Archive for the ‘Fay Packer’ Tag

658 to 668 Alexander Street

All three of these buildings came to be used as brothels not long after they were built, but it’s possible that was not the initial intent for two of them. The 500 and 600 blocks of Alexander were chosen by the madams who ran the houses because it was away from Downtown, and close to the port. They thought the pressure that moved them in the late 1900s from Dupont (West Pender) to Shore Street (East Georgia) might let up if they were less obviously located, and some of them spent a lot of money to build their new business premises here.

On the left the two houses were both developed by the same owner, Mrs. A C Alter. The census said Albert and Addie Alter were living on Heatley Street in 1911, where Albert was a grocer. Addie was a year younger at 45 in 1911, and they were both from the USA, having arrived in Canada in 1908.

A year earlier Albert had been a grocer on Powell Street, and a year later he was also running a rooming house on the 600 block Powell Street, which were named the Alter Rooms. In 1912 Addie hired builder R V Pushaw to design and build 662 Alexander (the middle building) in February at a cost of $6,300, and then a month later 666 Alexander (on the left) for an additional $6,600. We don’t know if she was emulating her husband and building another rooming house, or whether the brothel use was always intended, but the Ladies moved in quite soon after. Mary Scott was running 666 by 1913, and Rhea Wilmore was at 662. Both knew the city well; Mary had been at 604 Alexander in 1912, and Rhea had run an establishment on Harris Street (East Georgia today), from 1908 to 1910. As there are apparently no birth, census or death records of anybody called Rhea Wilmore, she may well have assumed the name for professional purposes.

The authorities were still intent on pushing vice out of the area. In 1912 the Minister of the Kitsilano Presbyterian Church gave a sermon, published in the Vancouver Sun, that said “In a certain district of Vancouver, buildings are being rushed up in feverish haste, the construction of which plainly tells that they are to be devoted to vice and shame. Hundreds of lewd women are already established there.” The mayor, James Findlay, was initially willing to retain the red light district “I have given orders for the cleaning up of the town,” he said at a May 21 meeting. “This applies to rooming houses, blind pigs and Turkish baths, but not to Alexander Street. I say it without shame, gentlemen.” (Blind pigs were illicit drinking establishements).

The reformers continued their campaign, and the police responded. William Morrison (that’s his mugshot above) found out the hard way – receiving a 30 day prison sentence as a “frequenter of a house of ill fame” during a 1913 raid. He was hired by Mary Scott to play piano, and had clearly had an interesting 44 years; his booking noted two scars on his face and a bullet wound on his left leg.

By 1921 Mrs Alter still owned the rooming houses, so she no doubt had known what they were used for in the 1910s. The census that year tells us she was Adelaine Alter, and by then a widow, Albert having apparently died in late 1913 or early the next year. By 1916 only Fay Packer was still in the brothel business, Mrs. Alter’s buildings were vacant. Fay had built the $15,000 apartments at 658 Alexander in 1913, hiring E Evans to design the building. As she arrived after the 1911 census, and left before the next one, we don’t know anything about Fay. She may have been the former New York actress who was living in Reno, Nevada in 1910 when she had two female lodgers, both aged 25. That Fay was 28, and originally from Ireland. That year the Salt Lake Herald Tribune reported the loss of $6,000 of diamonds, jewels and cash. “The robbery was the cleverest and most successful ever perpetrated in Nevada and no trace has yet been found by the officers who have been working on the case since it was reported Miss Packers room was entered from the rear and her belongings ransacked Miss Packer has offered a reward of $1000 for the arrest of the guilty parties” In 1913 she sold her liquor licence in Reno, suggesting she might have moved away.

By 1918 almost all the ladies had left the street; Fay was gone, but the middle building was occupied; it had been re-used as the Fuji Steam Laundry. In 1928 the business was sold, and the BC Government Gazette published the details. “To purchase, take over, or otherwise acquire as a going concern the power laundry business now carried on at number 662 Alexander Street, in the City of Vancouver, in the Province of British Columbia, by Genjiro Kubota under the names of “Alexander Steam Laundry” and “Fuji Laundry” “To carry on the business of a steam and general laundry, and too wash, clean, purify, scour, bleach, wring, dry, iron, colour, dye, disinfect, renovate, and prepare for use all articles of wearing-apparel, household, domestic, and other linen, and cotton and woollen goods and clothing, and fabrics of all kinds, and to buy, sell, hire, manufacture, repair, let on hire, alter, improve, treat, and deal in all apparatus, machines, materials, and articles of all kinds which are capable of being used for any such purposes”

The industrial use ceased after the 1950s and the three buildings became low cost rental units. In our 1978 image they were the Ocean Rooms, Alex Rooms and Rose Apartments. The properties had low values, and the area continued to be sketchy. In 2014 Fay Packer’s building was seized by the BC Government’s Civil Forfeiture Office, although the owner was never charged with any offences. The building was being used by four men who were running a drug ring out of the single-room occupancy hotel. They were arrested and charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking. Charges were not laid against the building manager or the owner, but the Provincial authorities argued that they “ought to have known that what was going on was criminal activity.” so the building was seized, and then sold by the Province for $820,000.

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Posted 11 June 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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