Archive for the ‘Arthur Erickson’ Tag

Howe Street – 900 block

900 howe courts 1

We’ve looked at a very similar set of images from the Hornby Street side of Arthur Erickson’s Law Courts. Here’s a pair of 1981 images that we updated last year. Far less of the building is visible in summer, as Cornelia Oberlander’s landscaping has matured. We saw one of the buildings on the corner with Nelson (below) when it was a house in an earlier post, and how it had changed to commercial use by the early 1960s.

900 howe courts 2

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W07.27 and CVA 779-W07.28


Majestic Theatre – West Hastings Street

Majestic W Hastings

This image of the Majestic Theatre on West Hastings is dated to 1965, but the movie bill featured a 1958 western starring George Montgomery, Man From God’s Country, and a British 1962 film made by Peter Ustinov called Billy Budd. Like the opera of the same name, it was adapted from a Herman Melville short novel, and co-starred Terence Stamp in his first movie – one that earned him a nomination for an Academy Award. The western was about Montana – described on the poster as gun-raw… gun-ruled… gun hell. The theatre was heading for a dark screen, and given the double bill on offer that’s understandable.

The Majestic didn’t start life under that name – it was the second incarnation in the city of the Pantages Theatre. A version was designed by J J Donellan in 1914, but the start of the war delayed the project, and the current building designed by B Marcus Priteca late in 1916 wasn’t started until 1917, with the theatre opening in 1918. Alexander Pantages developed the building at a cost of $300,000 and built by Skene & Christie on a piece of land owned by C A Godson. The first version of the Pantages was more modest, and located a few blocks to the east. The fancy new theatre was part of the city’s vaudeville circuit, running up to 12 hour days and mixing comedy, dance and musical acts. During its time as the Pantages Theatre, it headlined such stars as Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth. Architectural writer Miriam Sutermeister noted that the theatre was “considered at the time to be the most richly embellished and efficient theatre of the Pantages chain.” In its final year under the Pantages name, L B Pantages was the manager and Alfonso Pantages was an usher.

Beacon TheatreBeacon Theatre 33It was renamed as the Beacon Theatre before 1930, still showing ‘acts’ as well as movies – and talkies as ‘Birth of a Nation – in Sound’ was shown in 1932 – the year that Godson estates took over management of the theatre. In this incarnation management invested in a set of massive neon letters that the were rearranged to identify the performance. Here’s a 1932 image showing “On Stage Boy Mental Wizard” – Jackie Merkle was the five year-old  son of a husband and wife acrobat team – The Flying Merkles. Jackie’s mother died in a fall when he was 7 months old and his father discovered psychic abilities a few years later and took him on the road.

A year later Texas Guinan paid a visit. She was really Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan, and unlike almost all the other details of her life that she invented or embellished, she really did come from Texas: Waco to be exact. She started acting at 16, briefly married (for the first time), then headed to New York where she dabbled in films and on stage before finding her niche as a nightclub hostess with an acerbic wit (an attribute she had developed in vaudeville). During prohibition she made a fortune holding court from a stageside table, draped in jewels and furs and greeting the clients with her catchphrase “Hello Suckers!”, later referenced in the musical Chicago. She could persuade the crowd to pay $25 for a whisky, but was teetotal herself. She hung out with actors and gangsters, and then went home to her parents. She moved on from partnering with an impresario to owning her own club, and apparently amassing a fortune.

The depression hit the club scene and she tried to get back into the movies, and toured a revue that was prevented from showing in France because it represented a threat to the work of local performers. (Taking a troupe of fan dancers to Paris wasn’t necessarily the most subtle idea, but it seems that Texas didn’t really do subtle). Turning lemons into lemonade, she changed the name of the show to “Too Hot for Paris,” and continued around North America with a troupe of 40 dancers. The tour ended suddenly and tragically in Vancouver; the image shows the revue attracted a sizeable crowd. While billboard 1950in the city Texas suffered an attack of ulcerative colitis and despite emergency surgery, she died aged 49. On her deathbed she was reported to say “I would rather have a square inch of New York than all the rest of the world” and her body was returned home where thousands attended her funeral. Her family donated a tabernacle in her name to St. Patrick’s Church in Vancouver in recognition of Father Louis Forget’s attentions during her final hours.

The building’s next reincarnation was as the Hastings Odeon picture house in 1946, when it was bought for $250,000. There were continued occasional live performances; Billboard reported in 1949 that having been “a straight flicker for the past two seasons, reverted to flesh Thursday (14) with a seven act bill and a feature pic… The seven circus acts which made up the opening bill included Snow’s seals, Perry the Penguin, Pansy the Horse, Hector’s dogs, Flying Olympians, Togo the clown, comedy jugglers and the Trampoline Trio“. A year later another vaudeville bill was announced headed by Texas Jim Lewis and his Plainsmen. The BC Archives have a CBC film from 1956  conductor John Avison rehearsing a 50-piece orchestra in two works, including a Liszt piano concerto with soloist Marie-Aimee Warrot.

