It’s unusual that a street configuration has changed in Vancouver, but here’s an exception. The Fleck Brothers warehouse (as it appears in 1934 in this Vancouver Public Library image) was in two sections, one fronting Alexander Street, and one fronting the rail right-of-way that ran all the way from False Creek at a diagonal angle through the East End. Elsewhere that right-of-way still exists today, although the tracks have long gone, but this 1934 image shows how the warehouse angled round the corner. The first element of the warehouse dates back to 1898; the third fourth and fifth bays (closest to the corner) were W J McMillan’s warehouse. McMillan arrived in Vancouver from Victoria soon after the fire of 1886 – so had the advantage of having lost nothing in the fire, but ready to build a business in the frantic re-construction that followed. He was originally from New Brunswick (although the town he was born in is now part of Quebec). Leaving home in 1880 he farmed with two of his brothers in California before moving to Portland to work for the Oregon Railway and then Victoria in 1883 for the Island Railroad Company. In Vancouver he switched gears completely, and opened a fruit and produce store on Cordova, and then Abbott Street with two partners, (one, R J Hamilton, his cousin). When their new warehouse was built they were identified as McMillan and Hamilton. At some point the next two bays to the east were added – we don’t know who designed the original building or the addition (probably the same architect).
By 1902 the partners had taken over the Kootenay part of the business, and W J McMillan & Co remained in Vancouver with William and his brother Robert growing “one of the largest grocery houses of the Canadian west”. In 1912 they moved to Beatty and Smithe to a building they had Thomas Hooper design, and a sailmaker, C H Jones & Son (Charles and Fred Jones) occupied their space. Jones & Co moved in 1918 to 28 Water Street and this building was vacant for a while. It appears that sugar and real estate baron B T Rogers had acquired the building; in 1916 he hired Somervell & Putnam to carry out some minor repairs to the building.
Fleck Brothers were another early arrival to the city; J Gordon Fleck and Bryce W Fleck were running their company in 1908, operating as manufacturers agents for Roofing, Lumber, Paper etc. from an office on Seymour Street. They moved to this building in 1921, and in 1941 hired W F Gardiner to add 2 additional floors, using a steel frame rather than the heavy lumber frame of the original structure. Once the CPR had stopped running trains through the streets they acquired the right-of-way, and in 1951 added a wedge-shaped addition to their premises. They also bought the warehouse on Powell Street across the lane. The company continued in business well into the 1970s, but as with most of the warehouses in this area, more efficient operations saw the use cease.
In 1988 the building was converted to residential use, with a new structure replacing the right-of way as a part of the Four Sisters Housing Co-operative, designed by Davidson and Yuen Partners for the Downtown Eastside Residents Association.
To the west of the Captain French building on Alexander Street are several buildings that were previously more varied in height than they are today. They were all converted to housing around the same time, completed in 1995 and 1997, and designed by Paul Merrick (according to the permits, at least), and called Alexander and The Alexis. The two buildings, share common areas such as the lobby, hallways, and parking entrance. They also share the same address but not the same strata council making them one of the more unusual buildings in the city with a total of 58 residential lofts and 2 commercial units. Today the single-storey garage building forms the entrance to parking – there is no lane here as the rail tracks are right at the back of the building.
In our 1937 Vancouver Public Library photograph it was used as a warehouse by the Vancouver Supply Company, a wholesale grocer. The building was used first by Knowler and McCauley around 1908, who were first listed as ‘Commission Agents’ and had previously occupied premises on Cordova Street. We haven’t successfully identified the architect of the four-storey building. James Macaulay was born in 1853 in Colombo, Ceylon; was first employed by Hewitt & Wingate calico printers in Glasgow and in Vancouver started Knowler & Macaulay wholesale provision merchants. William E Knowler was born in England and arrived in Canada in 1885. The 1901 census recorded him with his family: wife Rachel, sister-in-law Ellen Andrew and his three daughters, Elsie, Margaret and Gladys. William lived on Melville Street, while James and his wife Katherine and daughter Dorothy at 829 Richards Street. Charles Thompson, a manufacturer’s agent also worked here.
