Archive for the ‘W M Somervell’ Tag

Carrall Street and West Hastings

There are three identifiable buildings in this picture and we’ve looked at their history individually in earlier posts. The Interurban station is on the left, with the offices of BC Electric above, designed by W M Somervell and completed in 1911. We looked at the yard behind the building as well. Today, the opening where the interurban trams would exit is a window to a lighting showroom.

The Burns Block, seen here in 1930, was built in 1909, and designed by Parr and Fee. On the main floor was a meat shop, as the developer was Burns & Co, an Alberta-based meat empire, with the Vancouver arm of the business run by Dominic Burns. The company’s local offices were on the scond floor, and there were a variety of offices including F R Humber, a dentist, and E R Flewwelling, a jewelry maker. They were both still here in 1955, but some time after that it became a residential building, although the bathrooms were shared on each floor. The single room occupancy housing was closed down in 2006 having failed fire safety inspections (there were no working fire alarms, for example, and the fire escape exits were blocked). It was vacant for a few years before restoration by new owners Reliance Holdings, designed by Bruce Carscadden Architects and opened in 2011. It was still an SRO, with shared bathrooms but the tiny rooms were called ‘micros suites’ and the rents were multiples of the welfare rate of rental payment. In 2021 Reliance sold the building to BC Housing for whom the 30 studio units are now be managed by Atira Women’s Resource Society. The rooms are available for women who are committed to reducing or stopping substance use. Wraparound support services include clinical counselling, primary health care, transitional skills development, 16-step support recovery groups, an art therapy program, community meals, family reunification and short-term access to recovery support.

Between the BC Electric building and The Burns Block was the right of way once occupied by the railway. There was a barrier that would block the street, which was the city’s major artery, whenever a train came through. The final steam train ran across Hastings in 1932 after a tunnel was dug from the waterfront to Yaletown.

To the west was the Beacon Theatre, which started life as a Pantages Theatre, and ended as the Majestic. Designed by B Marcus Priteca late in 1916, construction wasn’t started until 1917, with the theatre opening in 1918. Alexander Pantages spent over $300,000 building the theatre. During its time as the Pantages Theatre, it headlined stars included Charlie Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth. Architectural writer Miriam Sutermeister noted that the theatre was “considered at the time to be the most richly embellished and efficient theatre of the Pantages chain.” renamed The Majestic, movies started to appear between vaudeville bookings, and in 1946 the thetre became The Odeon, showing movies almost exclusively. A final attempt to revive vaudeville in 1958 as the Majestic wasn’t a success. The acts were brought in from Las Vegas, and Carl de Santis and his orchestra provided the music. There were still two movies, but the theatre struggled and vaudeville really was, finally, dead. Demolished in 1967, the site was used for parking for 30 years before Arthur Erickson’s design for non-market housing as the Portland Hotel was completed in 2000.

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 447-299


Posted 17 February 2022 by ChangingCity in East End, Gone, Still Standing

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BC Electric Yard from West Pender Street

We saw a glimpse of the Terminal building for BC Electric, with their offices above, in an earlier post, and in slightly more detail. Fronting onto West Hastings, the building runs almost the full depth of Carrall, and the construction was valued at $350,000. W Marwell Somervell designed the building, completed in 1911.

A 1910 cutting identifies J L Putnam as running the office for the Seattle-based Somervell, and subsequently he became a full partner, and may well have designed this building. It had a basement and five floors; the basement had meter rooms, mechanical and furnace departments, and a ‘trainmen’s lounging room’. Among other rooms on the main floor was a gas showroom and a ladies’ retiring room.

The depot had three tracks, and as the main 1923 Vancouver Public Library image shows, a shed was part of the original design. (It’s shown on the contemporary insurance map as ‘steel frame’). This 1914 postcard shows that the building looks bigger from the opposite side of the street, as the shallow aspect of its design isn’t apparent.

The last interurban service ran in 1958, but it ended earlier in Vancouver;  The last streetcar line in Vancouver, the 14 Hastings East, ran for the last time on April 22, 1955. The office building was no longer used by BC Electric after 1957, when they moved to their new Burrard Street tower. It continues as an office building, with a lighting showroom in the enclosed car barn entrance.


