the site will become a new boutique hotel, along with the heritage building, and there’s a condo tower as well.

This Vancouver Public Library picture shows the site in 1941, when it was addressed as 110 Robson and known as the Connaught Service Station – initially it was Imperial Oil station No.7. In 1941 it was run by T McMurdo and M Beaton, who had adopted the name when they took over from Imperial around 1935. They were still running the business in 1947 when “Thieves smashed a window to gain entry into the Connaught Service Station, 110 Robson some time during the night but fled empty-handed. Cupboards and drawers were rifled, but the safe was untouched”. The building was rebuilt as a bar – presumably when the service station use was abandoned – in 1979.

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Posted November 28, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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False Creek eastwards from above

Here’s another of Trish Jewison’s recent shots from the Global BC traffic helicopter, manipulated slightly to fit an earlier Archives image – this one from 1947. This one was taken in May this year, as the twisting Vancouver House was nearing completion. From this angle it looks like a large, but perfectly normal rectangular tower, but it has a triangular base (to fit next to Granville Bridge), which gradually grows to a rectangular upper portion. Designed by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, it’s the most dramatic new building seen in the city in decades. It includes a new local shopping centre, with supermarket and drugstore, as well as public art suspended from the underside of the Granville Bridge. In 1947 there was a 35 year old 4 storey warehouse, and some single storey commercial buildings, which all remained until redevelopment started in 2015.

In the foreground Granville Island had even more buildings than it does today, all in industrial uses, mostly related to the fishing, logging and sawmill industries. There was a chain maker, saw blade supplier, forge and rope manufacturers. There was a net loft and a rigging company, a ship repairer (and a coffee shop). Today there are many more coffee shops, and the only real industrial use is the Ocean Cement plant next to Granville Bridge.

The rail bridge that was still around in 1947 was the Kitsilano trestle. It was built by the CPR (but the last steam train to Steveston ran in 1905) and was then used by the BC Electric Railway. The trestle started out as a link in an electric passenger transit system using street cars and connecting downtown Vancouver with farms on the South Side of False Creek and beyond. It connected the south shore of Vancouver to the railyards that filled the land between Yaletown and False Creek. The rail ran all the way to Carrall Street, where the Interurban headquarters was located. The trestle was removed in the early 80’s as it was in poor condition, rarely used and a navigational hazard. The original right-of-way can still be seen, curving around the Harbour Cove and Mariner Point residential buildings built in the mid 1980s.

Om the north side of False Creek, once the railyards were removed, BC Place Stadium was constructed, moving major sports into Downtown. The rest of the site became home to Expo 86, which reached round the Creek all the way to Granville Bridge. Sold as a single piece of property to the company now known as Concord Pacific, thousands of apartments (including non-market and seniors housing) have since been built on the land. There are still a few remaining sites to redevelop, and inland there are plans to add another tower as tall as Vancouver House on the opposite side of the bridge. Further towers will be developed to the north when the loops from Granville Bridge are removed. The site at the bottom of the pictures will see the greatest change; the Squamish Nation have unveiled plans for 6,000 apartments in 11 towers on the Indian Reserve land they were given back after the rail use was abandoned.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives  CVA 59-03 and Trish Jewison, Global TV traffic helicopter.

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Posted November 11, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

Granville Street from the air

The alignment of these aerial shots isn’t quite perfect – although the streets match up almost ideally, we’ve had to tilt the ‘after’ shot to make the streets match. The contemporary shot is on the website of aerial photography company Peak Aerials, taken in siummer 2016, while the before shot was taken ninety years earlier, in 1926 – one of the earliest aerial images available of the city.

There are only a handful of buildings still identifiably the same in both images. Two thirds of the way up, and to the right, the Lightheart Brothers apartment building, today called Brookland Court, is still offering apartments, these days as affordable non-market units. There’s a row of warehouse buildings on the right hand edge of the image which were all built in a few years in the early 20th Century when Canadian Pacific released the land for development. The building on the corner of Helmcken was developed by Leek and Co in 1910.

Along Granville Street there area series of early 1900s hotels and rooming houses, all still standing today and almost unchanged from when they were built. The majority were designed by Parr and Fee, who recycled the design with a side light well or two, and a façade of white glazed bricks and centre pivoted windows. There are several construction cranes showing in 2016, and the towers they were associated with have mostly been completed. There are three or four more already under construction or in the planning stage, including a series of three towers along Hornby Street in the bottom left of the picture, including one 54 storeys tall. A new office building is under construction as part of the same project, across the lane on Burrard Street. In future there will be more change, and more towers, as the intent is to remove the two loop ramps (although not the main offramps) and replace them with an at grade standard junction, creating two large development sites.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Van Sc P68 and Peak Aerials.