In 1911 Knowler & Macaulay shared the building with Hamblin & Brereton Ltd (wholesale grocers from Winnipeg) and the Hallman & Peniston Machinery Co. Knowler & Macaulay were still occupying the building in the 1920s when they were identified as wholesale confectioners. Their last year here was 1929, and a year later the Vancouver Supply Company took over the property. They also bought the adjoining two-storey building which was numbered as 15 Alexander St when it first opened, designed in 1906 by architect Alexander Muir. He was a Scot with work throughout BC, and especially in Victoria where he was based and this is the only building we know he designed in Vancouver.
The B.C. Market Company were long-established butchers and meat packers, with premises in Victoria and Vancouver (on Carrall street) before 1900. They imported some of their livestock by boat – the ‘Ramona’ brought them 310 sheep in 1906. They shared the building with other businesses; in 1907 a new Orthodox congregation appeared in Vancouver, named B’nai Yehudah (also known as Sons of Israel). The first Vancouver synagogue did not appear until 1911, when B’nai Yehudah was built at the corner of East Pender and Heatley Streets, and in 1908 they were meeting here, in premises numbered as 25 Alexander Street shared with R Robinson & Co who were wholesale brokers. Despite suggestions that this was a fire station – it never was. The building was later purchased in the 1930s by the Pegg family to join 27 and 29 Alexander Street to serve as the headquarters and distribution centre for the Vancouver Supply Company, the family’s wholesale grocery business. They combined the buildings and were still occupying them into the 1950s.
Today this is a condo building called ‘The Captain French’. It was built in 1910 to Parr and Fee’s design for George H French – who really was a captain – or at least the owner of a number of seagoing vessels. French was born in Ontario and first shows up in New Westminster in 1891, aged 39 with his wife Cynthia, 32. It’s not possible to read exactly what his occupation is, but the family’s religious affiliation is identified as Salvation Army. In 1901 he was living in Vancouver (aged 48) with his wife, Cynthia (42), where the census recorded him as ‘master mariner’, and they are now Presbyterian. The street directory show the family living at 350 Alexander, and his business address was 145 Alexander. His 24-year-old son, Austin, was living at 328 Alexander, also a master mariner with his wife, Mildred, and their two children, Clara and baby George. In 1911 he was living on Beach Avenue, and curiously his wife’s name seems to be Simyeon, or something like it (although we’ve noted the frequent errors in that particular census – as well as the cheap nibs the census-takers used).
In 1910 Captain French’s tugs were listed as the Sea Lion, the St Clair and the Superior. A S French, who was living on Nelson Street was also involved in the tugboat company, but there was also the A S French Auto Co, founded in 1909, (whose premises had the same address as the Tug Boat Company). Austin French was also a Director of the Columbia Taxicab Co.
In 1911 Captain French had either abandoned the ocean, or was downplaying it and A S French and Co were his main advertised business interest. The company was run by Austin French, but George was a partner in the dealership for both Napier Motors and Stoddard Dayton Cars.
The Archives have an image of the Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier in a Napier car in front of the CPR Station in August 16, 1910. Laurier opened the first Vancouver Exhibition at Hastings Park that year. The Napier was an expensive British-built automobile, noted for being the first car to cross the Rockies (from Boston to Vancouver) in 1904. Mulliner built the car’s aluminium body.
Stoddard Dayton were a new company with high quality vehicles built in Dayton, Ohio. By 1911, Stoddard-Dayton offered twenty models with four different engines, and by 1912 when the company had become part of the United States Motor Company the advertising claimed “None can go farther. None can go faster.” With the dramatic expansion of sales of much cheaper Ford and rival cars, the company ceased production in 1913.
In 1911 the Daily World announced “The A. S. French Auto Co. are now occupying their new commodious quarters at 1027 Pender Street West, and have the largest fireproof and most up to date garage and sales rooms in British Columbia. They have a storage capacity for 600 cars, and carry besides a full line of accessories. The building is of reinforced concrete, absolutely fireproof, and with two floors, 66×132 feet In size. Each floor has a level driveway entrance, the lower being on Seaton street, and tha upper on Pender. When the outside decorations are completed, the building will present an extremely attractive appearance. “Any one wanting a. Napier car this season will have to hustle.” said Mr. A. S. French, “as the allotment for this year Is almost sold out. Nearly all the cars allotted us are In now, only five or six carloads remaining to be delivered. I have no idea how many Naplers have been sold in Vancouver without looking up the records, but as an instance of the way they are going I might mention that last week I sold over $42,000 worth, including the sales of Saturday night after dinner, which amounted to $19,500. We are open for business day and night. Besides the Napier we also handle the Stoddard – Dayton cars, which I consider the best car on the market for the money. The Napier is a British built car.” The showroom had cost $55,000, designed by ‘Blackmore’ (presumably E E Blackmore). Clearly with success like this Austin’s father could afford the new investment of the warehouse building he erected on Alexander Street at a cost of $24,000, built by Hoffmeister Bros, seen in this 1927 Vancouver Public Library image.
