by Stevie Wilson | With its abundance of beautiful heritage homes and structures, the Kitsilano neighbourhood comes loaded with history. Case in point: the area’s oldest intact hood within a hood, Delamont Park (so named for the founder of the Kitsilano Boy Band, Arthur Delamont). It’s comprised of a few tree-lined blocks and a handful of homes, but today its best known for the quaint experience that is Arbutus Coffee (formerly Arbutus Grocery), which is located on the corner of Arbutus and 6th Avenue.
Built in 1907 at 2096 W. 6th (the address has since changed in the books) by Thomas F. Frazer, the building was originally known as Eureka Grocery. Frazer also built the bungalow next door – one of the first homes in the area – where he had lived since 1901. The commercial space, which features a high boomtown front (see also: The Western Front), also boasts original fenestration and a unique corner entryway typical of mom-and-pop convenience stores of halcyon days.
In 2013 the building was recognized as part of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s Places That Matter Contest, an all-too-important distinction given that the neighbourhood has a long history of being threatened by civic development. Thus far the area has survived propositions for a thoroughfare to the Burrard Street Bridge in the 1930s, a six-lane connector in the 1970s, and apartment developments from the 1980s onward. Fortunately, this unique enclave is still standing (for now) with most of the homes remaining in their original century-old glory. So the next time you’re nearby, stop here for a sit and a sip, and give thanks for its survival.
by Stevie Wilson | Whether you’re a diehard fan or just love a cheap hot dog, a trip to the baseball diamond is just good fun. Our city’s interest in baseball dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, when visiting American semi-pro teams played to a growing number of fans at the Powell Street Grounds in Japantown (now Oppenheimer Park). Inspired by the turnout and encouraged by the sport’s growing popularity across North America, a team called the Vancouver Veterans were founded in 1905. The Vets, named after manager John McCloskey (who was indeed a veteran), had their first game at the new Recreation Park located at Homer and Smithe.
Two years later in 1907, after a season-long hiatus from the game, a new team called the Vancouver Canucks was established. In 1908 they were renamed the Beavers, which appears to have been a lucky choice: the team won the pennant in both 1911 and 1914. The Beavers’ league had dissolved by 1922, and throughout the 1920’s and the Great Depression of the 1930s, only amateur ball was played in Vancouver. These teams played at the new Athletic Park located at Hemlock and Fifth.
This was a very successful period for Vancouver’s legendary Japanese-Canadian team, the Asahi, who in 1914 also got their start at the Powell Street Grounds. Athletic Park, rumoured to have been hand-cleared by then-owner Bob Brown, is recognized as the first sports field in the country to have been equipped with flood lights. You can learn more about the Asahi here.
Yet another new team, the Vancouver Maple Leafs, emerged in 1937 at Con Jones Park (later renamed Callister Park) near the PNE grounds. However, then-owner Con Jones soon sold the Leafs to Emil Sick of Seattle’s Capilano Brewing Company, who moved the team back to Athletic Park. Sick also renamed the team to match his company; they were now known as the Vancouver Capilanos. The economic strain of the Second World War caused the league to close again in 1942, and three years later the field, which had been renamed Capilano Stadium, was destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt soon thereafter, but Sick was ultimately keen to move to larger space.
His brand-new stadium, finished in 1951, was modelled after the Capilano Stadium in Seattle and was completed at a cost of $550,000. In 1956, after Sick acquired members of the Oakland Oaks to play for Vancouver, the Capilanos became the Mounties. This marked the first time that our city was home to a ‘AAA’ (Triple A) team. The Mounties left in 1970, and it wasn’t until 8 years later when a new ‘AAA’ team was formed: the Canadians. In the same year, Capliano Stadium was renamed to honour local baseball supporter (and Triple-O sauce inventor) Nat Bailey.
