Archive for the ‘Somervell & Putnam’ Tag

102 Powell Street

Pilkington Brothers built a new showroom, warehouse and glass processing building to the east of this building in 1910, completed a year later. They also occupied the former Oppenheimer Brothers warehouse to the west that had originally been constructed in 1886, one of the city’s earliest structures still standing today. This two storey warehouse might have been an Oppenheimer construction, but it’s more likely to have been Pilkington’s work. Pilkington’s replaced Oppenheimmer’s in 1903, and this was probably built soon after that, in the few years that the building permits are missing. It had the second floor added in 1916 at a cost of $4,000, designed by Somervell & Putnam, who were usually involved in much grander buildings.

In the late 1970s this was the warehouse home of US based furniture chain Pier 1 Imports, as seen on the left in a Mercantile Mortgage Company Ltd copyright image. In the early 1990s the building was bought by Bryan Adams, who converted the Oppenheimer’s part of the property to the Warehouse Studios, a world-class recording studio. The later 2-storey building was retained in the conversion (designed by Don Stuart Architects) as a screen wall, with parking behind.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 790-2416 and CVA 810-155


Palace Hotel, 3 West Hastings Street

The Palace was a very short-lived structure. It appears first in 1898, a wedge-shaped building facing the rail right of way that cut through the heart of Vancouver’s centre (as it still was then). This image was shot a year later. The first proprietor was John Unsworth, who doesn’t seem to have been in the city before the hotel opened, and isn’t in the city after 1900. Mr. Unsworth is a bit of a mystery; his one appearance in the Vancouver Daily World was in October 1899, when he was the witness who complained about the proprietor of the Louvre Hotel (next door to the Palace) selling liquor on Sunday. By that point he was the former proprietor of the Palace, but it’s possible he wasn’t too happy that the Palace had just had it’s licence revoked for having the dining room in a different location than the licence permitted. In 1896 he had taken over the Waverley Hotel in Chilliwack.

In 1901 the proprietor was Joseph Caron, but by the time the census was taken that year he was boarding elsewhere and listed as ‘Ex Hotel Prop’, although the street directory doesn’t identify a new owner until 1903 when Schmehl & Muller are listed. They took the name with them when a new hotel opened a bit further west, in 1907. By 1908 the Merchant’s Bank had taken over the premises, and had leased upper floor offices to a variety of mostly medical tenants: an osteopath, two physicians, an auditor, a specialist (Dr Joseph Gibbs, who had moved from Victoria and became BC’s senior surgeon), and Madame M Leo’s massage parlor. Over the next few years some tenants changed, with more real estate related businesses, then in 1912, everything changed again. The Montreal-based Merchants Bank hired the locally-based established architectural firm of Somervell and Putnam to design a new building. It was stone clad, in a classical temple style, but on a steel frame that could have permitted several more floors to be added. However, the economic downturn and the westwards shift of the city’s businesses meant it has never been increased in height.

Once the rail tracks were removed in 1932, a small park, officially Pioneer Place bur also known as Pioneer Square, or Pigeon Park was created. Unloved and unoccupied (on the upper floors) for many years, the building was in a very poor state a few years ago, with ornamental stonework crashing onto the park. Restoration to new office use has been slowly proceeding for some time, and the building should once again contribute to a rapidly revitalizing neighbourhood.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 677-27

Posted December 14, 2017 by ChangingCity in East End, Gone

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Birks Building – West Georgia and Granville


The Birks Building ranks, we would suggest, alongside the second Hotel Vancouver as the greatest loss of a heritage building in the city. Unlike the hotel, there haven’t been any suggestions of shoddy construction or any deal that it had to be closed because a newer version had been constructed. It was a “10-storey reinforced concrete office/store” costing $550,000 in 1912, designed by Somervell and Putnam for “Birks, Hy. Ltd” as they were described on the building permit. Henry Birks and Sons were based in Montreal and their Vancouver store was veneered with white terra-cotta. It was one of the most elegant and carefully proportioned office buildings designed for the city, still looking good in this 1946 image, and its loss was compounded by the simplistic replacement – the Vancouver Centre.

Birks were complicit in the demolition; they teamed up with the Bank of Nova Scotia to redevelop the north end of the block with an office tower, a parkade, and a store (now occupied by London Drugs) completed in 1974. The parkade has a redevelopment proposal as a second office tower, but the prominent Georgia and Granville corner has yet to see anything better proposed than what’s there now – the design of the Webb Zerafa Menkes Housden Partnership of Toronto.

Image source: City of Vancouver archives CVA 586-4399

Posted November 6, 2014 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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500 block Seymour Street – west side (1)

500 blk Seymour 1936

Here is a small section of the west side of Seymour Street with two very different scales of building. The office building to the north is Somervell & Putnam’s design for the Yorkshire Guarantee and Securities Corporation Ltd in 1912 – later renamed as the Seymour Building.

The three small houses are earlier than we expected, and older than any useful records could tell us who built them. They were shown on the 1901 insurance map, and although the addresses on this stretch of Seymour were changed from the 300 block to the 500 block in the early 1890s, and renumbered again around the turn of the century, we’re pretty sure they were there as far back as 1887. In 1898 Silas Sweet, a contractor and William Stickney were here. Sweet had been in the same location since at least 1892, when he was living at 521, the Illingworth family were living next door at 525 and T T Black, a lawyer and agent of the Queen’s Insurance Company was at 529. We know the street numbers changed because in 1889 Mr Black was in the same location but at 331 Seymour. He was listed, rather comprehensively as ‘Black, Thomas Thompson, solicitor, notary public, commissioner to administer oaths in the Superior Court of B.C.’ He had an office on Oppenheimer, and lived on Seymour. From 1887 to 1892 he was the police magistrate and City Solicitor, (a contract job), who denied bail to the three arrested anti-Chinese rioters (only to have the magistrate overturn that decision).