A S French continued in business, switching to selling the Overland cars in 1916 (at only $850), and in 1922 the Chandler, Cleveland and Liberty Six lines of vehicles. George, Austin, and Austin’s son, (also George) were all associated with the company.
The new warehouse had six tenants when it opened; Vancouver Scale and Butchers Supply Co, The International Battery Co Ltd, Shurley Deitrich Co Ltd (a saw manufacturer), Electrical Manufacturing Company, Kaufman Rubber Co Ltd and F F Henderson, manufacturers agents. In 1920 there was just one occupant, Martin Finlayson & Mather Ltd, the successors to the George Hunter Hardware Company. When the photo was taken in 1927 there were multiple tenants again, Ames Bros, (manufacturers agents) Imperial Stage Co Ltd, Wayne Pump and Tank Co, Wells Ltd, (who were ‘reconditioners’) Pacific Wire Ltd and Bartholomew Montgomery Ltd (electrical engineers).
By 1935 Gainers Meats had moved into part of the building – their name can still be seen painted on the back of the building. They shared the premises with the Consolidated Sales Book and Wax Paper Co Ltd, who were a paper wholesaling company (if their name left you guessing).
In 1990 the building was an early Gastown residential conversion, designed by Paul Merrick and creating 20 condos.
With the attention that Chinatown is receiving at the moment as a few new condo developments replace vacant sites or failed 70s malls and a shuttered casino, no doubt any proposal to redevelop this corner would bring critics out lamenting the loss of another heritage building. This 1978 (or so) image shows that the red brick structure that’s there today – or at least the exterior – isn’t a heritage building, it’s a rebuild of an older property. Not only that, it shows that in the past Chinatown merchants weren’t nearly as concerned about the Chinese character of Chinatown. The occupants of the building on the corner, C S importers Co Ltd, and the retail store, Trans-Nation Emporium Ltd adopted a distinctly Art Deco Moderne theme to their store decoration, with chrome lettering on a black shiny background and a chrome canopy over the sidewalk. The building dates back to 1904, when Loo Gee Wing, the Chinese merchant who developed throughout Chinatown and beyond, hired Emil Guenther to design the $21,000 building. No doubt Mr Guenther would have been able to identify his building in the 1970s, although the style of decoration might have surprised him. Mr Guenther’s history is apparently hard to confirm due to his name changing and partner hopping, but he was probably German who practiced across the US before settling in Vancouver.
Next door is an almost unchanged Chinatown heritage structure. Well, unchanged since 1926, when the third floor was added. H H Simmonds designed the recessed balcony addition, a perfect example of a non-Chinese architect interpreting Chinese design for a Chinese client. In fact, Simmonds was Australian. The architectural irony is that the original building was in the Italianate style (designed by a Chinese architect). When it was built in 1911 it had two storeys, designed by W H Chow for Lang Kwan and built by R A McCoullough for $9,500. Campbell and Dawson were recorded as the architects because theoretically Chow, being Chinese, wasn’t allowed to practice as an architect, although he seems to have circumnavigated that situation on a number of occasions, including 1915 when he was the architect for $400 of alterations to the building for owner Chong Yuen. In the 1920s it became home to the Cheng Wing Yeong Tong Society.
Next door to that is another substantial building (for the time) that had a similar appearance to many of the other commercial buildings built at the turn of the 20th Century in the immediate area. We’re pretty certain the developer was Yip Sang, in 1908, (and the closest in design looks like W T Whiteway’s design for Yip’s Wing Sang Company, on the corner of Carrall Street, and built in 1902). Hing Sing was shown as owner when he obtained permits for $1,000 of alterations in 1909, Lim Duck Chew was listed as an owner in the same year for an address at the western end of the block, Fong Sun was listed as the owner who added partitions in 1910, and Jim Lin in 1916 altered the store front, and also made alterations to the western end of the building in 1917 – but they could all be tenants. It was demolished in the 1990s after a fire, and a new project stalled, and was eventually replaced in 2008 by ‘East’, a Walter Francl designed 6-storey condo building over two retail stores that we saw better in an earlier look at this block looking the other way.
