YOU SHOULD KNOW: About The 2400 Court & Vancouver’s Idyllic Post-War Car Culture
by Stevie Wilson | On a Kingsway drive out towards the ‘burbs, it’s easy to miss the scattering of unique older buildings – particularly because there aren’t too many of them left. One vestige of the Kingsway Corridor’s heyday (before it was simply a conduit to and from Metrotown) is the familiar 2400 Court, conveniently located smack-dab en route to The Big City. Boasting a freestanding vintage neon sign, famously plain stucco exteriors, and manicured lawns straight out of the ‘60s, this Streamline Modern oasis reflects the booming car and motel culture that pervaded many cities in the middle of the last century. Built in 1946, the three and a half acre site houses 18 detached buildings with 65 single units. It was originally envisioned as a home-away-from-home for tourists and visitors keen on taking advantage of their newfound motor mobility.
In its prime, 2400 Court featured hot water heating, a “chesterfield suite”, writing desk, mail service, Simmons mattresses, electric range, and more; basically “everything that goes to make your visit inviting, pleasant, and enjoyable”. Flash forward a few decades later and it’s a landmark for many generations of Vancouverites, an icon of post-war travel culture that is seen by many but recognized by few. It’s situated on what used to be the primary route into the city, and has, fortunately, received some significant care and upkeep over the years. A few famous guests (including special agents Scully and Mulder) have helped maintain the former Ma-and-Pop-run establishment as a point of interest for heritage buffs and tenants alike.
As a byway, Kingsway dates back to the 1870s, when it was then known as Westminster Road. Its abundance of gas stations, restaurants, and parks built from the 1920s into the 1940s presented it as an ideal thoroughfare to and from major destinations in the Lower Mainland. The completion of the Patullo Bridge in 1937 paved the way – so to speak – for a new crop of accommodations along a stretch that united towns and facilitated travel south to and from the US. For families living in the relatively comfortable post-war economic boom, a trip to nearby Wally’s Burgers and a stay at 2400 Court was likely a really swell time.
By the early 1960s the term “Motel” was introduced in place of “Court” to reflect a trend towards single, multi-unit hotel buildings as opposed to open, bungalow-style auto courts. As many historians and heritage experts have noted, the site is a truly pristine example of post-war car culture aesthetic amidst a sea of lackluster modern developments. A few years back, the future of 2400 Court was threatened by the development of the Norquay Neighbourhood Centre Plan. As of March 2013, it appears as if City Council will be moving forward with new zoning which will repurpose the entire area as “a medium density centre of shops, services and community spaces”, including high-density housing. Currently, the Motel sits in the Vancouver Heritage Society’s Top Ten List of Endangered Sites, with plenty of public support for its continued maintenance. The City purchased the area in 1989, so it remains to be seen what will become of it (hey, remember the El Dorado?).
The truth is, the sprawling design of the 2400 Motel can’t compete with more space saving modern developments. Inside, it’s outdated without much to offer any luxury-seeking tourists. Despite its visual appeal to mid-century enthusiasts and value as a reflection of post-war architecture, it’s simply not a contender in the hotel game these days – and it sits on prime real estate. And so the eternal question remains: what do we do with heritage that stands in the way of development? Is something “old” worth saving if we don’t have a use for it? That’s a tough call to make, to be sure. In the meantime, read more on the site’s heritage values in Birmingham & Wood’s Statement of Significance for the City, and maybe take a closer look next time you rush on by!
Stevie Wilson is an historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to show you the things that you already see. Just nod your head and pretend you’re paying attention.