Archive for the ‘T C Sorby’ Tag

314 and 320 West Cordova Street

We suspect that one of these buildings may be the oldest still standing in its original location in the city. That’s the building on the right at 320 W Cordova, today home to the Old Faithful Shop, (selling ‘well-designed, unfussy, and beautiful homegoods’) but back in the 1960s image, partly occupied by the Dressmakers and Milliner’s Supply House. This location is across the street from the 1888 Springer-Van Bramer block, designed by N S Hoffar. They commissioned another building a year earlier, probably on West Cordova, also designed by Mr. Hoffar.

It appears that this building predates the partner’s development on the north side of the street. It is clearly an early building, and in the 1887 Elector’s list, the owner of the lot that the building sits on was an architect, Thomas C Sorby. This was the only parcel of land that he owned in Vancouver. In August 1886 he placed a notice in the Colonist newspaper “Parties desirous of tendering for a two-storey Brick Block to be erected in Cordova Street, Vancouver, for Messrs Springer and Van Bremer can see the drawings in my office. The proprietors reserve the liberty of declining any or all tenders”. So it seems reasonable to conclude that Ben Springer and James Van Bramer funded the building on the site owned by Thomas Sorby, who also drew up the design. (There’s an undated image of this block probably from the 1890s that suggests the original facade was less decorative, and that the appearance today is the result of a later alteration, perhaps in the 1910s by he Thomson Brothers).

Immediately after the 1886 fire a number of enterprising developers got to work on building fireproof buildings very quickly – in this case just two months after the city had been almost totally destroyed. Something similar happened with the Byrnes Block, which housed the Alhambra Hotel on Water Street. Rand Brothers, real estate promoters, commissioned the construction the handed the development to George Byrnes before it was complete – and his name was added to the cornice.

When it was built this was the 200 block, and lot 5 was numbered as 220 and 222. The 1889 insurance map shows a bakery with an oven on the western side of the building. By 1901 this had been renumbered as 314 and 316, with a clothing store on a building already enlarged to double its depth. On the 1912 map this was 320, the number it still has today.

Ben Springer was from Ontario, and in the city before the fire. After mining in the Cariboo in the 1860s he became book-keeper for the Moodyville sawmill on the north shore of Burrard Inlet in 1874, marrying in that year and becoming mill manager in 1882, moving to ‘the big house’ and retiring in 1890. Captain James Van Bramer was from New York, and was here from around 1860. He was part of the syndicate that built the Moodyville mill on the north shore. From 1866 he operated the Sea Foam, a steam tug which began regular ferry service between Brighton and Moodyville across the Burrard Inlet. His business interests included mines and property, and he settled in Granville, and then on the north shore, with his Katzie wife and three daughters. He ‘retired’ to California around 1888, and continued to visit his old haunts in his steam schooner, Eliza Edward. He was fined $1,400 for a voyage from Victoria to Santa Barbara, where he landed and left again without reporting to authorities. He was accused of smuggling opium and Chinamen, but with no proof, he was only fined for the non-reporting. The Captain died in the Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara in June 1895 aged about 60, not long after returning a further mysterious voyage to the Cocos Islands to search for buried treasure he believed was there.

Springer partnered Van Bramer in his 1860s steamship business, and as well as the Vancouver buildings they developed. They also shared ownership of the BC District Telegraph and Delivery Company, obtaining a 50 year franchise for the operation of district telegraph systems in Vancouver and Victoria

314 West Cordova on lot 6 was a mystery. The building was built a little later, probably in 1905. The site, unusually, appears to have been vacant until it was developed. While that unfortunately puts it into the ‘lost permit’ era, Patrick Gunn has traced the permit to R McLeod, who hired McDonald and McKenzie to build the $12,000 ‘brick and stone store & warehouse’ in 1905. There was a Roderick McLeod who was a carpenter, and by 1906 was a contractor, with a number of significant houses that he built in the early 1900s. If it was a local, rather than an absentee investor, Roderick is the most likely candidate. However, there was also Robert McLeod, who was an American engineer who had married in Vancouver in 1900, but who sometimes lived in Victoria, and sometimes in the US.

