Archive for the ‘B B Johnston’ Tag

5 and 11 West Hastings Street

We looked at the history of both these buildings in earlier posts, but we’re revisiting as both have seen more recent restoration, and we’ve researched the buildings a little more. On the right, the Canadian North Star (as it was last known) at 5 West Hastings is slightly younger than the Beacon Hotel to the west. We know that from an image we saw in an earlier post about the Palace Hotel, that pre-dated the Merchant’s Bank built in 1912, and recently restored. This Vancouver Public Library dates from 1920.

The image on that post (on the right) dates from 1899 and shows a two storey wooden building where the North Star was constructed. The Beacon, on the other hand had already been built, as a 3-storey building. That supported our earlier conclusion that when the 1899 news reported that “G W Grant would supervise the construction of a four storey block for B.B. Johnston & Co”, this was the building in question. In 1913, it was called “Drexel Rooms”, a name it kept until the 1980s, then later renamed the North Star Hotel or North Star Rooms, a single room occupancy hotel. In 1978 the Province newspaper investigated conditions in the Downtown Eastside SROs. “The owners of the Drexel are very energy conscious. The lights in the halls are left off. Manager Lau Mack King turned them on the other day because he thought the visitor from The Province represented the provincial government.”

In 1999 the Carnegie Newsletter reported the building had been closed for maintenance and health violations. “Although there are at least 29 units in this hotel, few were rented out monthly and many were just plain unrentable. There were so many orders for repairs that it was impossible to count them all.” It was briefly squatted in 2006 in a protest about the lack of affordable housing, but was already in a dangerous condition. Soon after the back of the building collapsed, leaving the structure open to the elements.

In 2014 the Solterra Group applied for permission to renovate the building to provide 31 self-contained units, each with a bathroom and cooking facilities. Half the rooms are reserved for low-income residents (5 for tenants paying welfare rate) and another 13 rooms at the provincial rent supplement rate, locked in for 30 years

Harry Jones was almost certainly the developer of the Beacon Hotel, probably around 1898. His name is in the 1900 Street Directory as occupying the West Hastings Street building, and he was still paying for repairs as owner in 1922. Harry was from Liverpool, and was an early successful real estate developer. We don’t know when the fourth floor was added; he carried out $1,500 of work to a building on Hastings Street in 1905, but he owned several properties, so we can’t be sure which was involved, and the work probably cost more than that. The style adopted for the addition didn’t attempt to follow the Italianate curved windows of the third floor, but added larger areas of glazing. Initially the rooms upstairs were the Ramona Rooms, then the Pacific Rooms, and more recently (and notoriously), Backpackers Inn, “BC’s worst drug hotel”

The Beacon was one of a number of run down SRO hotels bought by BC Housing in the early 2000s, and has had two periods of restoration. Now run by PHS, it initially reopened in 2009 as a social housing building for individuals living with concurrent disorders. An array of programs are available to residents including regular community kitchen events, pancake breakfasts, and movie nights. The Beacon closed for renovations in August of 2014, and reopened again in September 2016.

Image sources: VPL and City of Vancouver Archives CVA 677-27



Posted 6 April 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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5 West Hastings Street

5 W Hastings 1920

The fancy stone clad building at the corner of Carrall Street and West Hastings Street today has been there just over 100 years – the Merchants Bank was built in 1912. The red brick building next door pre-dates it. The official records say it’s from around 1904. There’s a photograph with a suggested date of 1898, with the edge of the four storey building at 5 West Hastings just showing, but Street Directory records suggest that is a bit too early.

We think this is a building designed in 1899 and completed some time during 1900. And we believe we may have identified who built it, and designed it. In January 1899 The Province newspaper announced that on Hastings Street, near Carrall Street, G W Grant would supervise the construction of a four storey block for B.B. Johnston & Co. There are insurance maps published by Charles Goad and Co available for Vancouver in 1901, and they identify the number of floors for every structure. Checking those maps, there are no other buildings shown at four storeys on Hastings Street on either side of Carrall Street – just this one. While today the building to the west is 4 storeys, it started life as a 3 storey building, and we have a photograph of it to confirm that. Although not immediately obvious as a G W Grant design, looking at the Ormidale Block which is also on Hastings, designed by Grant a year later, it’s possible to see a number of similar design elements and almost identical brick and terra-cotta detail.

We’ve recently identified Mr Johnston as the co-developer of a building lost to the construction of the Pacific Centre Mall. Here’s an early description of his life. “Mr. B. B. Johnston is a native of Toronto, where he received his early education in the schools of his native city. After leaving school he entered the mercantile agency office and subsequently published The Mercantile Agency for the city and country. This he conducted successfully until 1881, when he removed to Emerson, Manitoba, and engaged in real estate. Here he was very successful in his operations and accumulated considerable wealth. He took a prominent part in the upbuilding of the gateway city, was a member of the council, serving one term and declining a re-nomination and was also Justice of the Peace for the Province of Manitoba up to the time of his departure for Vancouver, in 1889.

Upon his arrival here he engaged in the real estate and commission business operating alone until December, when he formed the present partnership with Mr. Douglas. Mr. Johnston is a Notary Public for the Province of British Columbia. The firm soon forged to the front and are to-day amongst the heaviest dealers in real estate in Vancouver. They do a general real estate business, buy and sell property, rent houses and negotiate loans on real estate securities for residents and non residents in England, Eastern Canada and the United States. The firm controls and has the exclusive sale of some of the most desirable property in the city and vicinity and controls the sale of several valuable additions and sub-divisions notable among which are Sub-divisions 628 and 629 on Mount Pleasant, beautifully located, bounded on the east by Westminster Avenue and on the west by Ontario Street. Although progressive they are alike conservative in their transactions, and all business placed with them receives prompt attention, and the most careful supervision is given to all negotiations and transactions of landed interests.”

