Archive for the ‘Acton Ostry Architects’ Tag

22-28 Water Street

28-30 Water St

We looked at the Grand Hotel (with the arched windows in the centre of the picture) in an earlier post. That’s the red building, initially designed by N S Hoffar for Thomas Cyrs in 1889 and then extended in 1903 by architect R H Bracken for T J Roberts, (both owners were originally from New Brunswick). The published history would suggest that Roberts built the hotel in 1889, which would have made him an extraordinarily young entrepreneur; he was born in 1874, so would have been only 15. That sounded so unlikely that we checked the Census records for 1891, 1901 and 1911. Unlike many early Vancouver residents who seemed to need to shave a few years off their age as time progressed, Thomas J Roberts stuck to either 1874 or 1875 as his birth date, and was shown as aged 17 in 1891. In the census Thomas and his 12-year-old sister, Mary, were living with their uncle and his wife. The uncle was hotel keeper Thomas Cyrs, so we now think Thomas Cyrs built the Grand, and Thomas Roberts took over in 1897 (at a more reasonable age of 23) and completed the expansion of the hotel in 1903. (We’ve revised the Grand Hotel post to reflect this).

In 1901 Thomas Roberts was living in the Granville Hotel (the earlier name for The Grand), with over 30 boarders and the hotel’s staff. In 1911 he had moved to 1635 Barclay Street with his wife, Pauline (born in Ontario, and five years younger) and their two children, three-year-old Pauline and one-year-old Mary. The family had three domestics: Jennie Larson was 22 and from Sweden, Dorothy Parkes was 14, from England, and so was John Shepherd (aged 18).

TJ RobertsIn 1908 Roberts commissioned the Roberts block, a 3-storey commercial building on Pender Street. In 1911 he redeveloped the building next to the Grand Hotel (to the east). Hugh Braunton was the architect, and it cost $48,000. In 1913 Roberts was considered to be a legitimate businessman – which wasn’t true of all the hotel keepers in the city; he featured in ‘Northern Who’s Who and Why’ – a biographical volume.

When it was first opened the new building had the Vancouver Clothing Co as a tenant, along with A Waddington, who specialized in overalls, the poolroom of McEwen & Knox, Fredericks & Skatigno (who were barbers) and Jarus & Weinrobe (who sold clothing, and had another store at 56 Water St). In 1915 there were two barber’s shops – one was run by William Brown, the other by Vincent Lacolla. The other occupants in the building were the Van Pickle Co and Taisho Printing Co. Three years later there was one barber remaining, V Lacolla, a clothing store (H Cooper), and Beaver Interurban Auto Transfer occupied the rest of the building.

Thomas J Roberts was killed in a dramatic fashion in September 1918 while watching a card game. He was with seven others in what was described as a ‘gambling resort’ on Jervis Street when a masked armed robber attempted to rob the party. The ‘Daily World’ described it as ‘the most sensational holdup which has occurred in tbe city in recent years’. The ‘Times Colonist’ published a longer version of the story. “Thomas J. Roberts, proprietor of the Grand Hotel, and one of the best known of the city’s pioneers, was shot and killed on Saturday evening by a masked robber with whom he had grappled to avoid handing over a diamond ring which the bandit had demanded. The tragedy occurred shortly before 11o’clock at 1304 Jervis Street near the corner of Harwood, a fairly large residence, surrounded by a thick screen of trees.

A second victim of two of the robber’s six shots was Henry Eames, aged about 50, manager of an upcoast logging camp. He is so seriously wounded that slim hopes are entertained for his recovery.

The police have one suspect under arrest the most important evidence so far obtained is from A. Harradine, a taxi driver who conveyed a fare to Broughton Street; a block away from the scene of the murder, on Saturday night the man left the taxi with orders to await his return. He came back in ten minutes, became much agitated when the driver had difficulty in starting the car and finally was conveyed downtown, where he disappeared in the alleyway alongside the Alcazar Hotel, on Dunsmuir Street east of Homer.

The house where the shooting took place is occupied by Oscar Olesen, his housekeeper, Mrs. McLennon, and her children. Eight men were in the drawing-room when the robber’s unheralded arrival took place. Five or six members of the party were playing a card game. They and several neighborhood friends were in the habit of coming in once or twice a week to spend the evening at cards.

Story of Shooting

The robber first demanded a ring from O. Jay, who handed over a three-stone ruby which encircled one of his fingers. Then the robber turned to Roberts with: “Now, hand over that ring,” motioning to a large solitaire which the hotel man wore on the third finger of his left hand. It happened that this ring fitted very tightly Mr. Roberts made an effort —real or assumed—to remove the ring and failed. Then he held out his hand with the words: “Here, take it off yourself, if you want it so badly.” Suiting the action to the words, which were the last he uttered, Mr. Roberts stepped towards the highwayman.