A few years later, in 1912, the building was owned by ‘Thompson Bros’, and in 1923 ‘The Thompson Estate’ still owned it. In fact both buildings came into their ownership; they carried out repairs to 320 in 1914 and in 1920 and 1921. Thompson Bros were really Thomson Bros; James and Melville Thomson, who had extensive property interests in this part of town, as well as running a stationery business.

In the 1960s, when our ‘before’ shot was taken, it was home to a Danish furniture store, but today it’s come full circle and is home to clothing store Frank and Oak.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-510


Hastings Street Court House (2)

We looked at an image of this Courthouse building a couple of years ago, but from Pender Street, looking down the hill of Cambie. Here’s a postcard from around 1908 of the north face of the building, facing West Hastings. This shows N S Hoffar’s 1893 Provincial Courthouse addition – although it was actually twice as big as the original (and more modest) building designed by T C Sorby in 1889 and completed in 1890, which was located closer to Pender Street. From this angle, that building sitting behind the addition, almost hidden by trees but just showing on the left. On the right is a picture of the building in 1890. The maple trees on the Pender Street frontage are among the oldest in the city, planted in 1897.

Once the new courthouse was completed a few years later, on West Georgia, there was some debate about what to do with the old building. Despite its impressive appearance in the postcard, as a May 1909 Daily World letter suggests, not everybody was in love with the building. “With regard to the court house itself, they all knew it was one of the most disgraceful buildings that existed in the province. It was more or less in a foul and filthy condition all the time, but no blame could be attached to the officials. It was simply an incommodious and inconvenient building. Certainly it had been a standing menace to the health of the judges, juries and officials generally.”

Mayor Douglas suggested it might make a good City Hall, but the general view seems to have been that it wasn’t big enough (and presumably letters like the one above also had some influence). Instead it was decided to clear the structure and create an open space, which was named Government Square. During the first World War the site was used as a recruiting office, with a number of tents and temporary buildings. An Evangelical Tabernacle was also created as a temporary structure in 1917. The park was given the name Victory Square in 1922 and two years later the Cenotaph, designed by G L Sharp, was built through public subscription.

Image source (1890 image) City of Vancouver Archives Bu P390


Posted 3 April 2017 by ChangingCity in Gone, Victory Square

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West Hastings and Howe – nw corner

800 block W Hastings

We looked at a building on this corner in an earlier post. It was the Merchants Building, designed by Townley and Matheson and completed in 1923. Here’s an earlier image showing the house that was replaced when the Merchants Building was developed. The picture shows the dramatic scale changes going on at the time as the frame for the Metropolitan Building was being erected next door, in 1910. The house pre-dated the century, in fact it was one of the oldest in the city. It had been built in 1887, designed by T C Sorby who also had the job of designing the first station and rail terminal.  In 1891 it was occupied by H Abbott, and A G Ferguson owned the house next door (where the Metropolitan Building was built). Significant city-building was being directed from this block: Harry Abbott was superintendent of the BC Division of the CPR and Arthur Ferguson was one of the most active real estate promoters and developers in the city.

Before this Mr. Abbott had, according to reports recorded by City Archivist Major Matthews, stayed in the Sunnyside Hotel on Water Street and the Burrard Hotel on Hastings. The house was built at the same time as the first Hotel Vancouver, and the lumber came from the Moodyville Mill on the north side of Burrard Inlet. Mr. Abbott’s family joined him from Brockville just before the first train arrived in Port Moody in July 1886. Apparently they travelled in his rail car a few days before the first official train, and so were technically the first passengers to travel across Canada. When the Abbott family were in residence Mrs. Abbott was said to have kept chickens in a large run in the garden.