Assuming the houses dated back to 1887, they lasted around 40 years. Although the Vancouver Public Library record says this image is from 1936, the houses were replaced with the current building in 1929, so the image must be earlier. The houses were used as businesses which are said to include the Wong Kee Laundry and G.A. Roedde Ltd. We can’t find any record of Roedde actually being based here, but Wong’s Laundry was here in 1928.

The new Georgian style building had two occupants in 1931; the Sunken Garden Golf Course and the Georgian Club (who developed the building). The mysteriously titled golf club didn’t seem to last very long, but the club were here for several years, joined in the mid 1930s by the Georgian Garage (presumably at the back of the building) and BC Upholstery. The building, which is on the heritage register, is now home to MTI Community College, a restaurant, and the International Language Schools. It was designed by Sydney Eveleigh, one of the few buildings we know he designed on his own after ending his partnership with W T Dalton (when Dalton retired in 1922).

Posted March 14, 2014 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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Union Bank – West Hastings and Seymour – se corner

The Union Bank of Canada was built at the corner of West Hastings and Seymour, next to the Innes Thompson Building, in 1920. The Union Bank was started in Quebec, but moved to Winnipeg and became the prairie bank, following the railway westwards as towns sprang up. Crossing into British Columbia took a little longer, and the first appearance of the bank here wasn’t until 1907 when they occupied the premises of a wine and spirits store at the corner of Seymour and Hastings.

The bank made some alterations in 1910, and commissioned a new building at 97 Cordova Street in the same year, but it wasn’t until 1919 that they made their grand move, commissioning Somervell and Putnam to design their last commission in the city, a seriously retro temple bank (in an era when far simpler buildings were starting to come into fashion). (We featured an earlier Somervell and Putnam temple bank at Pender and Granville).

Not long after their new branch was built the Union Bank, finding itself over-extended, was forced to merge with the Royal Bank (in 1925). The Royal Bank already had a significant Vancouver presence, so they passed the Seymour building on to the Bank of Toronto, who in turn merged in 1955 with the Dominion Bank, but maintained a presence in the building until 1984. Our image dates to 1939, when the Bank of Toronto was operating here.

Plans for the demolition of the building had actually been approved until protest from the Community Arts Council (before there was a Heritage Vancouver) saved it, and a revised redevelopment project (that saw the Innes-Thompson block demolished) preserve the building. The architects claimed it was impossible to save the Innes-Thompson facade as well. The Union Bank sat empty for several years, and it wasn’t until 2000 that the new use for the building was completed, with Architectura designing the award-winning Morris J Wosk Centre for Dialogue for Simon Fraser University. The building next door, the Delta Suites hotel by Aitken Wreglesworth, carefully picks up the scale and rhythm of the bank facade in the lower floors.

600 block – West Hastings Street (2)

Here’s another view, taken a bit later than our last post (probably in 1911) of the south side of Hastings from Granville, looking east. Now you can see the facade of the Bank of Ottawa Building. The Bank of Nova Scotia absorbed the Bank of Ottawa in 1919 and continued to occupy the building. The Ottawa Citizen in 1909 reported the acquisition of the 52 foot wide corner property, and that the six storey building would cost the bank $250,000. In they end they seem to have got a bargain – although the initial design was attributed to W Marbury Somervell, the building permit was to Somervell and Putnam for $225,000 – and the building was eight storeys.

The new bank building replaced earlier structures that included a billiards hall and the Pill Box Drug Store. The Strand Hotel was also known as the Delbruck Block, and where the recently completed Canada Life Assurance Company building stood had been the site of the Leland House Hotel. The Canada Life Building had a branch of the Imperial Bank of Canada as well as lawyers, brokers and government offices. The Bank of Commerce on the corner also had tenants upstairs in ‘rooms’ including a number of land brokers and William M Dodd, architect. Mr Dodd, although not widely recognised, obtained some sizeable contracts including a $200,000 apartment building at Granville and 12th that is still standing today.

W J Cairns took the City of Vancouver Archives original CVA Str P411

600 block – West Hastings Street (1)

Here’s the 600 block of West Hastings early in 1910. At the eastern end of the block, on the corner of Seymour Street the Bank of Ottawa is under construction to the design of W Marbury Somervell, one of only two buildings he designed before he teamed up with fellow American John Putnam (although a 1911 building permit has both names attached).

Their design was quite similar to – but somewhat taller than – the Darling and Pearson designed bank on the other end of the block. This Bank of Commerce commission was completed by the Toronto-based architects in 1908. Today it is home to Birks jewelers, with a more recently recreated ‘heritage’ interior designed by Oberto Oberti in 1994. Next door was the Canada Life Building, completed in 1910, and next door to the east was the Strand Hotel, in this picture as it looked after it was remodeled in 1907 to J S Pearce’s design. There’s a permit issued to ‘Darling and Pearsen’ for a Canada Life office in 1910, but all the contemporary records of construction progress reference A A Cox as the architect – it’s probable that Cox was the local supervising architect of Darling and Pearson’s design (although Cox also designed buildings of a similar scale on his own – like the Carter Cotton Building).

Today both the Bank of Ottawa (which soon after became the Bank of Nova Scotia) and the Canada Life building are still standing. Or at least, the building frames are still standing; both buildings were increased in width and given a contemporary skin. The Canada Life Building was rebuilt in 1952 and the Bank of Ottawa earlier, in 1950.

Picture source City of Vancouver archives CVA 371-2426