There was another attempt to revive vaudeville in 1958 – this time as the Majestic. The acts were brought in from Las Vegas, and Carl de Santis and his orchestra provided the music. There were still two movies, but the theatre struggled and vaudeville really was, finally, dead. The Odeon decided to sell the building to a parking lot operator who razed the building in 1967. This raised some public protest, although not enough to save the building. The parking lot remained for over 30 years, until the Portland Hotel Society hired Arthur Erickson (with Nick Milkovich) to design non-market housing on the site, completed in 2000. When site works commenced the contractors discovered that the demolition crew of the theatre just pushed rubble into the basement and paved over it; the basement had been sitting there largely intact. The Portland offers 88 units, and was the first purpose-built housing project designed specifically to meet the unique needs of Vancouver’s hard-to-house community.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1135-45 and CVA 99-4563 and CVA 99-4282


West Georgia Street east from Hornby

Georgia e from Hornby 2

Here’s a 1927 view of the Pacific Centre across the Courthouse plaza (soon to get a comprehensive makeover as a paved area lined with trees). We’ve seen this area before, but looking the other way. We’ve been waiting to attempt this shot as the Pacific Centre rework of the former Eatons / Sears store has only just been completed. The Courthouse on the right really hasn’t changed, although the existing trees hide it a bit. The huge flagpole has gone, as has the second Hotel Vancouver that we wrote about a few years ago.

The courthouse was originally designed by Francis Rattenbury in a grand neoclassical structure in 1906. Six years later it was expanded in a less flamboyant (and cheaper) style by Thomas Hooper. Once Arthur Erickson’s new courthouse was completed in 1982, the Vancouver Art Gallery moved here after extensive alterations, also designed by Erickson’s office.

The second hotel was one of the city’s finest buildings, and its loss was very regrettable, but understandable as its replacement was so large that the two could never have successfully have survived together at the time, even if there hadn’t been a deal that ensured it closed. It was demolished in 1947 and only replaced in the early 1970s with Cesar Pelli’s TD Tower, and his white concrete Eatons store, recently reclad and repurposed as offices and Nordstrom store to a design of James K M Cheng.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives  Bu N141.1


918 Hornby Street

918 Hornby

Here’s 918 Hornby from Heather Lapierre’s family album picture of her great-grandfather and family (many thanks for the image Heather). The image dates from 1893, the year the Thicke family arrived in Vancouver. Walter and Clara Thicke were from England, but had been in Ontario since at least 1881, as they were living in Ottawa that year – then Clara is listed as Anny Clara (although she was really Clara Annie). The 1891 census shows they had four children in the next decade, Walter, Claude, Violet and Harold aged from nine down to one. That year Walter was a clerk in the registry office and Clara a music teacher. They were living in New Edinburgh, a suburb of Ottawa. Once they arrived in Vancouver there were five children; in the photo there is an additional child, Marjorie, born the year after the 1891 census, also in Ontario. She is the child in Clara’s arms. Heather identified the people in the picture, from left to right they are Harold, Walter Sr., Clara, Marjorie, Claude, Violet and Walter Jr. Clara retained a musical interest in her new home city – she was a soloist at Christ Church Cathedral.

The block the family lived on initially developed slowly. Eight years after they moved in (in 1901) there was a house next door, but then four vacant lots to the north and just one small structure at the back of one lot of six lots to the south – but by then the family had moved on. That year they were living at 1138 Robson, where Walter senior was a notary public and Walter junior was a clerk with the Canadian Pacific Railway. Claude was also working for the CPR. They had moved away from Hornby even earlier; in 1896 Walter was listed at having moved that year to 1026 Haro and he was the deputy registrar at the Supreme and County Courts as well as Registrar of Marriages at the Law Courts. Walter died in 1903 when he and Clara were living at 1126 Robson, and Clara moved to 1150 Haro in 1905.

After 1901 the block was built out quite quickly – it was almost all houses, and only one lot was left undeveloped by 1912. By then the house had long been renumbered as 940 Hornby, and Mrs M A Howard was living there (the Howard family had been in the house for some years, and Mrs Howard was a widow at this point). Her husband, James was partner with John Ross in Ross & Howard, one of the city’s ironworks. (You can see their name on the cast bases of the Chinatown lamp standards). Mrs Howard stayed until after 1920, and a series of new owners (or tenants) seem to have lived in the house until at least 1950. There are few pictures of this street through this period, but the street Directories show that while a number of commercial uses appeared, several addresses on the block were still homes. Clearance for the proposed Provincial complex started in the mid 1950s; the 700 block for example was cleared in 1956.  Today, as we saw in an earlier post the even side of the 900 block of Hornby is part of Arthur Erickson’s Law Courts, now almost disappearing in summer behind Cornelia Oberlander’s tiered landscaping, and now also featuring the Hornby Street bike lanes.


Posted 13 August 2013 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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Hornby Street – 900 Block (1)

900 Hornby east 1

Adding colour, and 30 years can make quite a difference. Here’s two 1981 images showing the one-year old Law Courts that were part of the re-thought Robson Square complex. In the early 1970s a 50 storey 600 foot tower would have been on the site if the WAC Bennett Government plan had been followed. Instead Arthur Erickson designed the Dave Barrett NDP ‘tower on its back’ that we have today, completed in 1980. It’s still nearly 140 feet tall, and has 35 courtrooms on seven levels, but the most striking thing today is the integral landscaping that has vines trailing from every floor, and trees carefully sited in mounds and pits that create an entire elevated park through the complex, designed by Cornelia Oberlander.

900 Hornby east 2

Originally the 1,300,000 square foot complex cost $139 million. After thirty years of use it recently saw a multi-million dollar restoration that included replacement membranes and re-sealing the waterproofing throughout the buildings. The waterfall is running again as well, and all the planting was carefully removed and returned, or replanted so there’s still a mature 30-year old landscape. The double row of red maples that line the Hornby sidewalk (and flank the new bike lane) have done a bit of root damage to the sidewalk surface – but nothing like what would have happened in Erickson’s preferred Plane Trees had been planted.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W07.24 and CVA 779-W07.31