In 1999, the Canadians played their last game as a ‘AAA’ team, and in 2000 the empty stadium became the site of a struggle between the Park Board (who wanted to demolish it) and a lobby campaign headed by Bud Kerr, a local historian/champion of the game. Fortunately, the stadium was saved (now known as Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium), and in 2011 the Canadians were established as a member of the Northwest League, where they duel with the likes of the Spokane Indians and the Tri-City Dust Devils to this day.
by Stevie Wilson | It is recognized as one of Vancouver’s most popular music venues and the longest continuously occupied space of its kind, but there’s much more to the Railway Club at 579 Dunsmuir than the occasional anecdote about The Tragically Hip. With over 80 years of history behind it, the space is yet another product of the inextricable link between Vancouver and its busy rail lines. The club, established in 1932 (at midnight on New Year’s Eve, to be exact) was originally a members-only space for the CPR’s staff to unwind, and was allegedly opened in response to the exclusivity of the nearby Engineers Club. Following the repeal of prohibition in 1933, The Railwaymen’s Club (as it was then known) operated as a busy, beer-stained and smoke-filled poker bar for the city’s thirsty working class.
The slim Laursen Building (also registered as Lawsen) dates back to around 1926, and has since featured many small businesses both upstairs and down. Prior to the Railwaymen’s Club, the top floor belonged to the European Concert Cafe, where one can only imagine what sort of fun was had. Over the years the space fell into significant disrepair until the Forsyth family purchased the bar in 1981. None of the contemporary furnishings are original, save for the fenestration and radiators; everything had to be constructed for a new crowd of patrons. Behind the main bar a set of beautiful stained glass windows are nearly hidden by a wide variety of signs and stuff to stare at over a pint.
Another surprising element of the Railway is its cozy back-end bar. While it blends seamlessly with the dark wooden decor of the front space, this room used to be the H. Miles Jewellery Store, which the Forsyths took over in 1988. The beautiful oak back bar was purchased from the storied West End gay bar Buddy’s when it closed its doors in the same year.
So whether it’s for a drink, a show, or to watch its charming toy trains circle the ceiling, just soaking up an hour at this local landmark means soaking up some uniquely local history, too. Indeed, in a city where restaurant and bar interiors seldom last as long as they really should, it’s an uncommon environment worthy of your thirsty investigation. Photos after the jump… Read more
by Stevie Wilson & Andrew Morrison | The Sun Tower at the corner of West Pender and Beatty Streets is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks, particularly due to its eye-catching, mint-coloured dome that’s visible from nearly everywhere in the city. However, despite the building’s iconic status (and its magnetic tourist’s photography), it’s not too often that hear from anyone who’s actually been inside the dome or, better still, atop the cupola, so we decided to take a look.
Keep in mind that it wasn’t easy. The dome is impossible to gain access to if you don’t have the building managers on your side. It took plenty of correspondence and explanation of benign intent on Scout’s part to convince the keymasters that we were there by virtue of sincere curiosity and true affection for the building’s architecture and history. In the end, our foot in the door came last month when Scout was invited to a Vancouver Heritage Foundation event. One thing (begging) led to another (pleading), and eventually a tour was arranged in good humour, for which we will remain eternally grateful. Take a look…
To gain access to the dome, one most first get to the 17th floor, up a winding staircase made of marble and through a locked door. The interior is a bit of a shock at first. There are no frescoes, sculptured metopes or decorative flourishes of any kind at all, which is a truth that came rudely, really, as one half expects the gorgeous thing to be filled to the knees with treasure. But it’s completely bare and unadorned save for spidery support beams in yellow painted steel that have been bolted above a noisy blue machine that operates the building’s elevators. It was all very industrial, which is to say a little deflating of the imagination.
And yet it clearly wasn’t without beauty. The dome is lit by a ring of oculi (the fancy name for circular windows). These look over the city from the cardinal points, and gazing out of them was a real trip. Though the buildings that surround it are mostly new (especially to the west and south), the windows – recessed and antique as they are – soften their glaring modernity like a Hipstamatic filter. But the real view is up even higher. A sketchy, steel-framed platform leads to a ladder that rises to a trap door in the ceiling. Once unbolted, this leads to the cupola, or the open-air nipple that stands erect at the dome’s apex. Here, the building’s big fib is revealed. The green-tinge on the dome’s exterior isn’t real. It’s a faux patina design that’s been painted to mimic oxidized copper. Alas, the view – so raw and exposed – more than makes up for it.
