Archive for the ‘Sam Kee’ Tag

2 West Pender Street

This sliver of a building has just been given a 21st century ‘makeover’ with the addition of a light show to an otherwise modest insurance office. The justification for the show is that, according to the Guiness Book of Records, this is the shallowest commercial building in the world; (not the narrowest). It was built in 1913, designed by Bryan and Gillam for the Sam Kee Company and cost just $8,000 to erect. (Behind it is a tenement building developed by another Chinatown merchant, Wing Sang).

It’s a good example of the hassles faced by the Chinese merchant community in the early days of the 20th Century – and their resilience. Sam Kee was an invented name for a company run by Chang Toy. He had built a 2-storey brick building here around 1901, one of several significant hotels and commercial buildings he developed. When the City of Vancouver moved to expropriate the site to widen Pender Street, Sam Kee instructed their lawyer to negotiate for $70,000 compensation in order that they achieved the $62,000 they estimated that the site was worth.

Our 1920s Vancouver Public Library image (above) shows that not content with getting the money, Chang Toy then got his architects to devise a steel framed structure that would maximize the development potential of his site, which was on average only six feet deep, and slightly less at one end. He added a barber’s shop (in 1920 it was run by Foo Key), and public baths in the basement, lit with glazed blocks set into the sidewalk. The main store was occupied by Sam Shing Lin Kee & Co, a shoestore.

In 1936, when the image above was shot, this may not have been an all Chinese tenanted building. While Chin Kee had a shoe repair business here and Y Kee was offering to repair or clean and press laundry, hotdogs and hamburgers only cost a nickel in the centre booth. Hires is a brand of root beer – still manufactured today and the second oldest soft drink brand in North America, dating back to 1875.  The corner unit, not visible in the picture, was the home of the Wong’s ‘Modernize Tailors’ store.

By 1961 when Walter Frost photographed the building (left) there was a tailor, Mr. E Rogers, and Wong’s jewelers and camera store (where they also cut keys) in the other half of the building.

Image sources; Vancouver Public Library and City of Vancouver Archives Bu N158.3 and CVA 447-346

Posted May 8, 2017 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Still Standing

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Vanport Hotel – Main Street

As far as we know, there are few, if any other pictures of the Vanport Hotel. Our picture doesn’t show the entire building, but enough of it to get an idea of what it looked like. We think this image dates to about 1978, and the hotel was demolished and in 1986 replaced with a 2-storey retail mall designed by W T Leung. That building was in turn replaced last year with a new apartment building for Bosa Blue Sky. Rather than selling off the units, the developers have chosen to rent the building, although these are not protected rental units so they could be sold in future.

The hotel started life in 1911, when Sam Kee and Company obtained a building permit for a $95,000 hotel designed by P J Donohoe and built by R P Forshaw. Sam Kee continued to own and operate the hotel, carrying out repairs in 1915. Sam Kee was a made up name for a company run by Chang Toy. Patrick J Donohoe wasn’t in the city for very long, and has relatively few commissions. He was previously based in Billings, Montana.

When it was built it was known as the Main Hotel; the Vanport name was a later change. In the final years of its existence the bar of the Vanport, while still a working class ‘dive’ bar, became known as one of the few bars where lesbians could meet and drink. A number of infractions of City and liquor rules led to it closing in the mid 1970s. Photographer Rosamond Norbury recalled the hotel in the Daily Xtra “There were maybe three sections to the bar, three large rooms. One room where just regular people would hang out. A room at the back with the pool table where mainly all the dykes hung around… and,” she frowns a little in concentration, ‘I think you had to go down three steps and turn right to go to the bathroom, which you really didn’t want to. I mean, they were scary.”

During the 1950s the building was owned by the Lee’s Benevolent Association. “In 1952, 75 individuals, all having the surname of “LEE”, including 70 of them from Vancouver, and 5 from Victoria, together with the Lee’s Benevolent Association and the Lee’s Benevolent Association of Vancouver, had loaned a total of $85,000.00 to complete the purchase of Vanport Hotel, a 4-storey structure located at the corner of Main St. and Georgia St. in Vancouver.  In order to repay the individual loans, a “Hundred-share Club” was formed the following year to solicit funds from all the Lees across Canada.  As a result, a total of $80,000.00 was raised from 110 Lees in Vancouver and 75 Lees in other regions, along with the Lee’s Benevolent Association, the Lee’s Benevolent Association of Vancouver, and the Lee’s Association of Montreal.” In 1963, in an effort to expand its real estate holding, the Association bought three stores adjacent to Vanport Hotel for $30,600. In 1986 the Association sold the hotel and the adjacent site for  $1,750,000.