Harry Abbott came from a well-connected Montreal family – (his oldest brother was the first Canadian-born Prime Minister). He studied law, then switched to civil engineering, helping build new rail lines in eastern Canada. In 1882, aged 53, he joined the CPR, and two years later was given the job of managing the construction of the main line to the west. He was appointed to superintendent of the BC division of the railway in 1886, and spent over a decade developing the new city and expanding its services.

In 1897 Mr. Abbott was still living here, but had retired from the job of running the railway’s Vancouver operation, although he was still living in the house. A year later he had moved to a new house he had built on the corner of Georgia and Jervis, and Richard Marpole, the new general superintendent moved in. One possibility is that the house had become a company owned building rather a personal one, (although Mr. Abbott was definitely owner of the lot in 1886). Another credible scenario is that Mr. Marpole bought it and lived here for 12 years before Shaughnessy Heights was ready for house construction. He moved to a new home on Angus Avenue in 1911, and it looks as if the house was vacant, and then the address disappears completely until the Merchants Building was built in the early 1920s.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Bu P556


Posted 27 June 2016 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

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Granville at West Georgia

Granville at Georgia

These three office buildings were some of the earliest built in the city. Seen here in 1889 on Granville Street, south from the corner of Georgia were the Donald Smith Block, the Lord Durham Block and the Lord Elphinstone Block. We think all three were built in 1888, and all were part of Canadian Pacific Railway’s efforts to create an instant ‘new city’ on the CPR’s own land, some distance from the more established former Granville townsite down on Water Street.

The Donald Smith Block on the corner was designed by Bruce Price, an American with impeccable credentials as a designer, based in New York. He produced a series of designs from 1886 to 1888 for CPR sponsored buildings, including this 4-storey building named for Lord Strathcona, the Scottish born Canadian co-founder of the CPR (with his first cousin, Lord Mount Steven). As a CPR Director there was an expectation that Sir Donald would invest in a building to encourage the growth of business in the new city (and particularly that part controlled by the CPR).

Next door was the Lord Durham Block. The architect was T C Sorby (whose role was reported in a Victoria newspaper). We were not completely sure if the Lord Durham of the day, The 3rd Earl of Durham, John Lambton, was associated with the CPR, but a contemporary 1888 publication certainly implies that he was. There’s also a building permit in 1902 for repairs to the building issued to ‘Durham, Lord’.

Lord Durham’s grandfather, an English peer, the 1st Earl, also called John, had earlier connections to Canada. He was a political reformer who in December 1837 was asked by Lord Melbourne, the British prime minister, to solve the Canadian situation after rebellion had broken out in both Upper and Lower Canada. He was promised virtually dictatorial powers as governor-in-chief of the British North American colonies and high commissioner, but didn’t last in the job very long. After his short stay in Canada he wrote a report in 1838 that proposed merger of Upper and Lower Canada and the creation of responsible government, in which the governor general would be a figurehead and the legislative assembly would hold a great deal of power. In the responsible government, the legislative assembly would be elected by the people, and the party with majority would hold power – as long as they held support, they would keep power. The merger would eventually come ten years later.

Durham 1888There’s a woodcut of the Lord Durham Block in an 1888 publication which shows a very English looking building. In 1889 the Daily World reported “The alterations to the Lord Durham block are approaching completion. The store windows, and those of the upper storeys as well, have been enlarged, and the general appearance of the block has been so changed that it would be difficult to recognize it. The new upper cornice is a great improvement to the building. T. Tompkins, the contractor, has reason to congratulate himself on the success of the work, as the building looks very much improved since the alterations have been made.” There’s no way of being sure, but we think the photograph above is the revised building – there’s an 1893 image that shows the building looking the same as it does here. While we haven’t identified the architect, we can rule one candidate out: a Daily World article in 1888 reported that Bruce Price of New York was the architect of a number of new buildings with the exception of the Lord Durham and Lord Elphinstone Blocks. It reported that each of the three were costing about $26,000, and that Mr. Tomkins was contractor for all of them. The Lord Durham Block was where the congregation of Christ Church met while they tried to raise the funds to build their church; often in cramped and stuffy conditions if reports from 1889 are accurate.

