Vancouver’s oldest wood-frame commercial structure – the subject of a famous Fred Herzog photograph (below, then and now) – is located in the heart of the DTES on the southeast corner of East Hastings and Columbia. Believe it or not, it recently was on the market for less than a million dollars!
You may recognize 100 East Hastings as the current home of ‘New Brandiz Fast Food’ and ‘S & Ali’s Mini Mart’ (entrance on Columbia), but the whole history of this building is greater than the sum of its current parts. This 124-year-old building is an interesting variant of the “boomtown” style of architecture that dates back to the city’s frontier days. Made entirely of wood, most buildings of this kind were commercial structures built quickly, plainly and cheaply. This particular example has some interesting decorative features, like the unusual corner with its prominent bay and cornice. It is very rare for structures made entirely of wood, especially commercial mixed-use ones, to survive over 120 years in Vancouver. It is one reason I believe this Class ‘A’ designated heritage building is so significant.
Based on information gathered by the City’s first archivist, Major Matthews, this building was originally thought to be McDonough Hall, built as early as 1888. Unfortunately, the documentation does not appear to support either claim. An 1889 fire insurance map shows that there was nothing on that lot at that time. The next available set of fire insurance maps from 1897 (revised in 1901) shows a building with the same footprint of the current structure on the southeast corner of Hastings and Columbia; the commercial occupant is identified as “Chinese Tailor” (see photo below).
Unable to check the building permit registry – there are no known building permit records for the City of Vancouver prior to 1901 – I had to rely on the water service records for 100 East Hastings. A request for water service was usually submitted upon completion of construction and just prior to occupation. Vancouver historical water service records reveal an application for service for this property dated January 1893. Mr. H.A. Jones is recorded as the property owner. A check of the City Directories of the time reveals Mr. Jones’ occupation as real estate agent. It looks as if he owned the property for several years following its completion based on his applications for building permits to make changes and repairs to the building in 1912, 1913 and 1916.
The first time the address “100 East Hastings” (or the ‘H.A. Jones Building’ as I like to now refer to it) appears in the city directories is in 1894, with a listing for a ‘Hesson & Irving’ grocery. Information for directories is usually compiled the year before publication. So along with other evidence from the fire insurance maps and water service records, a building date of 1893 is a pretty safe assumption.
The historical value of this building is not just about its age or architectural style. It’s also one of the few still standing reminders of a serious incident in Vancouver’s past. The 1907 photo (below) shows damage to the large front windows – the after-effects of one of the 1907 anti-Asiatic riots. City directories indicate a tailor called L. Fongoun of ‘L. Fongoun & Co.’ was the main tenant of the building for 10 years, from about 1901 to 1911. It was his business at the corner of E. Hastings and Columbia that was directly vandalized by these race riots.
In 1912, ‘Janes and Sackell’ confectionary store opened in the ground floor at 100 East Hastings (see photo below), the start of a continuous run of corner stores occupying the main floor. ‘De Luxe Confectionary’ was in business from about 1930 to the early 1950s, followed by ‘Cozy Corner’ from the 1950’s to the 1990’s, and now ‘New Brandiz Fast Food’. At some point, the upper floor of 100 E. Hastings ceased to be the residence of the first-floor shop owner and began to operate independently, first as a Mission and later a rooming house or SRO, which it continues to be to this day.
There are only a handful of commercial structures still standing that pre-date 100 East Hastings in Vancouver. The prize for the oldest building in Vancouver goes to the Hastings Mill Store Museum, now standing in Pioneer Park at the foot of Alma Street. Built in 1865 on the south shore of Burrard Inlet at the foot of present-day Dunlevy. The building was barged to its present site by the Native Daughters of British Columbia when the mill ceased operations in 1930 and was re-opened as a museum.
The fact that this building at 100 East Hastings is still standing is really nothing short of a miracle, likely due in part to a series of long-term first-floor tenants. The building is zoned DEOD (Downtown-Eastside/Oppenheimer District), a potpourri of zoning districts that allow for anything except heavy industry. Now a shopworn reminder of the life and vitality of what once was Hastings and Columbia (the Lux Theatre, the Smilin’ Buddha, etc.), the future of this piece of Vancouver history is now uncertain. It is important to remember – especially given this address’ recent sale – that old buildings aren’t just empty edifices, but rather standing monuments to everything and everyone they have ever seen and sheltered.