Posted April 27, 2017 by ChangingCity in East End, Gone

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Carrall Street – 400 block

None of the three buildings shown in this image (probably dating to early 1906) are still standing today. Indeed, we don’t think any of them lasted more than 10 years. We think the original brick building closest to us only stayed up for eight years, and was built in 1903. We’re pretty certain it was designed by W T Whiteway for Sam Kee, the company run by Chang Toy, described as ‘Brick & stone building’ and according to the permit, costing $12,000. The Sam Kee name can be seen on the building, and this is where the company was based for a while. Kwong Fat Yuen Co also had their name on the building; for a short while they operated as labour suppliers, and may have been related to a company of the same name in Shanghai.

The Daily World of June 19, 1903, confirms the building’s planning – with either a typo or price inflation: “Chinatown’s progress; A permit was taken out this morning for a building adjoining the tramway company’s property of Carrall Street for a Chinese firm. Mr. W. T. Whiteway is the architect. The building is to be two stories high and to be built of brick and stone. The cost is to be $13,000”. The building had a third storey added around 1907, but was demolished around 1910 and replaced by the BC Electric Railway Co’s building designed by W M Somervell, completed in 1911. That structure, still standing today as offices and a retail showroom, cost $350,000 and was built by McDonald and Wilson. No doubt Chang Toy made sure he was appropriately compensated for selling his property.

Beyond it to the south was the Chinese Methodist Mission fronting Pender Street. It was designed by Parr and Fee in 1899, and replaced only seven years later (soon after this picture) by the Chinese Freemasons Building constructed in 1906, for the Chee Kung Tong – a ‘secret society’ founded in the middle of the 19th Century by Chinese working in the BC gold fields. The permit, in summer 1906 was to Sing Sam, for a $20,000 3-storey brick and stone structure for stores & warehouse. Dr. Sun Yat Sen is reported to have stayed in the building, probably in 1911, while raising funds for his revolutionary Kuomintang party during his period of exile from China. It appears that the building may also have been mortgaged by the Tong in 1911 to support the revolution. In 1920 the organization changed their name to the Chinese Freemasons, although they are not associated with traditional freemasonry.

The original architect has not been identified; it could have been W T Whiteway who had several commissions in Chinatown. Alterations to the restaurant in the building costing $1,000 were designed by architect S B Birds in 1913; the owner was still Sing Sam. There was also a branch of the Bank of Vancouver on the ground floor. We don’t know a lot about Sam Sing, but we know he was wealthy enough to guarantee the $500 head tax for Fung Ying Quoy, and that he is buried in Mountain View Cemetery. He ran a store in the East Hotel (also designed by Samuel Birds), and in 1907 his business was based at 1 Canton Street, the address for which he received $335 in compensation for damage after that year’s anti-Asian riot.

The building was home to the Pekin Chop Suey House, whose slogan can still be seen today. The facades are all that remain of the original building; they were retained when the rest of the building was demolished in 1975, after a fire, and it was remodeled again in 2006 with architect Joe Wai restoring some of the lost heritage elements, and converting the upper floors to residential use.

Across Pender street was another Sam Kee property. We don’t know when he built this one, or who designed it, but it was 2 storeys, and already shows up on the 1901 insurance map – which was probably when it was built as before that the street directory suggests it was Cleeve Canning & Cold Storage Co and Bradbury & Brown’s stone cutting yard. This building lasted about 10 years, but in 1910 the city expropriated most of the land for road widening, leaving the company with a ‘useless’ (or so the City thought) six foot sliver. Chang Toy wasn’t too hard done by; the Sam Kee firm instructed its lawyer (W A Macdonald K C) to start negotiations for compensation of $70,000 to reach the desired value of $62,ooo. Then Bryan and Gillam were hired to design the $8,000 steel framed building that still stands there today on the shallow lot, completed in 1913, which added additional space under the sidewalk to squeeze in a barber’s store and bath house – but no secret tunnels.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 677-522

400 block Richards Street – east side

400-richards-east-1

These two images, although thirty five years apart, appear almost identical. On the corner is a building we’ve previously identified on another blog. It was developed by one of Chinatown’s merchants, the Sam Kee Company, run by Chang Toy. Sam Kee acquired two 25 foot lots at the corner of Pender and Richards in 1904, and the Empress Rooms were completed in 1906. We haven’t managed to identify the architect. These days it’s the home of MacLeods Books. In 1981 the second store in the building, down the hill, was the All Nations Stamp and Coin Co; today it’s an Antiques and Collectables store, with

