Archive for the ‘Michael O’Keefe’ Tag

East Hastings Street – west from Columbia

We saw a 1905 image down the middle of this stretch of East Hastings in an earlier post. Until the mid 1900s there was very little built on the south side of the street. Here we are looking at a similar view a few years later, showing the south side. The Holden Building is the large office building – a tower in its day – completed in 1911. Next door is the significantly smaller Desrosiers Block, which was one of the few buildings in the earlier post as it was built before 1901. At the end is the Woods Hotel, today known as the Pennsylvania. It was built in 1906 and designed by W T Whiteway who also designed the Holden for William Holden. The Desrosiers Block was developed by Magloire Desrosiers, a tinsmith, who would have designed the elaborate decoration on the building (which recently received a much-needed restoration of its facade), but the architect is unknown.

Closer to us there’s a vacant site next to the Holden. That was developed at the end of 1911 by Con Jones as a billiard hall, with retail below, designed by H A Hodgson. The image therefore must date from the early part of 1911, when the Holden was complete, but before the vacant spot was developed. The lower floor of the building later became famous as The Only Seafoods restaurant.

The 2-storey building to the east was built after 1903, (when the insurance map shows the site as vacant) and before 1911, when it had been developed. There’s a 1904 building permit for the building. It was developed by Yip, Yen C and designed and built by Mr. O’Keefe. Michael O’Keefe was a Victoria based builder, who was more than capable of designing straightforward brick buildings, and Charlie Yip Yen was the nephew of Yip Sang, who ran the Wing Sang Company. The 1920 insurance map still shows a 2-storey building with ‘rooms over’ and a Chinese laundry on the lane.

Next door, the single storey building (with a hoarding on the roof for William Dick’s clothing store) was developed in a similar timeframe, and in 1920 was another billiards hall. It was built in 1910, designed by Sharp & Thompson for Brown Bros & Co, who also constructed the $7,000 investment. They were florists and nurserymen, and they developed this as their city store. Their greenhouses were at Main and 21st Avenue. There were four Browns involved in the business, William, Edward (who was company treasurer), Alfred (who was a florist, and lived near the greenhouses) and Joseph, who lived in Hammond. Today the site once occupied by Yip Yen’s building and the single storey billiard hall were replaced twenty years ago with a non-market housing building called The Oasis, with 30 units designed by Linda Baker for the Provincial Rental Housing Corporation (known today as BC Housing).

Across Carrall Street the original car barn for the Interurban has been demolished, but the new building, still standing today, which included the headquarters for BC Electric on the upper floors had yet to be built. Designed by W M Somervell it was completed in 1911. As the Holden Building was completed in the same year, this confirms the picture should be from early in 1911 when the Holden was complete, and the new BC Electric Headquarters was under construction, but not yet visible.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA M-11-52

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Posted 3 December 2020 by ChangingCity in Altered

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Canton Alley

This narrow Chinatown alley was, on some maps, Canton Street. It ran south from West Pender, which is where the buildings in the pictures are addressed to. We’ve seen the 1912 building (designed by J G Price) that fronted Pender until 1948, but this is an earlier building. The 2-storey building was developed by the Wing Sang Company in 1903, cost $10,000 and was designed by ‘Mr. O’Keefe’. Michael O’Keefe wasn’t really an architect, he was mostly a builder, but he was willing to design buildings for Chinese owners to build themselves. He didn’t even live in Vancouver; the only likely M O’Keefe we’ve found was a carpenter, and later a builder, living in Victoria.

Canton Alley, through the archway, was apparently developed in 1904, was a courtyard enclosed by two parallel rows of buildings running south from Pender Street. The permit for the construction describes a $50,000 project for ‘Five separate buildings on same ground’ on ‘CPR ground W of Carrall & S of Pender & N of Keefer Chinatown’, also designed by Mr. O’Keefe, but built by Yip Sang & Co. (Yip Sang was the anglicized name of the owner of the Wing Sang Company, and some early records switch ‘Yip’ and ‘Wing’). The premises were damaged in the 1907 anti-Asian riots, and in the subsequent hearings Wing Sang was described as owning half the buildings here. That was technically accurate, but overlooked the fact that the Lun Yick Co, a wholly owned Wing Sang subsidiary also owned property. Wing Sang may have been the lead owner with other Chinese merchants; although rivals in business, more expensive and ambitious transactions were often carried out by a consortium of owners. In 1911 several buildings were damaged by fire, and there were several buildings reconstructed on Canton Alley, and the entire Pender block was redeveloped as a six storey rooming house.

Canton Alley very quickly gained a reputation – and not a good one. The narrow space was home to over 500 residents, almost all men, packed in to small rooms with bunk beds. There was effectively an entire town centre in the alley, with grocers and general stores, restaurants, tailors, barbers, an employment agency and an umbrella repairer. In 1905 readers throughout North America could read about a dispute between partners in a Canton Alley tailoring business that led to two deaths. A row between two partners led to one owner, who wanted to split the partnership (and be paid out) shooting first the son of his partner, then killing the partner and then himself. The local press were happy to report the local police opinions. “Looks like a desperate dope fiend and crank,” observed Detective Waddell as he surveyed the hatchet-like face and glazed eyes of the murderer”.

