Archive for the ‘Sam Kee’ Tag
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
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
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.
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.
When 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.
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
Over the forty plus years since the earlier view of this building, relatively little changed on the building originally designed by R T Perry for Sam Kee. In 1935 they were the Tung Ah Rooms; they were still called that two decades later. Just as in 1929 W Santien and Co were occupying the store: but instead of dry goods they sold men’s furnishings – they were still there ten years later as well. Next door was Tom’s Taxis and the Sen Sen barber’s store; in 1955 it had become the Joyland Arcade. At 107 in 1945 was Way Lee’s confectionary store; ten years later the Dai Yew Club operated. By 1972 when this picture was taken Con’s Appliances occupied the main floor and the rooms upstairs hadn’t changed their name – they were still the Tung Ah Rooms, although the building had been tidied up and named the Columbia Block. A VPL shot from 1961 show’s Con;s was already established in the building then.
In 1974 the rooms were closed as a result of new City by-laws. It was closed down for seven years, and reopened in 1981 with an additional floor. It had fewer, quite a bit larger rooms, but they were still small. The developers were the Dart Coon Club – an organisation loosely associated with the Chinese Freemasons. The Club still exists, but have their club premises on the other side of the street, but they administer the rooms here. The Chinese Freemasons included Harry Con, who ran Con’s Appliances and was also active in the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association who eventually stopped the redevelopment of the entire Strathcona area. In 1967 he had published the first history of Canada written in Chinese, and in 1982 was awarded the Order of Canada. They hired Joe Wai to design the renovated store fronts and third floor addition.
Today the Chinese Tea Shop have their store here, and along Columbia are three newly opened ‘pop-up’ stores. Three murals, added in 2010, show the Wah Chong Laundry (which was on Water Street), Chinese men in 1936, and a 1905 merchant called Lee Chong. The artist is Arthur Shu Ren Cheng and the work was initiated by the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association.
Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-451
Here’s the three storey building on the north-east corner of East Pender and Columbia. It didn’t start life like this – it was a two storey building originally, and it was on the corner of Dupont Street (the previous name for this stretch of East Pender).
We’re not totally sure who designed it, or who developed it. It first shows up as the Avenue Hotel in 1896, and W S Cook was the proprietor in 1898. It was located in an interesting part of town that was partly Chinese (so the Hope Sun Co, tailors, were in a retail unit at 107 Dupont in 1898). However, the rest of the block was houses – housing the other main business activity that this part of Dupont was known for. Next door Mrs Laura Scott was resident, while at 115 Dupont Dora Reno was landlady, an American who a few years earlier had run a facility in Fairhaven, south of the border. They were by no means alone – the rest of this side of the block was occupied by young ladies including Pansy Moore, Frankie Preston and Florence Hastings.
In 1889 there had been a Chinese tenement, with Sam Lung’s laundry next door. By 1895 the site appears to be empty, and there were houses next door, occupied by Miss Mackenzie and Miss Jones. Miss Dora Reno was on the block then too, but at 131 Dupont. A year later this building, the Avenue Hotel was open, but the stores were still vacant. The ladies – or a number of ladies – were here (although only Frankie Preston and Dora Reno seem to be the long-term occupants of the block).
In 1901 Mr Cook was still proprietor of the hotel, and next door Laura Scott was landlady, with Dora Reno next door to her, then Miss Hill, Frankie Preston, Minnie Robertson, Hattie Stewart, Lottie Mansfield, Frankie Reid and Jennie Manning on the corner of Westminster Avenue (today’s Main Street). The 1901 Insurance map shows the Avenue as a Chinese Hotel. The 1901 census confirms an observation from the 1891 census – while Miss Reno, Miss Preston and the other ladies on the street were usually listed as having the profession of lodging house keepers, there were generally three, four or five other ‘lodgers’ – all female, often listed as seamstresses, milliners or dressmakers. Most, but by no means all were from the USA, with others from a variety of European countries including England, Ireland, Germany, and France.
It’s likely that this version of the hotel was built by ‘Sam Kee’. He hired R T Perry to design a brick hotel costing $15,900 to build on Columbia Street in 1911, although the clerk recorded a street block on Pender. The Archives have a 1912 register for the Great Northern Hotel in the Sam Kee Company records. The Sam Kee business was on the opposite side of Dupont as early as 1889, and we know Sam Kee owned the hotel in 1915; he hired W H Chow to design alterations to 107 East Pender and he also carried out repairs to a club in the building in 1917. By that time it was no longer the Avenue Hotel – it was the Great Northern Hotel (it changed it’s name between 1906 and 1907). It was associated with the great Northern Railway who had their railway station across the street, with the tracks running in north on a trestle over False Creek. A few years later they built a magnificent new station on the False Creek Flats (demolished in 1965).
Even up to 1911 W S Cook was still proprietor, an amazingly long tenure in a city that generally saw a revolving door of hotel operators. William Cook hailed from Nova Scotia, and had been in the city in 1892 when he bought a lime-burning business based on Dupont street from Donald Menzies. While his family seems to have missed the 1901 census, in 1911 he’s head of a big household with a housekeeper, two married daughters (and their husbands), two sons aged 19 and 15 and a 10 year old daughter.
The club that Sam Kee repaired was the Oceanic Club, and by 1917 the Sam Kee store was next door to the hotel in a 1903 building designed by W T Whiteway for Chu Lai, a Victoria-based merchant. Technically there was no Sam Kee – that was a company run by Chang Toy, but the company name is almost always referred to as if there was a real person. By 1917 there were no ladies on the block – they’d been run off (mostly to Alexander Street) and all the businesses had Chinese names.
By 1929 when this image was shot, the hotel and the area was still almost completely Chinese. The hotel was no longer a hotel, and no names are associated with some of the business – just ‘Chinese’ and ‘Chinese Rooms’, although W Santien & Co were identified as being at 103 E Pender, Chinese dry goods merchants.
Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 99-2465