The history of the Beaux-Arts building is readily found and filled with fantastic details, but here’s a brief run-down: Noted Canadian architect William Tuff Whiteway (of Woodwards fame) was commissioned to design the structure in 1911-12 by the now-infamous Vancouver mayor L.D. Taylor. It began as the offices for Taylor’s newspaper company, The Vancouver World, before the publication folded and the building was passed to Bekin’s, the Seattle-based storage and moving company. At the time of its completion, the building was recognized as the tallest (commercial) structure in the British Empire – a distinction that previously belonged to the nearby Dominion Building. In 1937, the Vancouver Sun took over the building, renamed it, installed a massive red neon sign across the top, and continued operations until 1965 when it relocated to 2250 Granville Street.
Unlike the exterior of the tower – which still features Charles Marega’s controversial “nine maidens” perched at the 8th floor, bare breasts and all – the interior has changed much over the years. In 2011 it was redeveloped by Allied Properties as creative spaces, though several historic features are still on display on the top floors, including tile work, marble staircases, single-paned fenestration, radiators, and beautiful door handles. Inside and out, there’s no other building like it. Take a look…
by Stevie Wilson | Known as Vancouver’s first suburb, Mount Pleasant features an abundance of heritage homes and historic buildings, many of which have been renovated and repurposed to showcase their original charms. A perfect example is the Depencier House at 151 East 8th Avenue, the current home of Eight ½ Restaurant Lounge and Hairkraft Studio. The structure, built in the classic Edwardian style, is recognized as the oldest currently occupied single-family home outside of the downtown core, and has become a staple Mount Pleasant landmark since its construction circa 1894, 1887, or 1889 (depending who you ask).
The house was originally located around the block facing Main Street and is rumoured to have been a brothel (naturally). A few years into its life it was transported to its current location on Eighth Avenue, presumably to make way for its new neighbour, the Royal Bank. Sometime around 1912 it was converted to include an additional storey for businesses on the ground floor. Over the years, in addition to being a residential property, it has featured an array of different awnings and company signage, including those for a haberdasher and a shoe repair company.
In 1938, Campbell Munro opened production for Bains Candies and Fine Chocolate at the site, and continued to tempt locals with its large window display of hand-dipped chocolates until 2004. Following Bains’ departure, the Cook Family bought the home and fixed up the building before Wink Vegetarian Cafe opened downstairs. Later, the quintessential Mount Pleasant cafe, Soma Coffee, moved in for a brief period before Eight ½ took it over in 2009.
The exterior of the house has seen many slight renovations over the years, including the construction of a small ground-level patio, a few window replacements, and a rainbow of paint colours, but its character has remained largely intact. Among its many typical Edwardian features, the building showcases a gabled rooftop and two small front porches that have been closed in with glass tile. Inside the cozy interior of Eight ½, the original fir ceiling beams are on display in addition to the original single-pane fenestrations. It’s a unique spot to grab a bite, a beer, and a little Vancouver history all in one go, so be sure to pop in the next time you’re on the lookout for a true local experience.
Special thanks to Mike Wiebe at Eight ½ Restaurant Lounge.
by Stevie Wilson | The old, neoclassical-style building at western edge of Gastown and the northern end of Seymour Street – now known as Waterfront Station – is one of Vancouver’s many standing examples of civic evolution. Similar to the current structure of the Hotel Vancouver, the Granville Street Bridge, and various other sites across the city, this building has gone through several changes in its 100 years. Though it now operates as a transit hub for the SkyTrain, Seabus, and West Coast Express, it was once a different kind of station altogether: the terminus of the CPR Railway’s transcontinental line. It is the third incarnation in a series of historic sites whose predecessors were ultimately destroyed in favour of new design, new tastes, and the accommodation of civic development.
