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.