Archive for the ‘Sir George Stephen’ Tag

Granville Street – 600 block, east side (2)

This 1889 picture shows the sporadic development of the newly established Granville Street – the Canadian Pacific Railway flagship street, designed to pull the centre of the new City of Vancouver onto their land and away from the earlier Granville Township near the waterfront to the east. Development here was either initiated by the railway company itself (like the Opera House and Hotel Vancouver, close to here), or by individual directors commissioning office buildings. The largest building here is the New York Block, designed by Bruce Price of New York. We assume the railway negotiated a collective deal for the directors, as he designed six buildings here, all in 1888, four of them for CPR Directors. The wooden Banff Springs Hotel, which was commissioned by the CPR had opened in 1888; the first of Price’s Canadian buildings to be completed. Price went on to design New York skyscrapers that were much bigger – for a while the American Surety Company building built in 1894 was the tallest in the city. His work for CPR continued with the iconic Château Frontenac in Quebec City.

His client here was Sir George Stephen, a founding member of the CP Rail backers, and a prominent Canadian businessman. He made his fortune in Montreal and was the first Canadian to be elevated to the Peerage of the United Kingdom. The ‘Canadian Builder and Architect’ identified him as the developer of the building. Born in Scotland, the son of a carpenter, he left school at the age of fourteen to work variously as a stable boy, shepherd and in a local hotel. He apprenticed as a draper, then moved to London. In 1850 he moved to Canada, joining his cousin’s wholesale dry goods business business in Montreal. He took over after his cousin’s death in 1862, and sold out in 1867 having started a successful wool-importing company and also investing in other textile businesses. In 1866 he partnered with Donald Smith, his first cousin, in a number of new business ventures. By 1873, he had become a director of the Bank of Montreal, and three years later he was elected president. In 1877, Donald Smith introduced him to Canadian railway promoter James Hill, which led to the creation of George Stephen & Associates, one of the most profitable partnerships in the history of North American railways. Having successfully reorganized and expanded the St Paul Railway, the company were selected to develop the coast-to-coast rail link for Canada: Stephen became the first president of Canadian Pacific Railway in 1881, and despite cost overruns from numerous unanticipated engineering, business and political problems, successfully completed the track laying in 1885, with the first train arriving in Vancouver in 1887.

This was not the first foray into Vancouver real estate; in 1887 the Lady Stephen Block had been completed on West Hastings Street, designed by T C Sorby. For many years it was hidden under a sheet steel facade, but it has been restored to its original appearance. The New York Block was described in somewhat over-the-top style by the Daily World as “certainly the grandest building of its kind yet erected here, or for that matter in the Dominion”. You can see that in 1889 even grand buildings still had plank sidewalks and uneven unpaved streets in front. The building lasted until the early 1910s; the 1912 Insurance map noting “to be torn down and new bldg. erected”. The economic downturn and war got in the way, and it was eventually replaced with the current Hudson’s Bay store in the early 1920s.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Str N96

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Posted February 28, 2019 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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New York Block – Granville Street

New York Block

In 1888 well-connected American architect Bruce Price designed the New York Block on Granville Street. It was one of a series of fancy new office buildings the Canadian Pacific Railway commissioned for their land holdings, particularly along Granville Street. The New York Block was in the 600 block of Granville, just down the hill from the Donald Smith Block, also designed by Price, and the CPR’s Hotel Vancouver. In 1889 it was valued at $25,000, and was faced and trimmed with granite, described by the Daily World as “certainly the grandest building of its kind yet erected here, or for that matter in the Dominion”. You can see that in 1889 even grand buildings still had plank sidewalks and uneven streets in front. The ‘Canadian Builder and Architect’ identified the developer: Sir George Stephen, a founding member of the CP Rail backers, and a prominent Canadian businessman. Originally from Scotland, he made his fame in Montreal and was the first Canadian to be elevated to the Peerage of the United Kingdom.

The building housed the CPR’s ticket, telegraph, and land offices until the turn of the century. It appears that a number of people, many of them CPR employees, lived in apartments in the building as well, an early example of ‘mixed use development’ in the city. A P Horne recalled attending parties in the building. “Father Fay was a fine fellow; he was popular; he could sing; had a good voice. Williams, of Williams Bros. and Dawson, surveyors, had a flat in the top of the New York Block; the Canadian Pacific Railway offices were below, and Sir George McLaren Brown was in them. Williams used to give parties in his flat, and Father Fay used to come and sing. Mr. Buntzen could play the piano in those days, and so could Mrs. Buntzen; play it well; and we used to have parties up in Williams’ flat.”

Bruce Price’s residential designs were important enough to influence Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly his designs in a New York planned suburb, Tuxedo Park. His early designs for hotels and stations for the CPR established the château style they continued to reference for decades. Among others, Price designed the Château Frontenac in Quebec and the Banff Springs Hotel. In New York, as in Vancouver, he favoured the Richardson Romanesque style, although in New York (where his office was based) he soon moved on to skyscrapers in a classical style.

The building lasted about 25 years, replaced in the early 1920s with the current Hudson’s Bay store. We’ve already shown in another post how the first Hudson’s Bay store was added to in 1914, and then the first store was replaced with this second phase of construction. The contemporary image shows the new glazed canopies that replace the heavier steel design that was in place until 2012.

Image Source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P79

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