Archive for the ‘Alhambra Hotel’ Tag

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.