The first CPR station was constructed nearby at the foot of Howe St. in 1886, but it was not much more than a single-level shed. The second station, designed by Edward Maxwell, opened in 1898 adjacent to the current site, where the Granville Plaza now stands. It featured beautiful chateau-style brick architecture with a large, arched stone entranceway, two imposing tower facades, pitched roofs, and spires similar (though on a much smaller scale) to the current Hotel Vancouver, which was also built by the CPR. The chateau-style design is found throughout many of their other (former) properties, including the historic rail station in New Westminster (now a Keg restaurant) and the Château Frontenac in Quebec City.
The stations third design was constructed between 1912-1914 and reflected the success of CPR’s trade route expansions. The exterior features a colonnade façade typical of the time, with a large interior reminiscent of Beaux-Arts design. Look closely in the photos below and you’ll notice the CPR banner atop the south-facing main entrance. Inside, Canadian landscape murals high across the walls act as a subtle nod to the cross-country route of the pioneering CPR line.
Originally, the interior featured a lunch counter and kitchen, dance hall, and lodging for travellers, in addition to amenities for staff. Outside, the bronze Angel of Victory statue by Coeur de Lion stands as a memorial to CPR employees lost during WWI. It’s worth noting that the locations of the three stations had an impact on the development of the city; their location far west of the Granville Townsite became a new focus for economic growth, which in turn contributed to the area’s evolution into the “downtown” that we recognize today.
By the late 1970s the station had begun its transformation into a modern transit hub. Commuter rail travel was eventually taken over by Via Rail in the 1978, and service shifted to Pacific Central Station off Terminal Avenue. A year after the opening of the Seabus terminal in 1977, the lobby at Waterfront Station was renovated by Hawthorn Mansfield Towers Architects to include shops, restaurants, and offices. The construction of the Expo Line in 1985 required the removal of several CPR tracks. However, the West Coast express, which opened in 1995, operates on original rail lines. Take a look around next time you’re waiting for the SkyTrain, and enjoy a glimpse into one of Vancouver’s busiest landmarks. Like any good historic building, it’s rumoured to have plenty of ghosts, too, so be sure to keep an eye out.
by Stevie Wilson | It has been renovated and repurposed as one of Gastown’s most popular restaurants, yet the Alibi Room at 157 Alexander Street still retains much of the unique character and historic architectural features of the building’s many previous iterations. Constructed on three small lots in 1913 by E.W. Cook & Co., the Classic Revival-style building was designed by famed Canadian architect William Marshall Dodd and is celebrated as his only example of commercial architecture on record in Vancouver.
Originally, this address served as the warehouse for Jacobsen and Goldberg Co., one of the thriving businesses engaged in the province’s fur trade. Later, the “White Seal” mittens decal across the western wall of the building (now covered) advertised the products of White Manufacturing Co.. The BC Grinnall glove manufacturers were another company found on the ground floor. The H.G. White Manufacturing Co., a shipping company, purchased the building circa 1919, when the address was 149 Alexander. The property was an excellent location for each and every one of its successive businesses, including Burnyeats B.C. Limited in the 1930s, due to its proximity to the nearby port and the CPR Railway.
The exterior of the building remains virtually untouched, including the mock voussoirs above the first-storey windows and brick corbelling across the top. The original glass in the arched fenestration on the ground floor, reminiscent of the building’s original commercial purpose, is still intact (the glass on the bottom half has been updated for safety reasons).
In later decades, the address’ upper storeys were converted into offices, and by the 1970s the ground floor was known as the Banjo Palace, a 20’s-themed club boasting the country’s largest circular barbecue. The owner, George Patey, had purchased pieces of the brick wall involved in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and had it re-constructed in the men’s room (true story).
Prior to the Alibi Room (which was reopened in 2006 after a change in ownership), the address was home to the Archimedes Club, an infamous watering hole for Vancouver’s taxi drivers where a signature on the membership book got you access to $5 pitchers (or so go the legends).
The historic brick interior is still on display all throughout the Alibi Room, where they have since turned the basement – once an office space – into a secondary seating hub perfect for a few pints with friends. The next time you bend an elbow within its cozy confines, let your eyes wander and your ears imagine all the old brick walls have heard in the last 101 years.