The robber reached forward and in a fraction of a second the men had grappled and the robber began to shoot. Cartridges found later showed the weapon to be a .33 calibre automatic. At least five probably six shots were fired. The first went wild across the room and crashed a window. Another went through the floor. Another struck Mr. Roberts head just in front of the ear and he slipped to the floor. A fourth shot pierced the opposite wall near the ceiling and two others struck Eames.

Mr. Roberts was one of the most familiar figures amongst the younger business men of the city. He was 47 years of age; coming to Vancouver from New Brunswick thirty years ago. He has been continuously with the hotel of which in recent years he was proprietor. He leaves a wife and two daughters of 10 and 8. His brother, Harry Roberts, is proprietor of the Beaver Transfer Company. Two sisters live in British Columbia, Mrs. T. Mambrick, of Comox and Mrs. Roy W. Brown. Mr. Roberts death is the first break in a family of thirteen.

J.F. McCabe, held as a suspect in the Jervis Street murder case, appeared before the magistrate today and was remanded until September 16, McCabe was in court on August 14 last, when according to the police records, he was fined $26 and costs for having morphine in his possession.”

The ‘Coquitlamite’ blog has extensive details of the crime. The main suspect in the crime was soon identified “Known now to the Vancouver police as George Layton or George Leaf, the man was arrested here and convicted under the latter name, with a number of aliases, in November, 1914, on a charge of stealing $40 from John Oleson; and with being in possession of instruments for housebreaking. He served a six months term and, the local records show, subsequently he was convicted at Calgary of theft and was sentenced to two years In the penitentiary, from which institution he could have been released only a comparatively short time ago.”

Police combed the Pitt River area where he was reported to have been seen, but he wasn’t found. In October 1919 the Victoria press reported that he had died in Los Angeles. “Last week at Los Angeles In a running gun fight with police officers a burglar was wounded. To avoid capture he deliberately shot himself with his own revolver, and was dead when the pursuing policemen reached his side. The desperado was known in Los Angeles under the name of Nyland, but has been identified as Lehtenen or Leaf. The identification was accomplished through photo and finger prints of Leaf as supplied to the Vancouver police by the Victoria authorities shortly after the Vancouver gambling house murder. 

Leaf, alias Samson, alias Anderson, alias Necthern, alias Lehtenen, was arrested here on November 17, 1914, for theft of $40 from the person of John Olson. He was dismissed on that charge, but upon the charge of being in possession of burglar’s tools he was sentenced to six months. The next heard of him was at Calgary, where he was sentenced for theft. 

Leaf’s photo and finger prints were taken when he was sentenced here, and when the Vancouver police were searching for him for his alleged participation in the shooting of Roberts and Eamen, the Victoria records were supplied. Circulars bearing his photo and finger print classification were circulated far and near, and it was by that means that the Los Angeles police made their identification of the desperado Nyland.”

In 1920 Vincent Lacolla was still cutting hair, and we suspect that C H Jones had already moved from a  warehouse on Alexander Street – although the street numbering gets a bit confused in the directory. In 1928 when our Vancouver Public Library image was taken, C H Jones were definitely in the building. They made sails and other canvas goods, and they stayed until 1930 when the Canada Western Cordage Company moved in. The made rope and twine, and retained an office here until the early 1970s. Their occupation explains the name that condominiums were given when they were built in 2009 ‘ Cordage’, designed by Acton Ostry Architects.


Grand Hotel – 24 Water Street

26 Water 2

The first hotel at this location was built by Ebenezer Brown, a wine merchant in New Westminster, and it was originally named the Granville Hotel (after Granville Townsite to the east of here) in the 1860s. He sold it to Joe Mannion and Billy Jones in 1874, and in about 1879 it was rebuilt. Mannion ran it for several years, and the published history says it was then sold on to Tom Cyrs in 1886 (although Cyrs was running it for several years before this, and at least one source suggests the sale was earlier). Cyrs lost the structure when it burned down with the rest of the city, but he Granville Hotel 1887quickly had it rebuilt (that’s the new wooden building on the left with the gentlemen in the bowler hats in front, in 1887). The street directory for 1888 shows that R Campbell was proprietor of the Granville, and Tom Cyrs wasn’t in town (although he was listed as owning the hotel in 1887), so he may have briefly left Vancouver. In 1889 Tom Cyrs is once again shown owning the Granville, and T Roberts is listed as a bartender a situation that continues through to 1891, where the census for that year reveals that Thomas Roberts was a 17-year-old bartender living with his uncle, Thomas Cyrs, a hotel keeper (with Mrs Cyrs, an adopted son, Arthur and Mary Roberts, Thomas’s sister). In 1892 both men are listed as proprietor of the Granville.