The third building is the Lord Elphinstone Block, designed by Montreal architects John and Edward Hopkins, a father and son team who also picked up another CPR commission for the Opera House up the street. Unlike Lord Durham, we are quite certain of Lord Elphinstone’s involvement in the CPR – he was their man in London. He was one of the British subscribers who bought shares in the company, and was also a founding director of the Canada North-West Land Company (with Donald Smith) incorporated in 1882 to buy five million acres of land along the route of the railway from the CPR, (later changed to a mere 2.2 million aces) including  forty-seven towns on the CPR main line. We can probably rule out the possibility of the Hopkins’ designing the Lord Durham Block, as the list of their works is comprehensive because it comes from the ledgers recording their income.

Despite their early importance, the buildings didn’t last very long. In 1912 the Birks Building went up here, only for it to be tragically replaced in the mid 1970s by the uninspired Vancouver Centre.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA Str P73


West Hastings from Homer – north side (1)

Hastings from Homer 1

Here’s a view of the north side of the 400 block of West Hastings around 1910, looking at the corner with Homer Street. On the corner (on the right of the picture) was A E McMillan’s ‘Head Quarters for Diamonds’. Next door in the same building was a branch of the Dominion Bank, while the building to the west was home to Johnston’s Big Shoe House and Ladywares American corsets. Next door is the Lady Stephen Block – later known as the McMillan Building (although as the photo shows, McMillan’s were originally located next door). We’ve looked at the building already – it’s one of the earliest in the city still standing today, designed by T C Sorby in 1887. It was once obscured by a contemporary façade, but has since been restored.

The same cannot be said for the corner block. Underneath the mirror glass is at least the frame of the 1905 building designed by J S Pearce for Stephen Jones. He was a hotel keeper in Victoria – but also a real estate investor, both in Vancouver and Victoria. A 1933 obituary notice included the following: “For forty-three years Mr. Jones had operated the Dominion Hotel which he took over from his father, expanding it as the city grew. The successful operation of the hotel was the basis of the Jones fortune, but it was added to from the first of the century when downtown real estate in Vancouver, which Mr. Jones had acquired when Granville Street was only a trail through stumps, became valuable.” Mr. Jones was born in Ontario into an Irish family, but they moved to Victoria when he was an infant. He was a prominent Freemason as well as being active in both local politics and the Chamber of Trade in Victoria. While the developer’s identity is clear, the architect is slightly confusing. Maclure and Fox were identified as the designers in Contract Record (an eastern publication with a local agent), while The Province said it was J S Pearce. However, the correct attribution can be seen on the plans, which are in the City’s Archives, and the confusion arose because they were initially available to view in Maclure’s offices in 1905. Pearce use to occupy offices next to Maclure in the Five Sisters Block in Victoria, so presumably asked for a favour to make them available.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives LGN 560


Posted 2 June 2014 by ChangingCity in Altered, Downtown

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West Hastings Street – 400 block, south side

400 block W Hastings 2

We’ve previously looked at this view as a postcard. We’ve found this slightly larger version of the image that shows the block in better context, in the early 1900s. The corner building was most recently part of the Vancouver Film School (apparently they’ve now moved on), but it started life in 1903 as the Royal Bank of Canada. Dalton and Eveleigh designed the first classical bank in the city at a cost of $27,000, built of poured concrete with steel reinforcements for the foundations – an innovation which allowed construction of secure vaults with walls over half a metre thick. It was constructed by Vancouver pioneer, Jonathan Rogers although the  owner of the building was technically Jonathan’s wife, Elizabeth. In 1909 he hired Parr and Fee to carry out alterations that cost even more than the original building at $30,000, and again he was the contractor for the work.