Special thanks to Perrin Grauer at the Alibi Room
by Stevie Wilson | Known for its scenic views, photo-op fountain, and its few graceful swans, Lost Lagoon is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks. Situated at the southern entrance to Stanley Park, it’s a welcoming start or finish (depending which route you fancy) to a walk along the seawall, and a unique link between the busting downtown core and the adjacent 1000-acre park.
The lagoon holds the title of being the largest body of water in Stanley Park, but it wasn’t always this way. In fact, the lagoon is actually a lake – it was landlocked in 1916 by the construction of the Stanley Park Causeway. Previously, this stretch of water was used as a food-sourcing site for First Nations – Musqueam, Squamish, and Burrard peoples were the first settlers in this area – back when it was known as Ch’ekxwa’7lech, meaning “dry at times”. The area was then a tidal mud flat connected to the Burrard Inlet via Coal Harbour, and was rich with clams and other sea critters ready for harvesting.
When the causeway was first proposed various groups lobbied in support and in protest. Many wealthier Vancouverites, beholden to the cause of civic beautification, were opposed to any destruction of the park on purely aesthetic grounds. Conversely, groups such as the blue-collar Trades and Labour Council were eager to see developments on the site for public and recreational use, and even supported filling in the lake to create a sports field.
In 1922, the area was officially named Lost Lagoon, and in 1929 was converted into a freshwater site with funds raised by a fly-fishing organization. The small area originally earned its name from Canadian writer Pauline Johnson, who recalled:
“This was just to please my own fancy, for, as that perfect summer month drifted on, the ever-restless tides left the harbour devoid of water at my favorite canoeing hour, and my pet idling place was lost for many days – hence my fancy to call it the Lost Lagoon.”
In addition to receiving water from a municipal stream, the lake feeds off a nearby creek and is home to a diverse group of birds and small animals. The famous Mute Swans are not indigenous; their wings have been pinioned to avoid migration to elsewhere in the province. The first swans are said to have been a gift from England circa 1890. By 1950, over 75 birds were gliding across the lagoon and neighbouring Beaver Lake.
The Jubilee Fountain, installed in 1936 to coincide with the city’s 100th anniversary, was purchased from the 1934 World Fair in Chicago [correction: see comments]. The installation proposal was fraught with public outcry, particularly due to its $33,000 price tag in the midst of the Great Depression. However, the infamous Mayor McGeer would not be swayed, and the lake was drained temporarily to erect the landmark.
The lagoon is currently plagued by a number of ecological issues, including pollution and invasive non-local species, which the Stanley Park Ecological Society and Vancouver Parks Board look to remedy in the coming years. Care for local and migratory birds, beavers, and trees are of prime concern. Their protection is a large and complicated task considering how this is one the largest urban parks in North America.
So go for a stroll hereabouts the next time you’re on the lookout for an idling place of your own. Though the lagoon is no longer lost, it’s a neat spot for lovers of local lore.
by Stevie Wilson | When it comes to adaptive re-use in historic architecture, it just doesn’t get much better than The City Square Shopping Centre at Cambie & 12th across from City Hall. Designed in 1989 by Paul Merrick Architects, it’s truly a unique blend of history and modern design, with two of its core structures designated as separate municipal heritage sites.
On the western side sits the former Model School, a Romanesque Revival Style building established in 1905 as an elementary training school for teachers. In addition to its large original fenestration and institutional-style sandstone design (the work of famed Vancouver architect E. E. Blackmore), its ornate arched entrances on its north side are still visible and accessible.
To the east of the mall is the 1909 Normal School, a Gothic-style building designed by Pearce & Hope Architects that also served as a training centre for Vancouver teachers. The two sections feature stained glass windows and (renovated) slate roofs to complement the original architecture.
The Model School continued to operate as an elementary school before it was closed briefly in 1963; it reopened the following year as an annex of the King Edward Continuing Education Centre. Over a decade later in 1979, after a few years of being boarded up, the Heritage Advisory Committee recommended the site for heritage designation. In 1986, both were designated as municipal heritage sites.