5 West Hastings was first occupied as a lodging house around 1900 with Mary Gowdy in charge. She was aged 45 in the 1901 census, was head of the household, had four children at home aged 17 to 26 and seven boarders (including a 15 year old and a couple in their 30s, Nora and Samuel Woods – apparently he was American and a hairdresser). She was born in BC in 1856 but we haven’t managed to trace her in the 1891 or 1881 census records. In 1905 Mrs Caroline Tyler is running the rooms; in 1907 W R Carpenter took over, Mrs Ellen Bullock in 1910 and Lydia Smith in 1912.

A year later it became the Drexel Rooms, which it remained into the 1980s – so that was what it was known as in 1920 when our VPL image was taken. We think the owner then was Harry Jones, who also developed the adjacent Beacon Hotel. He carried out repairs to both 7 and 9 West Hastings in the late 1910s and early 1920s.

More recently it became a Single Room Occupancy hotel called the North Star Rooms, although it has been empty for many years (closed in 1999 for repeated code violations) except for a brief period when it was squatted in 2006.


Posted 17 January 2013 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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Johnston-Howe Block – West Georgia and Granville (2)

Johnston-Howe Block 1928

We’ve already seen this building from a different angle, but here it is again on the Georgia side in this VPL image from 1928. The tenants included the Duffus School of Business (run by Henry Duffus who started the business in 1913, and eventually retired in 1972) in office space upstairs. Betty’s Hat Shop was next door to Romer’s Gown Shop and the New York Fur Company, with the Packard Cab Co and Thomas Cook and Sons.

Today there’s a retail frontage that forms part of the Pacific Centre Mall, with a dark bronze office tower above.


Posted 13 January 2013 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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Johnston-Howe Block – West Georgia and Granville (1)

Granville & Georgia 1970

We’re on the north-west corner of Georgia and Granville, and the Johnston-Howe block stood here for over 70 years until it was replaced with one of the dark towers of the Pacific Centre Mall in 1972. It was completed in 1900 on the site of the CPR’s park (across the street from the first Hotel Vancouver) Our 1970 image was shot pretty much at the end of the building’s existence. There’s another view of the buildings in an earlier post

There was always a pharmacy in the building – when it first opened J R Seymour, druggist operated there; in the 1920s Darling’s Pharmacy was on the northern end of the Granville side, and when it closed London Drugs were occupying the corner. In the 1920’s the corner store was a ‘Don’t Argue’ (Don’t argue: Con Jones sells fresh tobacco).

We know (from the water hookup) that G W Grant designed the building, and in 1914 S L Howe hired Grant, Henderson and Cook to design repairs for 693 Granville. Grant had remodelled the Lord Strathcona block nearby a couple of years earlier. Johnston was Benjamin B Johnston, a real estate promoter who was in partnership with Howe, and had developed his office building on Hastings Street, designed by G W Grant in 1899. Johnston was born in Toronto, where he initially published ‘The Mercantile Agency’ before moving to Emerson, Manitoba and starting a career in real estate from 1881 to 1889. In Vancouver he partnered with Charles S Douglas. Their firm was described in 1891 as “amongst the heaviest dealers in real estate in Vancouver. They do a general real estate business, buy and sell property, rent houses and negotiate loans on real estate securities for residents and non residents in England, Eastern Canada and the United States“. He was living in New Westminster in 1891, and in Vancouver in 1901 with his wife Emily and children Edna, Norquay, twins Douglas and Sholto and his 88 year-old father, James.

Together in 1902 Johnston and Howe promoted the remote, undeveloped widerness of Kitimat as “the coming northern metropolis of Canada.” The lots soon sold for significantly more than they cost to acquire, and Johnston and Howe’s advertisments claimed “Steamships running from Kitimat will have the shortest and most direct route to the Orient, whose millions of consumers are to be the customers of the products from Canada’s vast resources”. Unfortunately for Kitimat the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway instead headed to the water by buying land at $1 an acre and created Prince Rupert. By then Johnston and Howe no longer had to worry – they had made their money already.

S L Howe was Samuel Lyness Howe, an Ontario-born businessman who lived on Nelson Street in 1911 with his family and two domestic servants. He later entered provincial politics as a Conservative and was Provincial Secretary in 1930. Initially the building stood quite isolated – although the Hudson’s Bay store was on the other side of Granville.

Granville & Georgia 1900s CVA Str P76

Mr Seymour recalled the early days of the building in a conversation with City Archivist Major Matthews. “I paid him seventy-five dollars a month rent for the first year, gradually rising to ninety dollars for the last year, 1904. My first drug store was on the corner of Seymour Street and Hastings, my second as above, exactly the same store as now, the Georgia Pharmacy. I sold both my stores in 1904 to Messrs. McDowell, Atkins and Watson, at that time the big drug firm of Vancouver, for $25,000. Of course, there was not much business at Georgia and Granville in 1900, when I first went there. There were plenty of vacant lots on Granville Street between Robson and the C.P.R. Depot.”

The proprietor of the Georgia Pharmacy thought that Mr Howe had sold the building in 1928 (before the stock exchange crash) for $825,000. Mr Howe had some expensive hobbies: in 1910 he won second prize at the Portland Horse Show (the one in Oregon) for his pair of geldings over 15 hands, Brigham Pearl and Highland Laddie. His daughter also won a prize at the same show, so the entire family, and horses, must have made the trip south.

These days an office known as 701 West Georgia, part of the Pacific Centre Mall, sits on the site. The shorter cousin of the TD Tower, it was known as the IBM Tower for twenty years.

Image source – second photo, City of Vancouver Archives Str P76


Posted 5 January 2013 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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