Archive for the ‘Mrs J W Fordham Johnson’ Tag

Howe Street – 500 block, west side (1)

This 1981 image shows a block that really hasn’t changed in nearly 40 years, despite being ‘underbuilt’. On the corner is a 1978 tower designed by Underwood, McKinley, Wilson and Smith. It replaced an earlier building that we looked at in an earlier post (and as it looked a little earlier). The new tower was developed by Grander Developments, the Canadian arm of UK Property developers Hammerson.

Across the lane is a 1935 Art Deco building designed by Gardiner and Mercer. It started life as the Pacific Athletic Club, developed by Jack Pattison, and more recently became the Executive Building. In the 1970s it was home to Maximillians Club and Symphony Hall, but today it’s office space. It’s bigger than it appears on the street, with six floors tiered back from Howe Street.

There are pictures from 1936 of the interior, including this one. There was a badminton court, a very comfortable lounge on the main floor, and 2 squash courts on the top floor. To watch squash you had to climb up a ladder and go along a walkway in order to sit on plank seats behind the courts. The courts were repurposed as a second gymnasium after the war.

The membership numbers boomed after 1947 when it became legal for the club to serve alcohol to members. After prohibition only a limited number of beer parlours were able to sell liquor to the public, and operated under very restrictive rules. Nightclubs (theoretically) couldn’t serve alcohol until the mid 1960s – patrons smuggled their own drinks in and kept them under the table.

Next door is a 1928 building, 541 Howe, that by 1981 had a contemporary glazed fa├žade replacing the original. It was developed by Mrs. J W Fordham Johnson, and designed and built by Dominion Construction. Her husband developed a Thurlow Street retail building, but his day job was President of BC Sugar. He was also an important part of society – In 1931 the Sun reported “Society Is eagerly looking forward to the arrival of His Honor the Lieutenant Governor and Mrs. J. W. Fordham Johnson and their popular daughter, Miss Helen Johnson, who take up their residence at Government House today”. John was originally from Spalding, in Lincolnshire, and was a banker in Portland, Oregon, at the Bank of British Columbia. He married an American, Helen Tuthill, from Ellenville, New York. He moved to manage the Vancouver branch in 1900, but the bank merged with the Canadian Bank of Commerce, and he moved to be an accountant with BC Sugar. Helen Johnson died in 1915, and a year later John married Adelaide Alice Ridley, born in Kentucky. Her former husband, lawyer Henry Ridley, also died in 1915. They moved to Shaughnessy, where they lived until John’s death in 1938. In 1942 Adelaide moved to the Hotel Vancouver, where she lived until her death in 1952.

This block of Howe Street became commercial in the 1920s – it started life as a mostly residential street, as this 1913 image shows. Traffic appears to have been busier than it is today, but the caption explains that it was the Rotary Club leaving the Compressed Gas Company’s offices for the Royal Nurseries on August 12th.

In 1981 there was (and still is) a relatively tall, narrow office building from 1966 at 549 Howe, which replaced a store developed by motor engineer Harry Hoffmeister in 1913. There’s a 1923 two storey retail store next door at 551 and a three storey building from 1929 to the south at 555, and a single storey 1933 building next to that.

The next single storey retail building is the oldest on the block, from 1912, developed by real estate agent J J Grey and originally designed by A E Cline, costing $6,000 to build.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W04.30 CVA 99-4465 and CVA Bu P535

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