Take a casual stroll past the Oppenheimer Building (better known these days as the Warehouse Studio) at Powell and Columbia and you’ll find its historical significance hardly apparent. Bryan Adams has done a nice job in keeping his multi-million dollar recording studio modest in the eyes of passersby, but this site wasn’t always so innocuous. In fact, it played a significant role in the growth of Vancouver, and that’s long before Slayer used it to recorded God Hates Us All.
Our city’s oldest brick building began construction in 1886. It was one of the only structures to endure the Great Fire, which ravaged the majority of fledgling Vancouver the same year. As one of the first post-fire structures to be completed, the Oppenheimer Brothers Store was built for Vancouver’s pioneer Jewish immigrant merchant family, headed by the industrious David Oppenheimer. With extensive ties to CP Railway (following a series of successful business ventures on the West Coast), the Oppenheimers settled at the Western terminus of the railway system and set up shop. The Oppenheimer’s economic success as Vancouver’s first wholesale grocery enterprise led to careers in politics. This saw David and his brother’s ascension to city council and their creation of the Vancouver Board of Trade in 1886.
Two years later, David Oppenheimer was elected the second mayor of Vancouver, with four one-year service terms culminating in the implementation of many significant civic services, including streetcars, a fire department, hospital development, and more, such as the lighting service we now know as BC Hydro. Eschewing salary in favour of selfless civic duty, one can imagine Oppenheimer as a tremendously well-liked politician (you don’t hear Gregor Robertson being hailed as ‘The Father of Vancouver’), and his business did well, too; the Oppenheimer Group still operates as one of the top wholesalers in North America. More importantly, we have the Oppenheimers to thank for those Mandarin oranges you eat each winter; the family was the first to import the fruits from Japan in 1891.
Despite an interesting shift in purpose and cultural significance after Adams’ 1997 purchase, the Oppenheimer site still attracts worldwide attention for its commercial value and the owner’s commitment to preserving its heritage features. From Nine Inch Nails to Stevie Nicks, the “Warehouse Studio” still imports a great amount of domestic and international commodities. The ‘ripeness’ of Nickelback’s studio recordings are, however, still open to debate.
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