The newer section of the mall is a classic example of 1980’s postmodern architecture, with an interesting use of glass creating a courtyard-style promenade and showcasing the copper cupola perched atop the roof. In 2005, several of the original stained glass windows were unveiled to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Model School. The following year, the City awarded the mall a Heritage Award of Recognition.
So take a closer look next time you’re picking up a few groceries or dollar store gems. You’ll be amazed at what you find!
by Stevie Wilson | It’s no secret that Vancouverites love the beach, and despite our city’s proclivity for short-and-sweet summers, English Bay proves to be a popular spot even in the shoulder seasons, year after year. Since its establishment as a public recreational area in 1893, the beach has been a prime spot for locals and visitors alike. It’s known by many as First Beach, but the original First Nations inhabitants referred to it as “Ayyulshun” (soft under feet), and its official name commemorates the meeting of George Vancouver and captains Valdes and Galiano from Spain.
But more important than all that…what’s the story with those amazing art deco bathrooms?
When sand was added to the English Bay beach in 1898 it quickly became a magnet for rest, relaxation, and the occasional swim for locals. A bathhouse seemed a charming – and practical – addition to the landscape. However, like many landmarks in Vancouver (including the Georgia Street Viaduct, the Granville Street Bridge, and the Lumberman’s Arch in Stanley Park, to name a few), the bathhouse we see today is not the original design. The first Bathing Pavilion, completed in 1906, was built by the Parks Board at a cost of $6,000, and could boast the title of the city’s first bathhouse.
Other beachside attractions in the early 1900s included a long wooden pier, cottages, and a glassed-in dancehall known as “The Prom”. The beach was also the home of the celebrated Joe Fortes, Vancouver’s first official lifeguard who is credited with saving at least 29 lives while on (volunteer) duty at English Bay.
The original frame bathhouse was a large brick and wooden structure, 3-storeys high, with long open verandas stretching out on either side. While it offered impressive views of the water (and a private place to change), its 1931 successor saw a stylish new design in keeping with the sensibilities of the times. Earlier, in 1909, it was determined that additional facilities were needed at the beach, and a new building designed by E.E. Blackmore of Pantages Theatre and Jackson Apartments fame popped up on the northern side of the original bathhouse. This Bathing Pavilion closed in 1939 and the building became home to Vancouver’s first public aquarium until its closure in 1955. The attraction’s biggest draw? Oscar the Octopus. Word has it he had eight arms. Eight arms!
By 1913, beach-goers could rent lockers, towels, and even woolen bathing suits to enjoy their stay with. Circa 1938, a short 7 years after the new concrete art deco bathhouse was constructed, the wooden pier and The Prom were both torn down. Fortes, who had already seen so much come and go, passed away in 1922.
The current bathhouse has undergone significant renovations over the years, including several updates in 1986 and a complete interior restoration in 2002 that won the Parks Board an Award of Recognition from the City. In 2012, a beachfront Cactus Club location was opened adjacent to the historic site, proving that if there’s one thing this beach is used to (other than laughter, bare feet, waves, and cops pouring out perfectly good liquor), it’s change.
by Stevie Wilson | With the ink of my recent Ghost Hoods feature on Brewery Creek not yet dry, I took a look inside Mount Pleasant’s Western Front building at 303 East 8th Avenue to learn a little more about the history (as well as the current goings-on) of this neighbourhood landmark. After over 40 years as an artist-run centre and exhibition space, the building is full of distinct history and remains the oldest existing centre of its kind in the country. What’s more, it was once home to the Vancouver chapter of the Knights of Pythias, and they even have a few old ceremonial capes and spears to prove it.
One of the (many) unique features of Western Front is how the building’s original design has been preserved to accommodate and complement the needs of the staff and various exhibitions. Their Development Officer, Kristin Lim, explained how the address has transitioned quite seamlessly from a Pythian headquarters to an internationally renowned artist centre by simply utilizing the space’s existing structure. The various small rooms and cozy layout emphasize the centre’s differences from typical gallery sites.