The ‘official’ version of the building’s history says Cyrs sold the hotel in 1889 to Thomas Roberts. When we calculated Mr. Roberts age, that seemed a little unlikely. Born in 1874, he was 13 when he arrived in the city, and would have been aged 15 on acquiring the hotel. If our estimate is correct, Thomas Joseph (‘Tommy’) Roberts was still only 18 when he became joint owner of the Granville. Both men are listed as proprietors until 1896; in 1897 Thomas Cyrs moved to a house on Dufferin Street and Thomas Roberts became listed as sole proprietor (at the age of 23). This situation prevailed through the early 1900s, although Thomas Cyrs is still shown as a ‘hotel keeper’ – but no hotel is listed, and the Granville continues to be identified with Thomas Roberts.

The owner, (we assume Thomas Cyrs), had N S Hoffar redesign the hotel as a brick structure, although he retained the Granville name, in 1889. Initially it operated as a reasonably small hotel with ancillary space at the rear (likely the stables); the 1901 census shows 25-year-old Thomas Roberts as head of the household of 33 boarders (many from Ontario, some from England and some from the USA, a couple from New Brunswick and George StGeorge from Quebec). There were four live-in staff (a bartender, clerk, chambermaid and domestic) and his 19-year-old sister, Emily Roberts.

In 1903 Thomas Roberts commissioned a large, four-storey addition that was built at a cost of $25,000; this addition filled the entire footprint of the lot and was designed by R H Bracken. The hotel then switched name to the Grand Hotel. Thomas Cyrs died in 1907 aged 55. There are a number of stories told to Major Matthews about Cyrs that make it clear he was quite a character. William Edwards identified him as the first man to be arrested following the fire – two days later (several other stories relate that Mr. Cyrs considered himself handy with his fists). “They tied him to a chair at first, but he kicked over the chair; then they chained him to the tree; it was on the opposite side of Carrall Street to the tent they used for a City Hall. The old tree had been badly damaged in the fire. Which reminds me of a thing which would look very queer now. I have seen Tom Cyrs walking up the middle of Water Street with a buggy whip over his shoulder, and a horse, just a loose horse—no head rope or anything—following him.”

The architect of the hotel extension appeared for the first time in the street Directory in 1903, living in the Granville Hotel. He was still there a year later, with an office on Hastings. Thomas Bracken lived in the same lodgings for those same years, but had gone by 1905. Richard H Bracken continued to live in the same hotel until 1910 when he seems to have been working for Seattle architect E W Houghton, who designed a number of projects in the city including a theatre. In 1911 Bracken was Bracken 1911living in West Vancouver, aged 34, and we know from that census he was born in England. We don’t know what work he was doing as we can’t decipher the census clerk’s handwriting – but it doesn’t look like it was architect.

Tommy Roberts owned and operated the hotel for many years, and invested in other real estate including the Roberts Block on West Pender Street in 1908 and the building adjacent to the Grand (now known as the Cordage – to the left in the photo) in 1911 (designed by Hugh Braunton and built at a cost of $48,000). Roberts died suddenly at age forty-two in 1918, murdered in the West End with another man when a masked bandit attempted to hold-up a poker game.

26 Water 1

The Grand soldiered on for many years; our main image shows it in 1929, but the upper floors were effectively abandoned by the 1970s (as this image from around 1970 suggests). In 2008 Acton Ostry designed the rehabilitation of the facades and extra density above and behind three of the four buildings on this part of Water Street, including the Grand, with condos over retail uses (the Grand getting one extra brick-faced floor).

Image sources: City of Vancouver archives Hot N8, CVA 780-512 and Str N58


The Alhambra Hotel – Water and Carrall

The Alhambra Hotel at Maple Tree Square where Carrall and Water Streets meet looks almost identical today to the 1931 photograph on the left. That’s because it’s recently had a comprehensive restoration by Acton Ostry Architects for Salient Developments, who seismically upgraded the building while putting it back to close to original appearance. In the meantime it didn’t look quite as tidy – as this 1968 image shows.

The Byrnes Block, as the Alhambra is also known, was built by Victoria based auctioneer George Byrnes, an Australian who had survived a shipwreck coming from Sydney to San Francisco and then not long afterwards become Sherriff in Barkerville. The hotel was one of the first fireproof buildings to be completed after the 1886 fire destroyed the city. It appears that the intial building commission came from Rand Brothers, real estate promoters, who handed the development to George Byrnes while it was under construction.

The Alhambra sits on the corner where Jack Deighton rebuilt his saloon, once it bacame apparent that his preferred location and the Canadian Pacific Railway survey were at odds – once they’s established their street pattern his first saloon was sitting in the middle of the street intersection.

