by Stevie Wilson | You might not suspect it at first glance, but the three military-style Quonset huts along East Hastings near Commercial Drive are neat little historical landmarks. They’re known as “The Three Halfies”, thanks to their unique half-cylindrical design, and are – as far as I can tell – the only commercial structures of their kind still remaining in the city. Appropriately, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s 2013 Top Ten Endangered Sites list features the huts among several structures along the East Hastings Corridor, all identified as having heritage value.
The American Quonset Hut was modeled after the smaller Canadian-designed Nissen Hut, which emerged as a military personnel and storage facility during WWI. While the Nissen features a more rounded shape, measuring 210 degrees, a Quonset’s curvature only extends to 180 degrees. Both structures were initially designed to be temporary, which makes these concrete-foundation commercial buildings all the more unique.
The first hut at 1768 East Hastings was constructed in 1948 and housed the offices of the National All-Steel Buildings (NASB) company. It’s very likely that NASB constructed its own office as well as the two other huts that same year, especially given that their front windows displayed an advertisement for the Quonset design. An article in The Squamish Review from October, 1948 details that city’s purchase of a hut from NASB, and explains “[T]he insurance rate on such a metal is practically nil.”
In 1949 the neighbouring hut at 1736 East Hastings was established as a local branch of British automobile maker Rootes Motors. The company also had a second location in the building next door to the Hollywood Theatre on West Broadway. The third hut at 1756 East Hastings began as either bowling lanes or the base of a bowling alley manufacturer, according to City records. In archival photos a home can be seen in the lot next to the NASB hut, which might explain why the three couldn’t be constructed side-by-side. Over the years front windows have been added or covered to suit the various commercial and industrial businesses that have occupied the spaces, but their original designs are still recognizable—albeit a little strange against the modern landscape.