Mr Rogers also developed the building next door, It was started in October, and a huge umbrella was raised over the site to allow work in the winter rain. The small building next is the 1904 Bank of Nova Scotia, covered in a recent post. At the end of the block is the Bank of British Columbia, designed by T C Sorby in 1891, and almost unchanged in over 120 years.

400 block W Hastings 3

This 1974 image shows the block looks better now than it did 40 years ago, when it might have been expected to redevelop; at least in part. Fortunately, apart from a 1930s rebuild, the block is almost intact with early buildings.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 677-621 and CVA 780-22


Hudson’s Bay – Cordova Street

The Bay, Cordova

When the Hudson’s Bay Company built a new store in the new city of Vancouver in 1887, they hedged their bets on the location. It wasn’t in the rapidly establishing replacement for Granville – ‘Old Granville Township’ around Carrall and Water Street, where the 1870s fledgling city had grown, only to be destroyed by fire in 1886. But it also wasn’t on the rival centre being developed by the Canadian Pacific Railway on Granville Street, running from the  CPR Terminal to the new hotel, way off in the recently cleared bush. The Bay executives split the difference and put their new store roughly halfway between the two rivals, on Cordova Street. If there’s any indication of which side they might favour in the tug of war between the two developing centres it might be indicated by their choice of designer – T C Sorby, also responsible for the design of the Hotel Vancouver.

The building he gave them wouldn’t have looked out of place on any prosperous English High Street. That shouldn’t be surprising; Yorkshire-born Sorby arrived in Canada in the early 1880s and by the time he reached Vancouver in 1886 he was already 50, with a long career already behind him in England. Here’s how the new store looked in 1888 in a VPL photo.

The Bay didn’t stay in this location for very long. In 1892 C O Wickenden was hired to build a new store on Granville Street – confirming the company commitment to the CPR’s part of town. They still ran the Cordova store until 1894, and in 1895 Beaty and Hall had replaced them, greengrocer and produce merchants. In 1901 there was a druggist here, with a cigar store in the other half of the building. Eventually the building was swallowed up in the ever-expanding Woodward’s store, replaced recently with the 43 storey tower of the Woodwards redevelopment.


Posted 1 January 2014 by ChangingCity in Gastown, Gone

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First Hotel Vancouver, second addition

We have shown this image as it looked about three years later already, but the trees in that picture pretty much obscure the third addition to the Hotel Vancouver. In 1901 The Canadian Pacific Railway again hired Francis Rattenbury to design a new wing of the hotel. It took a while to build, but apparently opened around 1904.

It was in an Italianate style, and from the postcard here it rather looks as if they expected to demolish the first hotel designed by T C Sorby. But as the picture above shows, the eastern wing of the addition was never completed. Instead it was cut off rather alarmingly and there would be a nearly ten year gap before the CPR were ready to replace the hotel and the first addition, also designed by Rattenbury. When they did that, they brought in new architects, initially W S Painter and later Francis Swales, who prepared a series of different designs all reasonably similar in style to the second addition which was incorporated into the final building. Both parts of the hotel had postcards celebrating their appearance.

Today as we have noted several times recently we have the Pacific Centre Mall. The second addition sat where today the TD Tower is located. Cesar Pelli designed the two dark towers (they’re brown, but appear almost black unless the sun is shining on them).


First Hotel Vancouver – Granville & Georgia

The Canadian Pacfic Railway needed a hotel to serve the passengers arriving on their trains at the station located at the foot of Granville Street. T C Sorby had designed the station, and he got the job of designing the hotel too. It was up Granville – not too far, but enough to leave some space for new CPR sponsored commercial buildings, and to pull some activity away from the earlier city centre to the east, where there were already plenty of hotels (none of them on CPR land).