Posted 26 October 2020 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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Carrall Street – 400 block

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 $62,000. 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


West Hastings Street west from Carrall


When this picture was taken in 1932 it was noted as being a picture of the last locomotive to cross West Hastings Street. It was on the route that angled through the Downtown from Alexander to the freight yards by False Creek. From July 1932 a newly bored tunnel allowed trains to move between Burrard Inlet and False Creek. The tunnel – or much of it – still exists because SkyTrain now runs through it to head to Waterfront from Stadium station. The tunnel was dug a little deeper to allow the SkyTrain tracks to be stacked on top of each other – the tunnel wasn’t wide enough to allow two trains to run side by side.

We’re not trainspotters, so we could be quite wrong, but this looks as if it was Canadian Pacific’s locomotive 232; an old 0-6-0 steam engine that would have probably been used to haul carriages and freight cars over short distances within the city between CP’s various freight yards. In an earlier post we featured one of the bigger locomotives used to haul the passenger trains across country, sitting on the same line, on Alexander Street.

The building on the left of the picture was the Headquarters of the BC Electric Railway Co who ran the tram and interurban system, which by the 1930s was apparently also doing double duty for Westminster Motor Coach. The odd thing is that this appears to be the only reference to an organization of that name. We haven’t found any records for an operation with that name, and it doesn’t appear in any street directories either. W Marwell Somervell designed the building, completed in 1911, and still in use today as a lighting showroom with offices above. (The building permit for the $350,000 project identified him as M Somervell).

One other thing we noted is the sign on the building for “BC Rapid Transit Coaches” We had no idea the term was in use so early – although with a slightly different meaning. In 1930 there was a scheduled coach to Seattle (which went through Sumas) and another to Chilliwack. Fares from Chilliwack to Seattle were $3.50, return $6.00, but to Bellingham only cost $1 ($1.50 return).

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives Can N32


Posted 10 April 2017 by ChangingCity in East End, Still Standing

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Pemberton Building – West Hastings Street


W A Bauer developed this eight storey building in 1910, and completed it a year later. Standing on the south-east corner of Hastings and Howe, the owner hired W Marbury Somervell of Seattle as the architect, and called his new $225,000 asset ‘The Pacific Building’. Mr. Bauer wasn’t a novice at real estate investment; he had acquired a large chunk of North Vancouver in 1905, and had developed smaller buildings, but nothing on this scale. This wasn’t his first idea for the site; in 1909 he had obtained a permit for a $150,000 hotel designed by Parr and Fee, but never followed through. He used the most up-to-date method for the construction of the building, hiring  the Ferro Concrete Co (headquartered in Cincinnati). We’re not sure why the postcard artist changed the top of the building, but it never looked like this.

Unlike many residents with a German sounding name, Mr. Bauer retained the spelling of his name throughout the war. That might be because anyone who heard him would not think him German – he was born in Brisbane, Australia, where he became a railway engineer. He was also well-known in the province; he had been the Dominion and British Columbia Land Surveyor, having arrived in 1891. He also married well; his wife was Ruby Springer, daughter of Ben Springer who managed the Moodyville Mill and then turned to real estate development in the early city of Vancouver in conjunction with Captain Van Bramer. In 1901, before his marriage, William Bauer was shown in the census living with his mother, Anna, who had been born in England, and his sister Maud, who was eleven years younger (if her age was recorded accurately – which would have made her mother give birth at age 51, which seems unlikely). In 1911 he was recorded as ‘Bower’ , aged 43, with Ruby, 28 and their son Benjamin who was aged two and 11-month daughter Frances Maude. There were two domestic servants living with them in their Seaton street home.


The Pacific Building was sold on the quality of its construction. “The outer walls are of brick and concrete, finished on the exterior with handsome pressed brick and terracotta. The floors are of solid re-inforced concrete, and the entire structure sanitary, clean, warm and absolutely fireproof, affording every security against damage by fire, and minimum insurance rates. The Pacific Building is of an architectural type remarkable for its simple elegance of treatment, resulting from the artistic contrast of light and shade, and the fact that it is not overburdened with detail. The entire exterior effect is pleasing and elegant in the extreme. The central location of the building, its attractive appearance, and the fact that it towers high above all buildings in the neighborhood, gives it a distinct advertising value which is too important to be overlooked by those in search of offices. The main entrance hall is finished in selected, handsomely-veined marble, producing a handsome and impressive entrance. The corridors are tiled and finished with a specially-designed wainscoting four feet in height, with a beautiful marble base. The floors are laid in rich ceramic mosaic tile.” The advertising even went as far as claiming that the building was ‘earthquake proof’ – fortunately never put to the test. In the 1990s a complete seismic analysis of the building was carried out and a partial upgrade saw shear walls being added at the building’s basement perimeter.