The other half of the block is Century House, built in 1911 for the Canada Permanent Mortgage Corporation. The building was designed by J S D Taylor, an architect trained in Scotland. Canada Permanent operated at Century House until 1951. Since then, it has been home to an insurance company, a trade school, an antique store, a book store and a restaurant. Today it appears on the internet as a recording studio. The exterior is made of cut granite stone, except for two beavers and a lighthouse cast in concrete, which crown the buildings. It’s the emblem of the building’s developer.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-E10.34

145 Keefer Street

145 Keefer 2

A three storey building  was approved for the Sam Kee Company in 1912, designed by Kennerley Bryan, to be built by R P Forshaw at a cost of $16,000. This permit was for apartments/rooms; described in the more detailed press notice as “three-storey brick store & rooming house; facing is red brick relieved with green tile; window ledges cement; galvanized iron cornice surmounts the bldg.” (Sam Kee was essentially a fictional character, the merchant who ran the company was Chang Toy.) This doesn’t seem like an ideal location for a residential building, and what was built doesn’t fit the description exactly.

This part of Keefer didn’t reach Columbia Street, because False Creek was right there. Across the street from this building was the Vancouver Gasworks, with a pair of retort houses on the street, and gasometers to the south. In the previous few years the edges of the channel had been tidied up, straightened and turned into a coal dock to deliver to the gasworks coal yard. Until it was abandoned and filled in some years later it occupied the place where Columbia Street would be extended; just to the west of this building.

This building wasn’t shown in the 1913 street directory (when the property next door was identified as being occupied by “Foreigners”). It showed up in 1914 as ‘New Building”. In 1915 the Maple Leaf Rice Mills were shown operating here, at 147 Keefer. While it didn’t reveal the owner, it suggested the business was Japanese. A year later a Chinese operator had taken over, Wing Kee Rice Mills. This was a Sam Kee owned company that Fred Townley had been hired to design a building for in 1912. We’re reasonably sure that it’s actually his design for the Rice Mill that got constructed. Paul Yee says that Sam Kee had operated a rice mill in the city from 1908.

In 1924 the Rice Mills were no longer listed but the Sam Kee Company had moved their offices here from East Pender, and were still in business here in the mid 1950s. Today the building continues to houses office space – the same company was occupying the building in our 1978 image.

Posted September 12, 2016 by ChangingCity in Chinatown, Still Standing

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400 block West Pender Street – north side

400 W Pender

Here are three buildings, each over 100 years old, that have survived on the same block. This 1947 Vancouver Public Library image shows the Niagara Hotel in the centre, built in 1913 and opened as the Hotel Connaught. It was designed by Otto Moberg for William Walsh. Next door is the taller, and narrower Hutchinson Block, designed by W F Gardiner for Dudley D Hutchinson. Gardiner used a design of centre-pivoted window frequently, but not exclusively used by Parr and Fee. The Connaught cost $55,000 and was built by H Murray, while the Huchinson Block, described as a reinforced concrete store & office, 8 storeys cost $60,000 and was built by Adkison & Dill in 1910.

niagara 1947When it opened the Hotel Connaught, run by local hoteliers White and Passarini, boasted a French chef, and fifty of the 120 rooms had a bath! (And in those bathrooms were “individual cakes of soap, little glass shelves and all the little dainty wrinkles that make for perfection“). The hotel boasted the first oil-fired heating plant installed in any hotel in the city. The hotel lasted a relatively short time as the Connaught; by 1922 it had become the Balfour Hotel, run by Albert Davis and only a year later it was rebranded again as the Niagara, run by E R Rickman and W A Badger.

The Heritage Statement of Significance identifies Walter William Walsh as the developer of the hotel; a successful lawyer and partner in Williams, Walsh, McKim and Housser. Originally from Montreal, after graduation he headed west and was called to the bar in Vancouver in 1899. Interestingly, biographies published in 1913 and 1914 make no reference to any property development activities, which made us wonder if he wasn’t the developer at all. Checking the Building Permit we found that William Walsh is named there. He was president of the Metropolitan Trust Co Ltd – so a much more likely candidate for a significant development (especially as they had offices on the third floor of the Hutchinson building next door). Born in Quebec he was aged 52 when the arrived in Vancouver in 1896. In Quebec he was a wholesale clothing merchant; here he reinvented himself as a financier. He had a new home built on Granville Street at Matthews in 1912 that cost $15,000, designed by N Murray who might easily be the H Murray who built the Connaught.

