Archive for the ‘H H Gillingham’ Tag

Granville Street – 800 block, east side (2)

We saw another view of this block of Granville in an earlier post. This 1967 image misses the corner with Robson, but shows the Art Deco entrance to the Capitol Theatre – a cinema – that was first opened in 1921 and given several new lives (and entrances) before closing in 2005. The facade on Granville led to a ramp, and staircases, leading up to a bridge over the lane behind; the cinema was actually on Seymour Street. We can’t pin down the installation date of the art deco facade seen here – the latest we’ve found of the original 1921 facade is 1937, and the earliest image of this one is 1943. There was another by the early 1980s, and after the cinema was redeveloped there’s now a double-height glazed retail store in that spot.

Down the street is the Commodore Ballroom, developed by ‘Vested Estates’, a company founded in 1924, and mysteriously described in 1929 as ‘a syndicate whose identity is not disclosed’. In 1928 their name started appearing in the press for their property purchases, and then development activity. By mid 1929 they had acquired at least 14 lots on Granville Street, and had commenced construction at 840 Granville of a 25 foot wide building costing $17,500, designed by architect H H Gillingham. As leases came due they closed the adjacent businesses down, and in early 1930 announced a $100,000 block to add another 125 feet to the south of their 840 Granville building. The facade of the recently completed building was to be altered to match the new building, which would have eight store fronts, a second floor cabaret club, and a bowling alley in the basement, costing $100,000 to build. By December it was complete, and took the name of a cafe demolished for the construction, The Commodore.

The site acquisition took a while, and after demolition had commenced, in January 1930, the premises formerly occupied by Vancouver Oster and Fish Co, and the Novelty Cloak and Suit Co caught fire. The owners of the fishmongers, George Canary and George Zerbinos had given up their lease early, in exchange for a promise of a lease at 837 Granville, another Vested Estates property. However, the lease was never issued, and they sued for nearly $10,000 in damages. At this point the owners were revealed; Harry F Reifel was identified as Vested Estates’ president, and W F Brouham the company’s lawyer. In court, he declined to answer questions about the business, but was required to do so by the judge. The case was dismissed, (and subsequently appealed).

Harry’s father, Henry Reifel, and his brothers Conrad and Jack had come from Germany and established a number of breweries, (not all immediately successful). By the early 1920s they had a range of interests in alcohol production; breweries as well as distilleries, based in BC. They had weathered the relatively short-lived prohibition in the province and the new restrictions in the US offered new business opportunities.

Faced with new significant payments that each Canadian liquor exporter had to pay, they helped organise Consolidated Exporters, to pay a single fee covering almost all the Canadian rival operators. They shipped locally produced and imported beer, wine and spirits past the US, with paperwork showing Mexican and South American destinations. There were a variety of freighters heading from Vancouver and Victoria, and they often returned empty without ever actually reaching their destinations (although the ship’s paperwork often told a different story). Instead the freighters would hold station outside US waters, with their cargo transferred to smaller, faster boats that could outrun the US coastguard ships. Often those were based in the US, but some were also owned by the Reifels.

Consolidated owned a number of ships, but the Reifels also owned two different shipping businesses, Northern Freighters and Atlantic and the Pacific Navigation Company. Their City of San Diego was probably the first ‘mother ship’ to set off southwards, in 1922, and they continued running alcohol south, supplying the US, through to 1933. They were careful to pay all the duties on exports that the Canadian government levied, but their profits were massive. In only a few years the owners of Vested Estates had an excess of cash – (much of it no doubt untraceable). Henry’s sons, Harry and George each built grand mansions, Casa Mia and Rio Vista and in 14 months in 1928 and 1929 spent at least $1,115,000 on buildings on Granville Street.

By 1931 the company had assembled 19 lots between Robson and Nelson, and their assessment for taxes jumped from $944,150 to $1,141,300 – a situation they appealed. They lost – and were accused of having created the increase in value because they over-paid for the properties in question.

