Archive for the ‘Con Jones’ Tag

20 East Hastings Street

Some of the buildings in this stretch of the Downtown Eastside are in a bad way, but few buildings show the decline of the neighbourhood in recent years more than 20 East Hastings. Built in 1911, it started life as retail stores and a billiard hall. More recently it was home to one of the city’s best pieces of neon art, for the Only Seafoods restaurant. If the owners had sold ‘only seafoods’ they would have been fine, but the restaurant was closed in 2009 with the health inspectors forcing the closure when the trafficking of drugs from the premises were deemed a health hazard.

At that point it was said to be the city’s longest surviving restaurant in the same location. It changed very little over the years with the original ornamental tin ceiling and a full-length wall mirror. There were seventeen chrome button swivel chair-stools and two tiny booths at the back, so only 25 people could pack in. The restaurant was cash only and patrons were given a rude awakening if they were too drunk to sit up. (The area hasn’t changed that much over the decades – just the nature of the substances available).

When it opened, there was the Mexican Jewelry Palace and John Bogress, a boot black on the main floor, and the Brunswick Pool Rooms (which immediately closed down for a while). L W Sauter took over the jewelry store in 1915. A year later it became a restaurant; the Vancouver Oyster Saloon. In 1918 it was bought by Greek brothers Nick and Gustave Thodos, (although the 1918 street directory thought he was Gustave Tohodar, and for many years they were listed as Thodas). Although born in Greece, in 1910 the family were living in Shasta in California. Although it’s said that the restaurant was ‘immediately’ christened ‘The Only’ , the name ‘Only Fish and Oyster’ doesn’t appear in street directories until 1924.

That year City Council moved in next door. They converted The Holden Block (to the west) into a new City Hall, and continued to occupy the premises until 1936.

The $27,000 building was designed by H A Hodgson for Con Jones, who initially leased the shops out, although he also ran the billiards hall. Jones was an Australian; an ex-bookie who was successful in Vancouver in the tobacco trade. He carried out repairs several times over the years; he was still owner in 1925. He had another billiard room on West Hastings in 1921.

We have a 1936 picture of the building with a tobacco shop that had opened in 1930. Con Jones had a seizure while watching a soccer game in 1929 at the sports facility he developed; Con Jones Park. He died five days later, aged 59, leaving a wife and five children. His tobacco business was run under the slogan ‘Don’t Argue’ – completed by the often missed text, ‘Con Jones sells fresh tobacco’. A year after his death the business added a store here, next to The Only – which was now so well known that it appeared in the street directory as ‘Only, (The)’ The Thodos brothers made their modest premises the go-to for fish; especially clam chowder. The arrangement with the Fishing Co-op that they’d only ever receive fresh caught products ensured their food was better than any other restaurant, even after they ceased to be the only fish restaurant in town.

In 1950 Constantine Thodos, known as Tyke, took over from his father. The ‘Don’t Argue sign was replaced with a huge neon sign commissioned from Neon Products. The seahorse (which was never on the menu) had a tail that curved the wrong way, and at night the eye glowed an alarming red, but despite the steady loss of importance for the area, the restaurant still did well for many years. (Our main picture shows the building in 1985). The family decided to quit in the late 1990s, and it looked like it would close, but waitress Mary Wong took over and continued for over a decade, although the continued decline of the area made things difficult. The presence of dangerous drugs beneath the till was the last straw. The sign was removed a year later – either to safe keeping with Neon Products, or to new owners who planned to reopen the cafe one day. A decade later the increasingly derelict building shows no sign of renewal.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 790-1902 and Bu P56 (detail)

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Posted 17 September 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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