In 1947 the hotel was given one of the city’s finest signs, A replica Niagara Falls, 60 feet above the ground with 45 feet of spilling blue-vein neon water, cascaded down the building over four floors. Silver spray crashed onto neon rocks edged by neon evergreen trees. It was installed by Neon Products and designed by Laurence Hanson. Initially, after rebranding as the Ramada in 1998, only the lettering was changed. Then in in 2005 the dynamic elements of the design were removed, leaving just the oversized corporate logo.

Dudley DeCourcey Hutchinson arrived in the city from Winnipeg in 1906. Born in Barbados where his father, John Inniss Hutchinson was manager of a sugar plantation, he quickly established himself in the ballooning real estate business, and built his first investment on Pender. Keen to improve his financial position, Mr. Hutchinson appears to have been a little too keen on at least one occasion. Hired by Amos Fleming to broker a land purchase, he quoted $220 an acre for one piece of land. He successfully negotiated to pay only $180 an acre, but omitted to mention this to Mr. Fleming, thus pocketing the difference. On a second lot he claimed that he was going to have to pay more than an agreed initial price, and persuaded Mr. Fleming to pay that amount, while actually completing the transaction at the original price. Court records from 1908 tell the story: “The defendant then invested the profits he had made on these transactions in the purchase of four other city lots and the plaintiff, on discovery of the deceit and artifices which had been practised in connection with his business, brought the action for a declaration that the defendant was his agent and became trustee for him of the four other lots purchased by the defendant with the secret profits he had thus made, or, in the alternative, to recover the amount of the difference between what he had been obliged to pay for the two lots and the prices actually paid to the vendors for them by the defendant.” Having lost in court, and appealed and lost again, Mr. Hutchinson had to repay the difference in the price of the two transactions and not receive any commission. A year later, still aged only 25, he built the Hutchinson Block, and three years after that a West End apartment building, Grace Court.

When it first opened the Hutchinson Building had eight different real estate offices as tenants – and that was just on the ground floor. There were eight more on the upper floors, as well as others including the offices of the Diocese of New Westminster, the Central Coast Mission, the Western Canada Amusement Association, architects R M Fripp, and further up the building Claude P Jones, the Trussed Concrete Steel Co of Canada, the African Plume Parlor and Pacific Coast Lumber. By the end of the war, eight years later, the building was vacant. A year later it’s pretty clear that the building had been converted to residential use; half the tenants being women. There were a few offices on the lower floors; the Norwegian Consulate was here in the 1920s. Later the building got a name; the  Montgomery Apartment Hotel. Over time it became a more run-down SRO hotel the Park Hotel, until acquired by BC Housing who gave it an entirely new life with restoration of the high quality and highly detailed sheet metal cornices, spandrel panels and belt courses. The façade was fully restored to its original condition, replacing many of its prominent cornices and restoring the storefront to something closer to its original design.

The Empress, the smaller building on the corner is an even earlier structure,with rooms over retail space, built in 1906. The owner of the land was Chinese merchant Sam Kee who acquired the two 25 foot lots at the corner of Pender and Richards in 1904, although the building permits for that period are lost so no architect has been identified. Chinese investment outside Chinatown wasn’t encouraged, so often a go-between was used to manage the properties. These days the corner building is the home of MacLeods Books.

East Pender and Columbia Street (3)

Pender & Columbia 2

We saw what this view looked like in 1929 in an earlier post. We looked in more detail at the building on the corner in another post. Remarkably few of the buildings further east (up the street) have changed very much since the earlier 1929 image, or since this 1978 image. The biggest change (in summer in particular) is the addition of street trees.

Next door to the hotel is a 1903 building designed by W T Whiteway for merchant, Chu Lai. He arrived in British Columbia in the 1860s, worked in the Cariboo and by 1876 he was able to open his own firm, Wing Chong Company, at the corners of Store and Cormorant streets in Victoria. He was Hakka from Guangdong province, and his company became the centre of the Hakka community. Chang Toy (founder of Vancouver’s Sam Kee company), when he first arrived in the area stayed at the company’s property before finding work in New Westminster. The Sam Kee company developed the hotel building on the corner in 1911. Chu Lai died in 1906 in Victoria, survived by four wives (two living in China), five sons, and three daughters.

The 3-storey building next door is a mystery to us – completed around 1910, we haven’t managed to identify a client or architect. There’s a small, more recent building to the east of that, built in the 1950s, and then the substantial Wong’s Benevolent Association with the Mon Keang School, and the Lee Building is beyond that (which we featured in an earlier post). On the far right of the picture is the Sun Ah Hotel, home to the Ho Ho Restaurant (today Foo’s Ho Ho). It was designed for Chinese merchant Loo Gee Wing by R T Perry and R A Nicholais.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-459