Another contemporary family of developers has been acquiring sites on Granville Street, including most of this block. They are proposing a massive 17 storey office building, retaining the older facades, and bridging the Commodore Ballroom in its existing form. City Council have yet to decide what they think of the idea.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-51



Posted 16 February 2023 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

Tagged with , ,

Commodore Ballroom – Granville Street

The Commodore Ballroom has been around for 90 years, and looks pretty much the same as it did when it opened. Here it is in 1967, before there were any residential towers on Seymour Street popping up over the roofline. The building was designed by H H Gillingham in a contemporary art deco style for developer Vested Estates, run by Harry and George Reifel. When it was built it had a sprung dancefloor with horsehair lining, that supposedly absorbed some of the impact of dancers’ feet.

It opened as the Commodore Cabaret, and then the Commodore Ballroom in 1930. Over the years thousands of acts have performed here, which has capacity for just under 1,000 patrons. The list of well-known bands who haven’t played the venue is probably shorter than the list of those who have. In its early days there was a resident swing band, led by Charlie Pawlett, who broadcast on CJOR Radio. The venue, like all the others in the city, couldn’t sell liquor. Patrons brought their own, carefully hidden whenever the band struck up ‘Roll Out the Barrel’ to indicate a visit from the authorities. That was appropriate behaviour for a venue funded by a well-known rum-runner.

Henry Reifel was president of Brewers and Distillers Ltd, owning Vancouver Breweries and the B.C. Distillery, and his sons, George and his brother Harry, worked for the organisation as well. During the 1920s when US prohibition was in place, their export operation was huge; they owned several ships capable of carrying thousands of cases of liquor. The ship’s papers would indicate the exports were heading to a port in Central America, but the ships would actually anchor in international waters off the US and be met by a fleet of much smaller fast delivery motorboats who would deliver the booze ashore, often at night. In 1934, after prohibition had ended, US Authorities sued Henry Reifel and his son George for smuggling $10m of alcohol and avoiding an additional $7.25m of duty. The press reporting the case said “At least one (of the boats) was equipped to throw out a smoke screen to shield speedboats, which ran illicit cargoes ashore. The complaint charged the fleet was directed by wireless from British Columbia.” The case was dropped in 1935 after they agreed to pay a $500,000 fine and forfeit the $200,000 bail they had to put up to get back to Canada.

George and his brother Harry built two of Vancouver’s landmark mansions, Casa Mia and Rio Vista, as well as the Commodore and the Vogue Theatre. Today the Commodore is run by Live Nation, but the building is now owned by local investors and developers Bonnis Brothers, who have recently replaced the storefronts and awnings to a simpler and consistent design. Under previous ownership the ballroom closed for renovations in 1996, and reopened in 1999 after extensive structural repairs and with a new hardwood floor. In the basement, the Commodore Lanes has one of the city’s few remaining bowling alleys.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-51


Posted 7 December 2020 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

Tagged with ,

Capitol Theatre – Granville Street (2)

We saw an earlier version of the Capitol on Granville Street in a post we wrote several years ago. Here it is in a different iteration with a later façade, with the Capitol Theatre still pulling in the patrons. They were watching ‘Wait until Dark’ starring Audrey Hepburn as a young blind woman, Alan Arkin as a violent criminal searching for some drugs, and Richard Crenna as another criminal, based on a play first performed a year earlier on Broadway (in 1966).

We’re not sure what ‘Prince Eugene’ sold, in the somewhat rundown 1940s looking building next door, with Basic Fashions as its neighbour, and we don’t know the name of the business to the south, although it looks to have been another clothing store. To the south of those was a building still standing today (and recently looking even better with new less prominent retail canopies). This is the Commodore Ballroom, originally developed by the Reifel family’s Vested Estates and designed by architect H H Gillingham, opening in 1930. In the basement was, and still is, the Commodore Bowling Lanes. There were always retail stores underneath the ballroom facing Granville, and they have changed on a regular basis. In 1967 we can see Canada’s largest shoe retailers, Agnew-Surpass, a business that finally closed in 2000 (although gone from here earlier). The Meyers Studios were next door, a photo studio specializing in portraits, while Dean’s Roast Chix, under the red awning, was presumably a restaurant.