Almost 80 years separate these images; the original identifies as a parade on Pender Street taken between 1936 and 1938, and the contemporary picture taken at this year’s Chinese New Year parade. As we’ve noted with so many Chinatown images, the important buildings have remained almost unchanged. Obviously the parade has changed – these days the cars are cleared from the street, and there generally aren’t any horses on parade (but this parade was advertising a Chinese historical production concerning the land west of Eastern Turkestan). The greatest difference in this set of four buildings is the Lee Building, to the west (the left of the picture) which was rebuilt following a fire and so today has open balconies rather than the closed stucco of the original building. (That stucco seems to have been added to a second bay of the building after 1925, as the Frank Gowan postcard we looked at before on the blog shows).
The narrower building to the east of the Lee Building was designed in 1923 by A E Henderson for Lung Kong Kung Shaw, replacing one designed by W H Chow in 1914. In this picture Kwong Yee Lung Co have their store name prominently displayed; they were at this location for several decades and dealt in Chinese herbs. It seems likely that Henderson’s client was a variant on the company name, as they hired contractor C Duck to make alterations to the previous building in 1920, and were still occupying this location in the mid 1950s.
Next door is a 5-storey 1913 building designed by H B Watson for William Dick at a cost of $30,000. Originally four floors high with the Kwong Fong grocery on the ground floor, the Mah Society acquired the building in 1920 and added a fifth floor in 1921 designed by E J Boughen. William Dick was a clothing company mogul; we’ve seen one of his properties on West Hastings. We assume this building was purely built as an investment, just like the houses he built a few blocks away. In 1917 W H Chow made some changes to the building for Yam Young.
The final building in this group was once known as Ming’s Restaurant, with extravagant neon announcing the business. the Good Luck Cabaret also operated in the building – a use that continues today as the Fortune Sound Club. In 1913 Yee Lee owned a property here, and Toy Get carried out some alterations for him. In 1919 Mrs Smith was the owner, and builder R P Forshaw carried out further alterations. The current building was designed in 1920 and built a year later by W H Chow (with W T Whiteway helping out to get the necessary permits, as in 1921 Chow was refused admission to the newly-incorporated Architectural Institute of BC, despite his extensive experience). The description of the building’s history notes that “The original facade decoration was classical, with pilasters, capitals, and a deep cornice. This was made more ‘Chinese’ in 1977, with the addition of Chinese (and English) characters on the frieze, and decorative panels and balcony railings.” The re were Chinese characters on the front of the building in the 1930s, but there was also the English wording ‘International Chop Suey’. That restaurant pre-dated Ming’s Restaurant, and was here throughout the 1920s and 30s. Ming’s was operated by Hong Wong, and advertised ‘authentic Chinese dishes at moderate prices’ and attracted both Chinese and non-Chinese diners, with many wedding banquets being held here.
Image Source CVA 300-101
Our 1978 image and today’s view of the building are almost identical. Anyone who has looked into the window of Tosi’s Italian food store might conclude that the window display hasn’t changed over the decades either. According to the Assessment Authority the build dates from 1930, which is the year the street directory tells us Tosi and Co moved here. If you look on the company website you’ll see that the building was once part of Woodward’s – that’s not actually true. Woodward’s first store was indeed built on this block, and numbered as 622 Westminster Avenue (which became Main Street in 1910). However, around 1903 there was a renumbering of this block, and the original 622 was several building to the south, on the corner of East Georgia (which was then called Harris).
There were buildings here before 1930, and we’re not sure how much the remodeling in 1930 incorporated those structures (if at all), and how much was new. Certainly if you go inside it seems that the building is old – but it’s not clear if any predates 1930. Tracing the various permits and occupants of this location, the building we see today used to be two structures in two different ownerships, and went through many tenancies. The insurance map for 1912 shows two buildings here, the one to the south with a narrow alley alongside back to the lane, and there’s a 1910 image in the Library collection that confirms there were two buildings here.
