Archive for the ‘St Regis Hotel’ Tag

St Regis Hotel – Dunsmuir and Seymour (2)

St Regis Hotel 2

1915-st-regisWe looked at the history of the St Regis and its developer, Leon Melekov, in an earlier post. He had been in Canada less than ten years, since arriving from Russia in 1902. He was only aged 38 when the hotel opened, having cost $100,000 to build. Like other eastern European emigres, Leon Melekov was Jewish.

For a couple of years there was some ambiguity about the hotel’s name – it appeared as both Hotel St Regis, and the St Regis Hotel, but by 1915, when these Vancouver Public Library images are dated, it was just the latter; run by H Tolford Fitzsimmons. There was a separate office address listed for the ownership company, based in the Bank of Ottawa building in the offices of Deacon Deacon & Wilson, barristers. Mr. Fitzsimmons had taken over the hotel in 1914, and he had been living in Brockville Ontario in the earlier years of the century, where he had been born in 1850. He married Fanny (or perhaps Fannie) Conway, and they had a large family. When he died at the age of 92, Mr. Fitzsimmons was living in Victoria.

william-p-roberts-bioThe hotel’s website has a quite different version of events: “During Vancouver’s “Golden Years of Growth” from 1907 to 1913, P. Roberts of Roberts, Maltby and Company, a local Real Estate and Loan company, decided to build the St. Regis Vancouver Hotel for his wife Mary. Taking advantage of the hotel’s close proximity to Vancouver’s financial district on West Hastings, Mr. Roberts decided to build one of what would become a top historic hotel in Vancouver for the business traveler. He employed W.T. Whiteway, one of the leading architects in the British Empire, to design his hotel. Mr. Whiteway had designed the World Building, now the Sun Tower, which had just opened as the tallest building in the Empire. He also went on to design the Marine Building, which was the tallest building in the Empire from 1930 to 1939. Having the top architect also meant Mr. Roberts had to hire Canada’s top builder – E.J. Ryan, whose resume included the Marine Building, Hotel Vancouver, Harrison Hot Springs and numerous hotels across Canada.

Construction started in 1911 and was completed in time for an opening day of March 15, 1913. The hotel thrived until the Great Depression, but as with much in Vancouver during the ‘30s, the hotel’s business suffered. With the start of the Second World War in 1939, Vancouver’s shipbuilding and lumber industry took off and the hotel was reborn and took on the role as Vancouver’s “Sportsman’s” hotel.”

We agree that W T Whiteway was the architect; and that he designed the Sun Tower, but he certainly couldn’t take credit for the Marine Building, and to suggest he was a leading architect in the British Empire would be pushing things a bit – he designed buildings in Port Townsend in the US, and then Newfoundland and Nova Scotia before Vancouver. We identified Mr Melekov as the developer as his name was on the Building Permit, and the Province newspaper in 1912 called it a “hotel for Leon Melekov”. The Daily Building Record noted that his hotel was being built by E J Ryan, who issued requests for subcontracts for the building in 1912. There wasn’t a P Roberts in Vancouver, but there was a William P Roberts at Roberts, Maltby & Co, previously Roberts, Meredith & Co. His 1913 biography is shown here – there’s no suggestion that he had just developed a hotel.

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St Regis Hotel – Dunsmuir and Seymour 1

Today, this is the St Regis Hotel – as it was in the 1940 when this image was taken. The building acquired the St Regis name as a hotel in 1913. It started life proposed as “apartments/rooms” to be built at a cost of $85,000 to W T Whiteway’s design for Leon Melekov. The initial description of the building in July 1912 said it would be 2 storeys, with offices on the second floor, but designed to have a further three storeys added later. By August the local newspaper was reporting that the building was going to be five storeys from the outset and costing $100,000, and by September there was a further floor to be added at a cost of an extra $20,000. It was originally going to be called the Standard Building, presumably reflecting Melekov’s position as Managing Director of the Standard Trust & Industrial Co Ltd.

Leon Melekov was Jewish, and almost certainly born in Russia – possibly in 1874 (at least, that’s what most census records show – later in court and in one census he claimed to be a British born Russian). His wife Mary was born in Germany. They probably arrived in Vancouver in or around 1902. He seems to have had extensive business interests but his main position was as Vice-President of the British Columbia Refining Company Limited, one of only four refining oil companies in Canada at the time (and the only one in the west), with a facility in Port Moody.

By 1911 Leon was well established with his wife, two daughters, Rose and Martha, and their servant, Joy Robinson. (Martha was aged 10 months, and had been born in BC, but Rose, who was eight, had been born in Germany). Melekov was pursuing other opportunities – he was head of a $500,000 consortium proposing to create the BC Steel Corporation to be based in Coquitlam, but that didn’t happen. Instead Melekov started visiting the US (he already looks to have had some business interests there as a director of a Michigan theatre, apparently run by a brother).

There are almost no references to the Melekovs in any profiles of the time, although they were important enough to be noted when they stayed in other cities. However, Leon must have helped support the Vancouver legal profession substantially, as there are numerous claims and counter claims where his name appears in court cases, often in connection with investments where he was acting as a broker.

Whether it was one of these cases, or more likely the significant economic slowdown that accompanied the First World War, by 1920 Melekov was in California where he was listed as Secretary of the General Investment Co, with an office in the Van Nuys Building in Los Angeles. He built a home to his own design close to Wilshire Boulevard in 1922. In the 1930s he was President of an Oklahoma City based oil company, the Donleon Refining Co, although he seems to have done that from Los Angeles. That all went very wrong when he was accused of embezzlement (but was not found guilty), and he then attempted to counter-sue.  His attempt to pursue further litigation entered the legal textbooks when the case was not brought to trial as the Oklahoma based parties he was pursuing were served papers in California – thus negating the entire case against them. Much later – in 1953 – Melekov wrote a book about the petroleum industry – “The Greatest Fraud Ever Perpetrated in America” He died in 1963, still in Los Angeles.

Image source VPL, Leonard Frank, photographer

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Posted November 19, 2012 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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