W A Bauer hired Somervell and Putnam a year later to design his new $20,000 Shaughnessy home, and a garage a year after that that cost $4,000 (more than many houses cost to build). In September 1918 things went very sideways for the Bauer family. The Yorkshire and Canadian Trust Company made a claim in the Supreme Court seeking $47,717.50 from William A Bauer, comprising commissions owed to the company by Mr Bauer, and loans made by the company on his behalf. He also had tax arrears in Richmond for three properties in 1918. In January 1919 he moved to Chilco and Nelson from his Shaughnessy home, which he presumably rented to help cover his debts. In early 1919 it was announced that the family were leaving town “Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Bauer and family have left to make their home In Vernon, B. C, on their Coldstream ranch” In May 1920 the Daily World reported that the family were returning from the Okanagan, having purchased a house on Cedar Crescent, and presumably the financial crisis had been overcome as Mr Bauer built a garage there in 1921. That same year the paper reported that “Mrs. W. A. Bauer, Coldstream, Vernon, arrived In the city on Wednesday morning and has taken up residence on Shaughnessy Heights”. They don’t seem to have stayed long: in December it was reported that “Mrs. W. A. Bauer and two sons have left for Vernon, where they will reside. They spent the past six months In Vancouver.” Two months earlier it was reported that “Mr. Dudley Dawson, manager of the Dominion Bank, who just recently arrived In the city, has leased the home of Mrs. W. A. Bauer, Shaughnessy Heights.” There are mentions of visits in 1922, but nothing suggesting the family in residence; instead the Bauers appear to have continued to live in Vernon, growing fruit.

In 1927, when this Vancouver Public Library image was shot, this was still called the Pacific Building and housed dozens of offices, with a Turkish Bath in the basement and the American Consulate on the second floor. By the 1950s the building had been renamed the Pemberton Building, although today it seems to have reverted to it’s original name.


Posted 12 December 2016 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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Bank of Ottawa – West Hastings Street

Here’s the Bank of Ottawa on the corner of Seymour and West Hastings in 1912. The new eight storey building was designed by W Marbury Somervell, but probably slightly changed by Somervell and Putnam (as it has a 1911 building permit in their name). It cost $225,000, and pictures of the construction show a reinforced concrete frame rather than all steel. The building bears a very strong resemblance to the BC Securities Building which is three blocks away and completed a year later to HS Griffith’s design.

The speed that construction could be completed on commercial buildings can be seen from the Contract Record report of September 1910. Work was just starting on the building site, clearing the existing buildings and excavating the basement, and it was expected the whole thing would be complete by May 1911, with occupancy coming a month later. There were 16 offices per floor above the banking floor, and the quality of the building was obviously aimed at all the other office buildings competing for tenants “The entrance to the vestibule and lobby will be handsomely done in marble, while the floors above will be trimmed throughout in birch and finished with mahogany. Other features of this latest addition to Vancouver’s tall buildings will be a vacuum heating system throughout, hot and cold water in all the offices, the Durham plumbing system, mail chute equipment, vacuum cleaning system for all the offices, and commodious toilet rooms on every floor.” The successful contracting bid came from McDonald and Wilson who started work in October 1910 and as far as we know completed on time.

In 1919 the Bank of Ottawa were merged with the Bank of Nova Scotia, and it stayed a branch of the new owners for over 30 years. In 1956 noted local architects Sharp, Thompson, Berwick and Pratt were given the design job of enlarging the bank building. The new project stripped the old building to its frame, replaced the small tobacco store with the billiards room behind (The Maple Leaf Club in 1946) that was next door and the restaurant with rooms over beyond that, and created a simple new office building which was nearly twice the size of the original. A more recent building upgrade in 1987 added an elegant projecting metal cornice to the building.


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