The Capitol was closed and redeveloped in 2006, and the link across the lane removed. A new series of double-height retail units were developed to replace the theatre entrance and adjacent buildings, designed by Studio One Architects.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-50


Posted 3 December 2018 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

Tagged with

West Georgia and Seymour – se corner (2)

Seymour & Georgia se

Georgia & Seymour SE 1937 VPLBC Telephone Georgia & Seymour 1927 VPLThis set of 1920s stores sat on the corner of Georgia and Seymour until the mid 1970s. The first appearance in a street directory is 1928, when the Georgia units were first occupied by: 550 Grouse Mtn Highway, 556 Van the Tailor, 560 Waverly Barber Shop, 570 Surety Finance, 580 Sandwich Shop, 590 Goodyear Shoe Reprg and 596 Van Publicity Bureau. This image dates from 1973, not too long before the buildings were cleared. There are very few online sources of information for the 1920s for the city, and it is difficult to identify architects unless there’s a distinctive style.

Like the car dealers on West Georgia and the Film Centre on Burrard (by H H Gillingham) this building added mission-style details to the facades. Thanks to Patrick Gunn we’re now able to confirm that Gillingham was the architect for owners Allen & Boultbee, and the cost was $45,000. The insurance map shows that the retail units, and the Publicity Office on the corner were a thin veneer with most of the block taken up with the Strand Garage at the back of the building. These 1927 and 1937 Vancouver Public Library image shows that the building really didn’t change much before it was replaced with the building below.

700 Seymour east

We looked at this same corner in an earlier post where an even earlier building than those shown here are featured. Before the 1920s building there was a row of tenements, built around 1901 and owned in 1915 by George Trorey. In the mid 1970s (see here in 1981) there was a new low-rise commercial building added as part of the huge BC Tel Seymour building, with a sunken plaza and a White Spot restaurant. That building, designed by McCarter, Nairne and Partners, was demolished in 2012 for the new Telus Garden office building that has just been completed. The White Spot has been replaced with Glowbal, a partly open air restaurant under a huge and complex canopy designed by Henriquez Partners Architects (whose offices will also be here). Lovers of ‘pirate packs’ will be pleased to note that in the meantime White Spot opened two new locations nearby.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-366 and CVA 779-E05.36


Posted 5 November 2015 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

Tagged with ,

1216 Burrard Street

1216 Burrard

In the very early 1900s C F Mills, and two years later Mills and Williamson, obtained permits for a pair of houses on the corner of Burrard and Davie, which were clearly shown on the 1912 insurance maps. Mrs Alice Lyon built a house in 1901 on the third lot south at 1212 Burrard.

Over time Burrard Street shifted from a quiet tree-lined residential street to part of the Downtown’s commercial area. This corner was redeveloped around 1928 to reflect the city’s expanding connections to the movie industry. The Vancouver Public Library title for this image says it was the Vancouver Motion Pictures Ltd.  That company was incorporated in 1928 by R.E. Bourne, Charles McKenzie and Harry Rosenbaum. It was operated by Leon Shelly of Shelly Films Ltd. and an important early independent production company of documentary industrial films. Some films were produced on contract for the National Film Board of Canada.

However, there were a whole series of other movie companies based in the building – a virtual who’s who of movie making. Canadian Educational Films, Limited, Canadian Universal Film Company, Famous-Lasky Film Service, Limited and F.B.O. Pictures Corporation of Canada, Limited were all listed here, as well as Regal Films Ltd, Warner Bros Pictures, RKO Distribution Corp of Canada, Fox Film Corporation and United Artists.

We recently discovered the architect of this building – like many in the late twenties and early 1930s it had design references to Mission revival style – even more popular (and appropriate) in California. It was designed by H H Gillingham, an English-born architect who is better known as the architect of the Commodore Ballroom on Granville Street. We haven’t identified the architect of the 1978 office building that replaced it. Sold in 2009 for $19m to Hong Kong World Holdings, the building is full of doctors and dentists with increasingly hi-tech gadgetry that added together might be worth more than the building.


Posted 14 August 2014 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

Tagged with