Archive for the ‘BC Electric Company’ Tag

13 – 23 West Pender Street

These buildings were constructed some time before 1900 (for the building on the right) and in the early 1900s (on the left). This image from the 1910s is pretty much all we have as a record of the early buildings on this part of Pender Street. Tracing them isn’t easy using the street directories, as the numbering here was very odd at the turn of the century. The building with the clear ’13’ was numbered as 47 on the 1901 Insurance Map; in the picture it was Bow On Tong’s store. The doorway in the middle that presumably led upstairs was number 15 in this image, a Chop Suey restaurant, and the store to the left was Kwong Wing’s barber shop. In the next building number 19 was the home of Canadian Scharlin Bros, wholesalers of ‘gloves, underwear, sox, shirts, caps, sweaters, braces and toilet requisites’. At 23 was Yucho Chow’s Photo Supply House.

The combination of businesses helps narrow down the date of the image. In 1919 that was the list of businesses here; (a year earlier there was a tailor occupying the vacant unit). The restaurant would have been Ton Wah Law. In 1922 the whole of Scharlin’s stock was sold off by the Army & Navy store, following their closure. They were presumably called Canadian Scharlin Bros to avoid confusion with a San Francisco business with the same name, although the two were probably connected. German born John Scharlin ran a San Francisco dry goods business with his eldest three sons, Nate, Jacob and Abe. When the Scharlin Brothers business first opened in 1914 in Vancouver, Nathaniel Scharlin was listed as managing director, living initially at the Grosvenor Hotel. In subsequent years he was listed as Nat.

It seems likely that he was the same Nathan Scharlin, of Scharlin Bros, San Francisco, who spent time in 1911 locked up in Hawaii for smuggling 110 tins of opium, for which he was convicted and paid a fine. At the time the brothers were described as running a store and import-export business, and Nathan visited Hawaii to supposedly import a line of men’s clothing. They were arrested again for a rum smuggling operation in 1923, and they received further press attention when Abe Scharlin was kidnapped by the Chicago mob in New York and held for $400,000 ransom in 1927. The police heard about the kidnapping, and kept negotiations going (with the ransom reduced to $20,000), while two of the kidnappers were identified. One was shot in Central Park by a motorcycle policeman, and the other arrested. Abe was released without the ransom being paid a short while later.

Yucho Chow was the most prominent Chinese photographer in the city. He came to Vancouver around 1908, worked as a houseboy, and then as an assistant to a photographer before striking out on his own. He photographed every aspect of Chinatown life, from new born babies, weddings, family groups through to the recently deceased, (to return to China with any money that might be left). His studio moved several times, and he photographed members of the Punjabi and Japanese communities, as well as Chinese Canadians. His equipment case is now in the Museum of Vancouver, and there’s currentl a Chinatown History Project panel next to the Chinese Cultural Centre on West Pender.

Kwong Wo Lung’s grocery had been in the city (at 13 W Pender) for many years; they were one of the businesses that received compensation after the 1908 anti-Asiatic riot. By 1919 they had moved a couple of blocks east, replaced by Bow On Tong Co, a tobacconist.

From the building permits for repairs, it looks as if the western building was owned by BC Electric. A building permit in 1912 show J W Vickers building a $6,000 alteration to the building, listed as owned by BC Electric. Two years later J G Price designed $800 of alterations to the eastern building for Lew, Chong & Company. Other permits were issued to Wong Leong and Long Wing, but it’s impossible to tell who was owner, and who was a tenant carrying out alterations, although it’s clear that these buildings were undoubtedly part of Chinatown. We’re not sure how long the western building lasted. By the 1950s BC Electric had their carpenter’s shop here, but we’ve been unable to trace any images of this block after this picture until the 1970s, when the site was cleared. It’s possible that the carpenter’s shop was in the old buildings.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 789-46



Posted 4 June 2018 by ChangingCity in East End, Gone

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BC Hydro Building – Burrard Street


Today it’s called The Electra, and it’s a mix of condo residential and commercial units. It was converted from an office building in 1995, and had to have a new skin as offices generally don’t have opening windows, but that’s a requirement for residential space. The building was completed in 1957 as BC Electric’s new headquarters. The office was stunning in its setting when it was developed; over 20 storeys, every window lit up every night, surrounded by low-rise commercial buildings and decades old wooden houses. Built by John Laing, it was designed by Ned Pratt with Ron Thom of Thompson, Berwick, Pratt, and the flattened lozenge shape was a result of the client’s requirement that desks should be no more than 15 feet from a window, for natural light as well as the view.

Leslie Sheraton’s picture was shot in 1958, when the buildings on Burrard Street included a car dealership; Sherwood Motors, offering Willys 4-wheel-drive and jeep, as well as English Rover, Humber, Nash and Hillman cars. There was also a White Spot, still owned at the time by Nat Bailey, and offering the latest innovation – ‘Take Home Chicken Dinners – just Heat and Serve”.

Artist B.C. Binning’s blue, green and black mosaic tiles were an integral part of the building’s design, and were carefully preserved when the conversion to residential and office condos was carried out, designed by Paul Merrick Architects. During that conversion the Hornby Street side of the building was given a far more animated façade.

Todat Peter Busby’s Wall Centre tower is much taller, behind the Electra from this angle, and Electric Avenue is in front, a 456 unit condo building designed by Rafii architects and completed in 2005. The complex also has a multi-screen Cineplex movie theatre and retail stores (mostly restaurants). The White Spot was replaced in 1983 with a 71 unit condo building designed by Eng and Wright. Tucked in behind the street trees, the two storey 1938 car dealership is still there, repurposed as a Denny’s restaurant and retail uses decades ago.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 2008-022.045


Hornby Street – 900 block (2)

900 Hornby west

This 1981 corner shot is from a comprehensive survey of the city taken that year of almost all the Downtown streets. It shows the corner of Nelson Street with Hornby, and the massive bulwark base that was covered in mosaic tile, with the tower of the BC Electric Company’s headquarters rising above. Today the tower is still there, but it looks quite a bit different, The original 1957 tower was designed by Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners and was the first significantly tall building south of Georgia Street. Ned Pratt was the lead architect, but Ron Thom, who had apprenticed with the company, also played a significant role and was made a partner on the building’s completion. The narrow tapered design allowed every desk to be no more than 15 feet from a window, and the blue, green and black mosaic tile patterns were designed by artist B.C. Binning. The original curtain wall of porcelain coated metal panels covered an innovative structural system of cantilevered floors supported by a central service core with slender external supports.

If the design had a flaw, it was the street frontage to Hornby which was definitely ‘back of house’. In the early 1990s the company moved on to a new headquarters, and by 1995 it had taken on a new role. The frame was stripped and re-clad (with a residential code glazing system that also allowed more light into the units, and opening windows). There are 242 residential condo units, and 100 office units. Paul Merrick Architects designed the conversion, called The Electra, and they managed to redesign the Hornby frontage, and the corner, to introduce retail units and liven up the previously dead frontage.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W07.21