Archive for the ‘Oscar Brown’ Tag

346 Powell Street

According to the Assessment Authority this two storey block dates from 1926. Our picture is from 1978, when this was the Centennial Rooms, and we think the building was constructed in 1910 by Pearson, Williamson & Crick. That’s when a permit for a $7,700 development designed by Jones & Aspell for Oscar Brown was issued, and there’s no sign of a permit for any mid 1920s redevelopment or alterations.

Oscar proved hard to track down. He arrived in the city around 1899 when he was listed as ‘of Brown & McGregor, wholesale fruit merchants’. His home address changed from 737 Hamilton to 846 Hornby in 1901, both houses owned by somebody else, where he presumably rented a room. He was in the Georgia Rooms in 1902 and from 1908 to 1911 had rooms in the Hotel Vancouver. He seems to have successfully evaded the 1901 and 1911 census collectors. In 1909 he bought 160 acres on the Bulkley River.

Oscar soon had one of the busiest fruit and vegetable wholesale businesses in the city, located in premises on Water Street, initially at 147 Water, and after around 1911 at 165 Water. Oscar’s involvement in the business that continued to bear his name was limited however. In May 1911 The Daily World published a short news story: “Much Regret Expressed on Wholesale Row Over Departure of Mr. Oscar Brown. But His Successor Is Made Welcome. Along wholesaIe row this morning considerable regret was expressed at the news that Mr. Oscar Brown was retiring from business. The news of his retirement, as told exclusively in The World on Tuesday, came as a surprise. All along the row this morning could be heard remarks that Indicated that Mr. Brown, though a competitor was looked upon as a square man and an honest though energetic, opponent. Everyone who knew him expressed the hope that the time would yet come when with renewed vigor he would return to the commercial fray. Mingled with the regrets at the departure of Mr. Brown were expressions of welcome to his successor, Mr. Marpole, to the strenuous life of wholesale row.” Mr. Marpole was Richard F Marpole, son of the CPR Superintendent, (also called Richard).

There were hundreds of newspaper entries for Oscar Brown, because he made sure that every rail car arriving in the city carrying California oranges or Okanagan pears was reported. However, we could find nothing about Mr. Brown until we came across a notice of his death, in California, in 1928. “Victim of Motor Car Accident in California in 53rd Year. Mr. Oscar Brown, founder of Oscar Brown & Co. Ltd, one of Vancouver’s older wholesale fruit houses, and one of the city’s most prominent business men from 1899 to 1914, died at noon Tuesday in Santa Barbara as a result of Injuries received In an automobile accident in the California city. Although he had not resided here since 1914, until almost a year ago Mr. Brown was a frequent visitor to his old home city, where he had a host of friends. His death Is especially regretted among the older executives In the Water street wholesale district. who watched him build his business to one of the most successful In the city.

This allowed us to dig out the 1920 US census in Santa Barbara which showed Oscar Brown, wholesaler, from Arkansas, aged 44, with 7 roomers sharing his address. He appeared as secretary of the Montecito Country Club (a golf club) in Santa Barbara when it was established in 1921. He was buried in Santa Barbara with no apparent record of his upbringing, apparently a life-long bachelor. He was 23 when he arrived in Vancouver, and 35 when he sold off his business, moving to California at 39. We have no idea how he ended up in Vancouver from Arkansas.

Oscar presumably sold this investment property before leaving the city. In 1920 H A Jones was the owner, hiring William Horie to carry out $1,400 of repairs. When the building first opened there was a newspaper office, a branch of the Prince Rupert Meat Co, the Horseshoe Restaurant and a Japanese grocer. The rooms upstairs were just listed as ‘Japanese’. In 1920 they were the Oro Rooms, and the English Restaurant had taken over the Horseshoe, although the name was perhaps misleading as it was run by Gin Fay Main, almost certainly Chinese.

In 1940 the White Rooms were upstairs, run by K Kobayashi, with the Powell Bakery run by S Nunoda, and the English Cafe by J F Ming, (who was probably Gin Fay Main). Although the Japanese community were forced to leave the area in 1942, a few returned. In 1950 Nitta Mitsuyoshi was running a grocers and fish store here, next to the Club Utopia restaurant run by H Woo and S H Fong. It was run as a cabaret, and in 1959 had its licence reviewed “The Club Utopia, police said, is known to police “as the base of activity on the part of thieves and robbers who prey on drunken patrons” This 1954 advert shows an eclectic cuisine, as well as dancing on offer, although it would appear not to have had a liquor licence. The White Rooms were still upstairs, run by T Wing, and the Lun Yick Cafe was in 350 Powell.

Our 1978 image shows the Marl Cafe, ‘Chinese and Canadian Food’, a Bean Cake store next door, and Noguchi Electronics at the end of the block. Today the block is an SRO rooming house with 13 residential units (SRA) above, 7 of which are above average in size, with a separate bedroom area, and one with two separate bedroom areas, plus 2 common washrooms. The retail units are vacant, but have in recent years included a sandwich shop and the fully licenced Aristocrat Restaurant, which closed in 2014 and was offered for sale with a “stage area with disco lighting, dance floor, buffet area and fully equipped bar with keg dispenser”. The Downtown Pharmacy was closed in 2015 by the College of Pharmacists; “in the interest of public safety following an inspection of the pharmacy by College inspectors, which raised serious concerns with respect to unhygienic conditions of the pharmacy, and the suitability of the premises to continue operating as a pharmacy.” The pharmacy was operating as a methadone supplier when it was closed.

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Posted 20 December 2021 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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