The Many Weird Visions Of Vancouver That Never Came To Be

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Vancouver, like all cities, is constantly evolving. Buildings come down, buildings go up. Neighbourhoods change. Over the years architects, planners and developers have yearned to leave a lasting mark on our city. Some were able to realize their dreams, many were not. Take a look at several city-altering designs from decades past that never quite made it — I like to refer to them as the good, the bad and the beguiling.

In 1926, the consulting firm of Harland Bartholomew & Associates was hired by the Vancouver Town Planning Commission to prepare a comprehensive town plan – Vancouver’s first. Bartholomew presented the first plan in 1928, later revised in 1929 after amalgamation. He also prepared further town planning reports in 1944 and 1948. While not all of his plans and concepts were realized, Bartholomew’s ideas highly influenced the overall plan of Vancouver. Much of what we see today has a basis in his plans.*

One of Bartholomew’s more fanciful proposals was for this Civic Centre (see photo at top). The desire for a new civic centre and city hall was already in place when this drawing was commissioned in 1928. John F.D. Tanqueray’s drawing (for Harland Bartholomew & Associates) shows Vancouver City Hall located in the West End beside the yet-to-be-built Burrard Bridge. It’s likely that this plan could have been realised if Vancouver didn’t amalgamate with South Vancouver and Point Grey in 1929. After amalgamation, a more “centralised” location for the new City Hall was sought, resulting in the current location of City Hall today. The only part of this plan that was actually built was the Burrard Bridge (1932). Imagine if City Hall was located above Sunset Beach. Now imagine City Hall above Sunset Beach on 4/20!

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Another plan for a civic centre (sans City Hall) was suggested in 1945 by Park Commissioner, George Thompson. This scheme along Georgia Street from Howe to Stanley Park is the more ambitious of the two civic centre proposals illustrated here. With its centre boulevard (of what appear to be blossoming cherry trees) and its Dr. Seuss-like curvilinear streets and overpasses, the plan also includes a variety of civic buildings: Administration, Library, Polytechnic School, Theatre, Auditorium, Museum, Art Gallery, Art School, and Nursery & Day School. Though it certainly looks compelling on paper, it’s hard to say how this would have worked in reality. Personally, I don’t think it would have aged very well. This plan also required the city to purchase a large portion of downtown — I’m sure that would have been a hard sell to taxpayers…
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Many of you will know about the various schemes in the middle of the last century to “clean up” the so-called “blight” of the East End of Vancouver (now known as Strathcona) with the elimination of Hogan’s Alley being the most infamous. The drawing above, part of the 1957 Vancouver Redevelopment Study, shows a complete overhaul of Strathcona. Tearing down the majority of existing buildings and dwellings of the neighbourhood in favour of high-rises, row houses and walk up apartment buildings, creating what planners hoped to be a utopian social housing community. In reality, it would have most likely turned into a ghetto. This kind of “scorched earth” approach to urban development and public housing projects was popular all over North America during this time. This was beautifully illustrated in the 2016 documentary, “Citizen Jane: Battle for the City” (The film tells the story of journalist, author and activist Jane Jacobs’s struggle to save New York City from urban developers.)

On the other side of the city there were two proposed schemes for the “improvement” (development) of Spanish Banks in the 1920’s: a harbour port and an airport.

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This plan for Spanish Banks port terminals along the foreshore of Point Grey was proposed by the Vancouver Terminals Co. in 1923. The drawing shows terminal plans and amplification of harbour facilities superimposed on the original layout of Spanish Banks improvements proposed in 1910 by A.K.H. MacFarlane, a clerk with the Harry A. Johnston Real Estate Company. Knowing how far out the low tide mark is at Spanish Banks, I can’t even fathom how anchorage this would even be possible, notwithstanding the fact that a port terminal at Spanish Banks would have been a crime against nature.

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Saved from the Vancouver Terminals Co.’s proposed port facility monstrosity, Spanish Banks was once again under the developer’s eye when this plan for the design of Vancouver Airport at Spanish Banks came to light in 1928. Accommodating both land and seaplanes along with surrounding gardens, a stadium, parks and beaches, this plan was overzealous in the variety of services on offer. Do we really want children floating in a 4-foot-deep wading channel right next to an airport runway? Fortunately, saner heads prevailed and in 1930 land on Sea Island was obtained for YVR.

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It’s hard to imagine the following proposal ever going ahead today, that is unless, of course, it included a bike lane. But imagine a pedestrian-only suspension bridge across the First Narrows. It’s believed this architectural drawing for a proposed footbridge is dated May, 1909. The drawing consists of a plan and elevation of the structure. It also includes a location map showing the span of the bridge in the context of Stanley Park and the North Vancouver shoreline. Though it is hard to tell from the drawing, it appears one would have to climb and descend staircases within the towers to access the bridge span, making this a test of acrophobia as well as endurance.

Finally, wouldn’t Vancouver be better with more public washrooms? Especially if they looked like these:

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I know many a desperate trip walking home across the Granville Bridge after a night out would have been easier if this “public convenience” was greeting me at the other end (below). There is always a point mid-span when the urge hits you, and you curse yourself for not hitting the “can” before you left the pub.

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Curiously, there are numerous historical plans for “public conveniences” (washrooms) found in the City of Vancouver archives holdings that, to my knowledge, were never built. I suppose when budgets are tightened, so go the plans for public conveniences. Besides, there are always the alleys.

  • Shows a concept for a civic centre near Beach Avenue and Burrard Street, and for a bridge across False Creek at Burrard Street, 1928 (COV Archives – Item# 79-10)
    Shows a concept for a civic centre near Beach Avenue and Burrard Street, and for a bridge across False Creek at Burrard Street, 1928 (COV Archives – Item# 79-10)
  • Proposed Georgia Street Civic Centre site viewed for Vancouver Hotel to Stanley Park by Park Commissioner George Thompson,1945. (COV Archives - VPK-S98)
    Proposed Georgia Street Civic Centre site viewed for Vancouver Hotel to Stanley Park by Park Commissioner George Thompson,1945. (COV Archives - VPK-S98)
  • Building types and proposed layout of buildings and streets in Strathcona as part of the 1957 Vancouver Redevelopment Study. (COV Archives - LEG26.8)
    Building types and proposed layout of buildings and streets in Strathcona as part of the 1957 Vancouver Redevelopment Study. (COV Archives - LEG26.8)
  • Plan of proposed public convenience at Georgia & Granville  the drawing includes a floor plan, longitudinal section, and location plan. (COV Archives – LEG288.09)
    Plan of proposed public convenience at Georgia & Granville the drawing includes a floor plan, longitudinal section, and location plan. (COV Archives – LEG288.09)
  • Proposed sanitary convenience 4th Ave & Granville St., 1914. (COV Archives – LEG288.21)
    Proposed sanitary convenience 4th Ave & Granville St., 1914. (COV Archives – LEG288.21)
  • Spanish Bank port terminals, foreshore at Point Grey, B.C. showing lands applied for and staked for development, 1909-19. (COV Archives – LEG1362.03)
    Spanish Bank port terminals, foreshore at Point Grey, B.C. showing lands applied for and staked for development, 1909-19. (COV Archives – LEG1362.03)
  • Instead of the Lions’ Gate Bridge imagine this - proposed suspension bridge for foot passengers only, 1909. (COV Archives – LEG1709.1)
    Instead of the Lions’ Gate Bridge imagine this - proposed suspension bridge for foot passengers only, 1909. (COV Archives – LEG1709.1)
  • Map shows a proposed plan for the design of Vancouver Airport at Spanish Banks, along with surrounding gardens, a stadium, parks and beaches, Feb. 8, 1928. (COV Archives- Map 377)
    Map shows a proposed plan for the design of Vancouver Airport at Spanish Banks, along with surrounding gardens, a stadium, parks and beaches, Feb. 8, 1928. (COV Archives- Map 377)

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*If you want to read more about Bartholomew’s plans check out A Plan for the City of Vancouver, Harland Bartholomew & Associates, 1928; Transit Planning , 1946; and The Appearance of the City , 1947 available on the Internet Archive. To learn more about Harland Bartholomew and the City of Vancouver click here.

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