The building was originally constructed in 1922 as a lodge for the Pythians to conduct, well, whatever it was that they did – secret meetings and such. When they sold the property in the early 1970s, they left behind various paraphernalia including their signature capes, a trophy, club signage, and a portrait of their fraternal leader. During my tour we ran into celebrated Canadian artist and co-founder of Western Front, Eric Metcalfe (formerly known as Dr. Brute, who regaled me with more amazing history and anecdotes than I could possibly fit into a short article. He mentioned that when the space was founded by himself and eight other artists in 1973, the place wasn’t in the most pristine condition, which happened to be ideal for this group of young people engaged in the contemporary Fluxus movement. Of the creativity and freedom of the early years, he observed simply, “It was a party time.”
Over the last several decades the space evolved into the professional, prestigious centre it is today, yet the building has undergone only a handful of minor repairs and changes, the most significant of which was the 2013 renovation of the Luxe Hall to uncover previously sealed windows. The original architecture remains, including the large windows, wooden wainscoting, traditional doorways (complete with Pythian peep-holes), a vintage telephone booth, and the awesome original fixed side seating in the performance hall. “One thing replaced the other,” said Metcalfe of the transition from lodge to artist haven. “The architecture informed our practice.”
For more information on this fantastic piece of Vancouver art history, visit their website, or better yet, pay them a visit! The space is open to the public – just buzz! – and offers plenty of (generally) free events and exhibits involving new music, contemporary art, media, and so much more. Who knows, you just might run into a legendary Canadian artist with a few stories to tell!
Archival photos courtesy of the Western Front Archives
by Stevie Wilson | Looking over a city recognized for its abundance of greenery and glass, the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park is a unique, historic example of Vancouver’s propensity for design. Full of exotic flowers and more than a few awesome-looking tropical birds, it’s a family-friendly city escape with a brilliant view to match.
Construction began in 1967 with funds donated from Prentice Bloedel, a wealthy timber industrialist known for his devotion to the protection of natural resources, reforestation, and recycling. His patronage of 1.4 million dollars (the largest gift to the city thus far) exemplified the post-war trend of large industries wishing to associate themselves with civic development, and complemented smaller financial contributions from the Provincial and Federal governments. Architect McKinley Underwood designed the triodetic dome, surrounding plaza, and fountain to coincide with the Vancouver Park Board’s vision for celebrating Canada’s centennial that same year. Henry Moore’s imposing Knife Edge – Two Piece sculpture also offers guests of the plaza a look into mid-century artistic flair.
The main structure’s design borrows from Buckminster Fuller’s larger Biosphere built for Expo ’67 in Montreal, and features materials manufactured in Ottawa that were then shipped to Vancouver. While the aluminum framework was constructed in 10 days, it took over a year for the entire design, complete with walkways and fountain, to be completed. The design purpose of the Modernist, geodesic styling is two-fold: to capture the optimistic and future-facing mid-century sensibilities of locals and tourists, and offer a new take on the pioneering 18th and 19th-century glass and metal solarium design.
The site also boasts the honour of being the first large triodetic dome conservatory in the country and was intended, as it remains today, to be an educational and scenic display of exotic plants. In its first year, the conservatory hosted over 500,000 guests. Attendance at the conservatory waned over the following decades, and in November of 2009 the Park Board voted in favour of closing the attraction due to growing repair and maintenance costs and the need for a complete replacement of the roof. The conservatory was set to close just after the 2010 Winter Olympics in March, though in January it was noted that attendance had increased dramatically now that pre-Olympic construction in other areas of Little Mountain and Cambie Street has been completed (go figure!). In February, public interest groups and financing, including $50,000 from the Friends of the Bloedel Association, inspired the Board to revise their decision.
The Parks Board ultimately accepted a proposal for the conservatory to be run under the jurisdiction of the VanDusen Botanical Garden, and it remains a gorgeous city escape, especially during the chilly months. The roof is currently undergoing a massive renovation, but inside the spot remains as peaceful as ever. We’re lucky to still have this lush piece of history, so pay a visit next time you need a little escape from winter. It makes a great date spot, too.