Sorby’s hotel opened in mid 1888 to a design that even he didn’t like – complaining of CPR cutting what they considered to be superfluous details – which in those days were what architecture was often about. (That’s it on the left in about 1890, soon after it was completed.) The CPR were supposedly equally unimpressed – Sir William Van Horne, the CPR President is reported to have said to Sorby “so you’re the damn fool who spoilt the building with all those little windows”. One local newspaper even likened the building’s design to a workhouse. An 1897 newspaper, ‘The Ledge’ published a story which ran “The Vancouver World publishes a long letter from the executive agent of the C. P. R. to the city council, requesting exemption from taxation for buildings proposed to be erected for a passenger station and warehouses. The World publishes cuts of the proposed structures which are said to be in the Queen Anne style of architecture and are fully in keeping with that monument of external ugliness, the company’s hotel Vancouver. The architectural illustrations in the World resemble a compound of a decayed grist-mill with bits of the bastile and the tower of London added.”

Presumably looking for a better response the CPR hired Francis Rattenbury to design the 1893 addition to the south. Rattenbury was only relatively recently arrived in Canada, but at the age of only 25 he had just won the competition for the new parliament buildings in Victoria. In Yorkshire, where he had arrived from, he had been designing buildings in the ‘model’ mill town of Saltaire – or so he told the Vancouver Sun, although actually he hadn’t even been born when that development had taken place. His design for the hotel extention didn’t really have much to do with the original building – that’s it to the left of the ‘before’ image above from 1904, five storeys high. Although Sorby’s hotel was identified for replacement as early as 1900 it was still around for a few more years.

Rattenbury was hired to design a further extention to the original in 1901, which he carried out in an Italienate style that isn’t so very different from his design for the city’s new courthouse five years later. Rattenbury fell out with the CPR, and anyway was busy with other projects including the Empress Hotel in Victoria, so in 1910 architects Painter and Swales were hired to replace a much bigger and more elaborate replacement for both the first hotel and the 1893 addition which was eventually finished in 1916. We’ll feature that building in a future post or two.

These days the site has the Cesar Pelli / McCarter and Nairne designed Pacific Centre Mall which is now anticipated to see a major redesign in the near future with Sears having confirmed their intention of leaving later in 2012.


Lady Stephen Block – 411 West Hastings

Here’s a good news story. The Lady Stephen Block (sometimes it’s written as Lady Stephen’s) is one of the earliest buildings in the city. It dates back to 1887, just a year after the fire that wiped out the newly named city of Vancouver. It was designed by T C Sorby for Lady Stephen (nominally, at any rate – although more likely it was for her husband) and was built in brick at a cost of $15,000. Sir George Stephen, who had his own block in the city which cost $25,000, was the Montreal based president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and like his fellow directors, not averse to a little property development on the side. In 1888 it became the Post Office, and also home to Ross and Ceperley who were one of the most active real estate promoters in the city. In 1901 the owners at the time, Martin & Robertson, spent $7,000 on a brick and stone addition designed by W T Dalton. On that basis, we wondered if it was possible that the top floor was an addition, but the 1888 image (below right) shows it started life as a 3-storey building. The 1912 Insurance Map names it (with the building to the east) as the Jones Building. During the 1960s the stretch of Hastings Street that the buildings sits on saw some unfortunate ‘modernization’. The Lady Stephen block was lost beneath a layer of metal cladding as Reitman’s store tried to attract shoppers.

Then, around 2006, without any fanfare or heritage bonuses, a Lady Stephen Block reappeared. As this 1944 image (on the left) shows, the window treatment on the second floor used to be a little more complex, but what’s been put back today is in fact a recreation of the original design – the 1944 version was already embellished, as this earlier 1888 image (on the right) shows. The recreation of a heritage facade is a minor miracle that deserves recognition – and congratulations to Don Stuart Architects for their diligence  in finding the original look of the building and then restoring it.