It looks like the first store on the northern half of the site was built in 1903 when Armstrong & Co, undertakers (later Armstong & Edwards) were here for five years (before moving to the building next door in 1908). Stitt & Co, real estate & J L Little, barbers supplies were here in 1909, Northey, Thomas & Co, real est, in 1910, and Korist & Halras & Globe Brokerage in 1911 (corrected to Haras in 1912). The tenants continued to change every year: in 1913 it was Z Ratnegal, clothier and Peter Valchon, cigars; in 1914 Z Weretnikow (second hand goods) and in 1915 Max Weinrobe, second hand dealer. The next two tenants were also second hand dealers; Joseph Cibular followed by Mrs Anna Kafitz in 1918. In 1919 a Chinese grocers opened; Hong Kee, and then Jacob Brownstein moved in with a shoe store that stayed in business for four years before the store became the Main Shoe Store in 1924 and 1925. There are no further tenants recorded for this address, which makes us think that might be when the building was demolished, or ceased to be used, prior to its 1930 reconstruction.
The building permits identify the owner and builder of a new dwelling here in 1904 as Mrs Cole Dawson. She had obtained a permit repairs to the frame of a house here in 1902. She carried out another repair in 1911, but it doesn’t say what was being repaired. The insurance map suggests there was a building behind the Westminster Avenue frontage, so it’s quite possible there was a house at the back and a store in front. Mrs Dawson was the wife of Colin Dawson, who was clearly known as Cole to most people. Mrs Dawson hired D G Gray as her builder – not surprising as David Gray (who arrived in Granville in 1882) was married to her sister, Katie. The Dawsons and the Grays came from Ontario.
The southern half of the block had almost as many different tenants as the northern half, with retail uses going back to 1899. John P Curtis, grocer, was in a building here that year, and although the street number switched a couple of times it appears that he was still in business until 1902. George Aldred ran the grocery here a year later, and in 1904 it was Thomas Ross, confectionery and Madame Raab, clairvoyant. Joseph Azar ran the confectionery store a year later, and Philip Branca for two years from 1906. In 1908 a new partnership took over, Magnone & Crosetti, grocers, and a year later Crosetti & Branca, grocers. Joseph Crosetti was listed as a logger in 1910, and in 1911 Max Krassnoff was running a clothing store.
There’s a permit from 1912 for Braunton & Leibert to design a six-storey reinforced concrete rooming house for A E Sucking, but we’re pretty certain that was never built. There’s another permit a year later when Mrs. A E Suckling commissioned an office/store designed by E S Mitton here at a cost of $12,000, and that’s more likely to have been built, although we can’t be sure. After this, August V Lang ran a clothing store from 1915 to 1917, followed by Chin Yee You’s dry goods store in 1918, and then Modern Clothes from 1919 to 1922 when Jeffs Brothers took over selling clothes until 1916. (in 1924 Domenick Soda briefly shared the store – he had previously sold confectionery at the northern end of the block). Sayer and Co who sold wholesale produce from 1927 to 1929, the year before P Tosi moved in and the Mission Style store still standing today was constructed – although perhaps the architect was trying for Italian hill town.
Here’s a small commercial building on Main Street near Keefer. In our 1978 image it was a different small commercial building. Derek Neale and Associates were the designers of the 3-storey replacement, completed in 1982. The earlier building dated back to 1901, built by Baynes and Horie for owner (and supposedly, architect) H J Franklin at a cost of $2,200. It may have started life as a single storey structure because in 1911 owners Armstrong & Edwards hired an architect called ‘Price’ to make $7,400 of alterations to the building. Watson and Hitch were the builders, and ‘Price’ was most likely to be J G Price, an architect who worked on a number of Chinatown buildings including Wing Sang’s tenement building, and West Hotel. Three years later different owners Lowen, Harvey & Preston made some more (less drastic) changes.
There was a house here through the 1890s: in 1897 John Abrams, an engineer lived here, and in 1899 it was his widow. In what was presumably the new building someone identified as J Franklin sold pianos in a short-lived venture in 1902, and in 1903 Harry Franklin was running a stationery business here for three years (presumably the same H J Franklin who designed it, and probably the piano salesman as well). William Murphy set up a rival stationers right next door in 1904, and both businesses had gone by 1906 when our building was home to Empire Commission, Auction & Brokerage. In 1908 J Donald & Co were running a grocers, and in 1909 a long-term occupant arrived (and bought the building) – Armstrong & Edwards, funeral directors. The firm became T Edwards & Co in 1912, and statyed until after 1930. In 1940 B S Herbert & Son elec contrs were here, and were still in the building a decade later.