In 1906, as the police closed down the nearby Dupont Street brothels, the Daily World reported that some of the women were moving to rooms in Canton Alley. Sure enough, by the end of the year police were raiding and arresting the ladies. “Celestlne Brown was named as the keeper, and Merle Thomas and Lena Hamilton as assistants”

The police interest in the ladies continued into 1907. Another raid was referenced in the Daily World, and suggested that 25 women were living in the alley. Belle Walker was fined $50 three days later, with a note adding “the police seem determined to put a stop to other than Chinese women living in the Chinese quarter”. Yip Sang was unhappy that his leaseholders were sub-letting their premises, but it was reported that a meeting at the Empire Reform Association got so heated that the landlords had to have a police escort to safely leave the meeting.

At the end of the year the intrepid Police Officer Latimer apprehended Fred Symonds in a Canton Alley house; he was wanted for beating a woman in the alley and stealing $50, using a ‘sandbag’ as a weapon – actually a length of garden hose with a iron bolt inserted. Attempting to escape arrest by using the weapon on the policeman added a charge of assault on an officer for the Ottawa-born Symonds.

Several assaults, sometimes involving firearms, were reported, almost always involving a gambling game. An opium den was raided in 1905, although the production of the drug in an adjacent building was a legal business at that time. Later raids through the 1910s, 20s and 30s for the same reason were taken more seriously, as the processing of opium was now illegal as well. In 1909 another sensational story filled the press, and was reported in other cities. A complex story of attempted murder and suicide saw Canton Alley’s illegal gambling under scrutiny after a stabbing nearly killed a would-be informer. He was apparently seeking payment to not tell the authorities about the death of another Chinese resident, a laundryman from Seymour Street who lost heavily at a game in Canton Alley, and refused time to repay his debts, chose suicide using opium. The newspaper in passing mentions that his was the third death from opium poisoning in three weeks.

Things seem to have quietened down once the buildings were rebuilt after several significant fires. There are reports of theft, a Chinaman was found shot dead, presumed murdered, but as no-one heard the shots that killed him no investigation seems to have been considered necessary. When the Daily World was reporting that a store holder was fined $10 for selling pears not properly marked under the Fruit Market Act (in 1912), then serious crime would seem to have slowed. In 1914 sacks of flour were stolen. Gambling and opium raids were frequent, and carried out with mixed success. (Several senior police officers found other employment over the years, having been accused of accepting bribes to turn a blind eye to illegal operations).

The Chinese population of the city fell after the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act (or more accurately, the Chinese Exclusion Act) forbid any Chinese immigration to Canada. Canton Alley remained occupied, although the street directory clerk couldn’t generally be bothered to record anything other than ‘Orientals’. The buildings here were eventually demolished in 1949. The site remained vacant for years, but in 1998 the CBA Manor and an adjacent building were built, designed by Joe Wai and Davidson Yuen Simpson. The 4-storey social services centre run by SUCCESS recreates the alley entrance as an entrance to a gated courtyard, (just as Canton Alley was after the 1907 riots).

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 689-56.

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Posted 8 October 2020 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Gone

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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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East Pender Street – 100 block, south side

While parts of Chinatown (including these buildings) are seeing change to the businesses occupying the main floor retail units, the bricks and mortar have remained unchanged for several decades. The exact date for the image is unknown – it’s said to have been taken between 1960 and 1980. In the background, across the street, the sign for the Marco Polo Club is visible. It was demolished in 1983, and opened at the end of 1964, so we can narrow the date a bit, and our best guess is the early 1970s – possibly 1972.

The most westerly building on the block (on the right) is the Sun Ah Hotel, home to the Ho Ho Restaurant (more recently Foo’s Ho Ho, currently being refurbished). It was designed for Chinese merchant Loo Gee Wing by R T Perry and R A Nicolais, and completed in 1911. The European style of architecture has no obvious reference to Chinatown, even though the client was a prominent Chinese merchant and property developer. There was an earlier building on the site, with Chinese merchants based here from before the turn of the 20th century (when the street was still Dupont Street). The Lung Kong Tien Yee Association acquired the building in 1926, and today it’s an Single Room Occupancy dwelling.

Several of the city’s ‘working ladies’ had houses in this location in the late 1890s, including Bilcox McDonald and Gabrielle Delisle. In 1909 the middle building in the group was constructed, replacing one of the houses. It was a very different style – occupied by The Chinese Benevolent Association. In the first half of the 20th century this was the most important organization in Chinatown. We don’t have an identified architect for the building, started in 1908 and supervised by Chinese merchant Yip Sang. In 1909 Michael O’Keefe was hired at a cost of $10,000 to design and complete the Chinese Hall here, and he had designed and built other properties for Yip Sang’s Wing Sang Company in the early 1900s. The imposing council hall featured a shrine to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, and the room was furnished with elaborately carved armchairs from the Qing Dynasty. In the 1970s, the CBA lost most of its influence. It has since been restructured and has once again become an important organization in the Vancouver Chinese community.

It housed an organization with deep roots in China. It evolved from the Hongmen movement, which is said to have originated as a group opposed to Manchu rule. In 1910 and 1911, the organization, in their old Vancouver headquarters at Pender and Carrall streets, hid Dr. Sun Yat-Sen from the agents of the imperial Manchu government. The organization is also said to have mortgaged its previous building with the proceeds going to help pay for the Chinese revolution of 1911. Today, the Chinese Freemasons in Vancouver through the Dart Coon Club own and administer this and another building on Pender Street, and two non-profit housing projects.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-473

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