While other hotels in the area were somewhat basic in their character, the Alhambra was distinctly superior. Each room had a fireplace – as the chimneys still show today. The architect was Elmer Fisher, who moved around from Minneapolis to Denver to Butte, Montana, then completed only two buildings in Vancouver as well as a number on Vancouver Island before heading to Seattle just in time to help rebuild it after the 1889 fire there. His version of his history and documentary records disagree about whether he was Scottish (or more likely American), and he abandoned architecture by the mid 1890s, leaving town after a particularly salacious court case where his former mistress sued him for breach of promise when he got married to a Seattle widow. He won the case, but lost his reputation.


We’ve reposted this building because we’ve just spotted a curious change. Back in 2006 Bob_2006, an avid photographer of Vancouver’s heritage buildings, added a picture of the Alhambra as it looked then. At the time it said the building was dated to 1886. As our image shows, that wasn’t true back in 1931, and giving full credit to Acton Ostry and The Salient Group, it isn’t true today. It just goes to show “I read it on a building so it must be true” isn’t necessarily the case.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives SGN 418 and CVA 447-340


Water Street – west from Carrall (1)

This VPL picture shows Water Street in 1889, just three years after the fire that destroyed the buildings of the newly named city of Vancouver. Since then the railway arrived (with a station way off beyond the end of the picture) and the tracks ran on trestles on the beach, behind the buildings to the right. That’s the Alhambra Hotel in the Byrnes Block on the left, and the Sunnyside Hotel on the right, a replacement for the hotel of the same name that was burned down in the fire. The original sat on stilts over the beach and Burrard Inlet, but there’s been a lot of filling and adding to the beach and the street level in a short time (the 1901 Insurance map still referred to Water Street as ‘Plank Roadway on Piles’).

Beyond the Alhambra is the fire station – much more important to citizens with their recent experience of fire. This is the location that city historian Major Matthews identified Constable Miller’s cottage as having been located (before the fire) with the unlocked cells in the back to allow the more inebriated citizens to sleep it off. This was stretched to the ‘Gaolers Mews’ of the 1970s – actually a yard behind a former car garage (which can be see today with three extra floors added a couple of years ago, in a conversion to residential use designed by Acton Ostry).

These days the site of the Sunnyside features the former premises of Swift Meat Packing – today it’s retail and office space, but in between it became the Alexandra Hotel. There’s very little else on the right hand side in the picture – the beach was still accessible, although cut off by the rail tracks. There were sail makers in the buildings beyond the Sunnyside and beyond the gap, while on the left were a series of bars, hotels and stores. Most had been rebuilt in wood in only a few days after the fire, and all but the Alhambra would be replaced in the next few years.


The Flack Block – West Hastings and Cambie

Gold was discovered in the Klondike river area of the Yukon, in Canada (but not initially in Alaska) is 1896, when Vancouver was just 10 years old and still a modest, although fast-growing town. Thousands headed west and north from the US and eastern and central Canada to join the gold rush, and all the established ports cashed in on fitting them out. Nanaimo, Victoria, New Westminster and Vancouver all offered prospectors everything they might need, or could be persuaded to take with them. Every seaworthy ship was pressed into service to take the men and their newly purchased supplies northwards.

By September 1897 over 20,000 men were said to have headed to the gold fields, among them a Nanaimo resident, Thomas Flack. Flack hit paydirt at Eldorado Creek with William Sloan (an American who had staked his claim in 1896 very soon after gold was found) and John Wilkinson, a Weardale born coal miner also from Nanaimo. They were working in permafrost in almost permanent darkness, so although they found valuable gold, ($5 a pan or $2.50 a shovelful!), they also missed a fortune in the gravel they rejected. Flack’s partners sold out for $50,000 and $55,000 respectively – Flack turned down an offer of $50,000 and instead cashed in his first $6,000 worth of gold ‘for expenses’ in San Francisco.

Clearly he made good on his claim, as in 1898 he commissioned a significant building in a prominent corner where Hastings meets Cambie, designed by William Blackmore who had designed the adjacent building a few years earlier. In 1899 Mr. Flack has a house in a newly developed part of town, 1206 Haro Street, and is described as a mine owner. He didn’t stay in the city very long; he was no longer listed in 1901, and we think he returned to England to live in London.

The Flack Block was an important building, with some interesting tenants, including a vegetarian restaurant, the Bank of Vancouver’s head office (in 1912) and the Dorchester System of Physical Culture (in 1920), as well as barristers and medical offices. For a while there was a Turkish Bath said to be ‘a comfortable place to spend the night’.

Between this 1923 Vancouver Public Library photograph and 2009 the block lost its entrance, shop fronts were replaced with stucco and the buildings services were in a bad way. The building has recently undergone a massive restoration by Acton Ostry, with seismic upgrades, restored stonework, a replica hand carved stone entrance and new retail frontages recreated to match the 1900 original, and the addition of a fifth floor set back from the parapet. The building won both LEED Gold certification and City and Provincial Heritage Awards.