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Posted October 14, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

Downtown from above

Only 17 years separate these two oblique angled shots of the Downtown peninsula. Since our 2002 image was taken, over 26,000 residential units have been added Downtown and in the West End. That’s around 140 additional buildings of 10 or more storeys. Thousands more units are under construction and in the development stream, and even then the peninsula is by no means ‘built out’ – although sites are fewer, and harder to find.

There’s still a gap on the far right, on the waterfront, where the Plaza of Nations, and further Concord Pacific sites have yet to be built. There are a number of sites reserved for non-market housing inland behind and between the condo towers built by Concord on the former Expo lands, and a recent deal should see over half developed as non-market, with others returned to Concord for more market development.

On the left of the image Vancouver House is nearly complete, (so Trish Jewison, who photographed the 2019 shot from the Global BC News helicopter took the picture recently). From this angle the twisting taper of the building is almost invisible. In the middle of Downtown, the Wall Centre’s upper floors were reclad almost as dark as the bottom, so the distinctive two-tone effect in 2002 has been lost. From this distance the Empire Landmark wasn’t so obvious in 2002, but in 2019 it’s gone, and the replacement condo towers will be shorter. The Shangri La and Trump Hotel and condo towers almost line up from this angle, so only one tall tower appears in the distance.

Over on the right, the BC Place stadium has its new(ish) retractable roof, surrounded by new towers, with the distinctive rust red of the Woodwards Tower behind. The original ‘W’ was still in place in 2002 – now it’s down on the ground, and a replacement revolves in its place. Not too many new office towers have been added to the Central Business District, but that’s changing. Ten office buildings are currently being built, the most office space ever added to the city at one time, and much of it already leased. The biggest building is the Post Office, getting a pair of office towers added on top, with the huge building (that fills an entire city block) changing to office and retail space.

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Posted September 2, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

Melville Street – 1100 block

On the right is another modest office building occupying a corner site Downtown. This one dates from 1959, and it’s known as the Wyland Building. We’ve drawn a blank on the architect; it wasn’t an especially complicated building when it was first built (with simple international style glazing) and bears a close resemblance to a number of similar offices developed by Dominion Construction, so they could have designed it in-house, as they did for several other buildings in that era, but we haven’t found any evidence to support that theory. It had a makeover in the 1990s to replace the glass, and spandrel panels in matching reflective glazing.

At the other end of the block was a brand new building in our 1981 image. Sun Life Plaza had just been completed; and it’s still standing today but almost hidden by the two buildings added in 1997 and 2000. We don’t know the designer, although the landscaped plaza was designed by landscape architect Don Vaughan. The two later buildings are Orca Place, a condo building, and 1138 Melville next door is an 18 storey office building. They were designed by the same architects; Orca Place by Waisman Dewar Grout Carter, and the office building by Architectura, the company’s new name in the late 1990s. In 1981 there was a pair of smaller office buildings; the smaller building was designed by Thompson, Berwick Pratt in 1952 for advertising agency Cockfield Brown & Co. The building beyond it was developed after 1955, and was demolished with the site used as a parking lot by 1990.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W14.09

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Posted August 19, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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Central Business District (2)

Here’s another Archives aerial shot that’s almost replicated by Trish Jewison in the Global BC traffic helicopter. This time we were able to line up both the Marine Building and The Hotel Vancouver. This image was taken three years earlier than our previous aerial shot, so in 1953, and there’s no sign of the Post Office between Georgia and Dunsmuir, just a series of houses and small commercial buildings. They would soon be cleared away, later joined by the Georgia Medical-Dental Building across from the Hotel Georgia, and the Birks Building next to The Vancouver Block on Granville. The new BC Tel building, the biggest building at the bottom of the picture, on the corner of Seymour and Robson), is still standing, although today it’s slightly bigger, with an extra glass skin as can be seen in the earlier  post about the Orillia to the west on Robson Street, which has long gone.

We can only spot three gas stations on this image, (none here today, and only one in the whole of Downtown), but there were apparently four gas barges out in Burrard Inlet, while today there’s just one of those as well.

Image source, City of Vancouver Archives Van Sc P136.2

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Posted August 5, 2019 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown