I recently discovered that my grandmother once lived in the house across the street from where I live now. It turns out we were neighbours in Mount Pleasant, only 76 years apart! This got me to thinking about my family’s past in the area, and the history of Lower Mount Pleasant in particular.
In the first half of the 20th Century, both sides of my mother’s family lived in this now light industrial area north of Broadway, bounded by Main and Cambie Streets and 2nd Avenue. More than just home to several excellent craft breweries, nondescript commercial buildings, the ANZA Club and Hootsuite, this distinctive area has long been an integral part of the city and is noted for its unique mix of residential, commercial, and industrial heritage.
Lower Mount Pleasant was one of the first areas outside of Vancouver’s downtown to be developed for residential use. The first houses appeared in the late 1880s, following the completion of the Westminster Avenue Bridge (now Main Street) across False Creek. Two of those early houses still stand at 144 East 6th Avenue and 151 East 8th. Built in 1888 and 1889 respectively, these Victorian structures are possibly the oldest homes outside of downtown.
Rapid growth followed in the early 1890s, supported by streetcar lines to the area, which housed many of the people who worked in the industries along False Creek. The boom would not let up until 1914 and the start of World War I.
In the decades after the Great War the focus of the residential neighbourhood began to change. The area began to stagnate. By the 1950s it was re-zoned to allow for light industrial development.
Mid-century cinder block commercial buildings have long since replaced most of the early houses, but fascinating pockets of the original neighbourhood hang on, including turn-of-the-century houses and brick apartment buildings, even factories.
This circa 1905 grand old lady of a house (above) with its “party hat” turret roof is an example of endangered heritage. I fear her days are numbered, as there is now the dreaded orange snow fencing around her boulevard trees — a sure sign that construction/destruction is on the horizon. With commercial buildings on either side, this home is also an excellent example of what I like to refer to as a “holdout house”. A home that – despite the pressures of development on the block – bucks the trend and becomes a singular island abode in a sea of commercial development.
In 2011 Heritage Vancouver Society identified Lower Mount Pleasant as one of its top 10 endangered sites in the city. According to Heritage Vancouver, even though this industrial section of Mount Pleasant contains a rich variety of early heritage buildings, it was not included in the City’s Mount Pleasant Community Plan.
Inexplicably, few buildings in this area have made it onto the Heritage Register and even fewer have heritage designation. Recent zoning changes that allow for larger (taller) buildings further threaten this historic neighbourhood’s rich residential, commercial and industrial heritage.
Today, buildings in this unique area illustrate the city’s earliest, mid-century and modern development. It’s a compelling mix, especially when compared to Lower Mount Pleasant’s highly developed, homogenous neighbour, Southeast False Creek (SEFC), just north of 2nd Avenue (most of that area’s past has been completely eliminated in recent years). Heritage Vancouver’s Anthony Norfolk once said about Lower Mount Pleasant, “There is something quite appealing about areas that aren’t cookie cutter”. I wholeheartedly agree.
Though slightly off the beaten path Lower Mount Pleasant is full of hidden gems, making for an interesting urban area to explore. I recently took a purposeful stroll around the neighbourhood and documented much of what I found. The diverse mix of heritage homes, colourful industrial buildings, vintage diners, independent businesses, interesting architectural details, modern coffee houses and unexpected art amazed me. So, next time you are looking for a unique neighbourhood to explore on foot, try this lesser known section.