Stevie Wilson is a 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 reveal to readers the many historical things that they walk past every day without noticing.
by Stevie Wilson | Just over two years ago in 2012, the Lee Building celebrated its centennial to much fanfare and fond recollection as one of Mount Pleasant’s most iconic landmarks. One hundred (and two) years on, it operates nearly just the same as ever, with an assortment of small businesses and residents occupying the 7-story building heralded as the first skyscraper in the city. Designed by English architect Arthur Julius Bird, the building features a prototypical brick and stone masonry design, a look that was fairly new on the West Coast when it was completed 1912. Bird is also remembered as a pioneering force in city zoning and planning, with a particular focus on residential construction on sloped areas – a convenient match for Mount Pleasant’s hilly landscape.
The Lee, which sits on land that once was home to a large church, is named for Herbert O. Lee, a local businessman who originally opened H.O. Lee Grocery at 2425 Main Street (now home to F As In Frank. In addition to being president of the Westminster Lacrosse Club, Lee was well known as a successful, politically-minded man with plenty to offer the growing Mount Pleasant community.
Inside, the 7-storey building still retains many of the historic features, including an original elevator (now out-of-service) complete with antique chandelier and copper walls, mahogany railings on the stairway, and elegant marble walls and flooring on the main level. It’s a happy wonder that over the last century – including a period of dilapidation in the 1960s and ‘70s – that much of the original façade and interior remain intact.
Even the sidewalk outside The Lee boasts a story: in 1952, coinciding with the widening of Broadway as a major thoroughfare, the arcade-style sidewalk was constructed offering a unique covered passage for local shoppers and residents. This meant the removal of the front section of shops (rather than tearing down the entire building) and maintaining the original pillars for support. The building still towers as one of the few (for now) visible high-rises at the Main and Broadway intersection, so enjoy a look inside and out next time you find yourself in the ‘hood.
Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she branched out with a cryptic agenda: to encourage the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with Scout columns that aim to reveal to readers the many fascinating things that they might walk past every day without ever noticing.
by Stevie Wilson | Every once in a while Vancouverites are treated to excellent historical restorations. During the process, it is through the old bones of architecture – even though only temporarily exposed – that we’re given glimpses of our city’s past. One great example is the Byrnes Block, which sits on the southwest corner of Maple Tree Square where Water Street meets Carrall Street in Gastown. The main building (and the later addition next door) was originally known as The Alhambra Hotel (in the photo series above, you can see how the rows of chimneys recall the days when each suite in the hotel offered private fireplaces). It was built in 1886 out of the ashes of the Great Fire as one of the city’s first fire-proof buildings. The original architect was Elmer Fisher, who was commissioned by George Byrnes, a wealthy Australian industrialist.
The site is perhaps the famous for housing the location of “Gassy Jack” Deighton’s first saloon, but the Victorian Italianate address was also home to The New Frisco Hotel, clothing store Jelly Beans for Jeans (1970), and Bootlegger Jeans (yes, that Bootlegger). There are even rumours of a Baskin-Robbins’ residency, though the truth of that I could not discern with any authority.
The location had already fallen into desperate disrepair by the 1950′s, so the latter half of the 20th century did not see its best years, which explains the Bootlegger Jeans tenancy. It wasn’t until 2009 that a massive renovation (overseen by the Heatherbrae Group) saw the structure, façade, and fenestrations restored to their former (and current) glory.
As Scout editor Andrew Morrison pointed out when Peckinpah was moving into the corner space in 2010 (see gallery above), plenty of historic gems could still be found inside the walls, including wallpapered Georgia Straight pages and antique bottles. Owners Ryan Murfitt and Tyson Reimer decided to keep most of it, so the next time find yourself in the restaurant munching on BBQ and sipping on bourbon, take a peek downstairs and dig one of Gastown’s most delicious historical time capsules.
Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she branched out with a cryptic agenda: to encourage the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with Scout columns that aim to reveal to readers the many fascinating things that they might walk past every day without noticing.