It’s almost unusual to find true-blue historic structures along the streets of Vancouver’s downtown core, let alone ones that bear any resemblance to their original design. The Homer Building, at the corner of Smithe and Homer Streets, however, is a nice little exception. Blending heritage features with a sleek contemporary remodel, the building – which includes the Homer St. Cafe & Bar – stands out among its towering glass neighbours.
The current iteration of the Homer Building looks very similar to the original plan, which featured a retail space on the ground floor and ultimately 11 apartment suites above. The ground floor began as the College Dye Works and over the years included a number of small businesses, including the Smythe (later Smithe) Grocery and several coffee shops/restaurants beginning with the Smithe Coffee Bar in 1952 and ending with the arborite-adorned Homer Street Cafe prior to its renovation.
In his research, Vancouver’s preeminent house historian James Johnstone notes that the Early Cottage style house originally built on the site featured a matching blueprint to one demolished in 2009 just east of the Homer on Smithe Street. The Englishman who built these homes, Edward Hobson, had also built two other twin homes on the block prior to constructing the Homer Building.
In 1905, the same year the original house was completed, the multi-purpose Recreation Park opened across the street, providing a new community gathering area as well as a playing space for the Vancouver Vets baseball team. Following the Homer’s completion in 1909 it, too, can be seen in some images of the park grounds.
While Amacon Developments completed the general renovation of Homer Building, the restaurant space that now spans into the Beasley Tower next door is the work of designers Edison & Sprinkles and Craig Stanghetta in partnership with Scott Landon. Amacon’s renovations were completed in 2010, and include the re-addition of domed roofs and cornices, as well as the restoration of the original windows and central staircase. The unique corner entrance and bays remains as they were in years past, while the restaurant’s interior – though gutted – has been outfitted with numerous historic and salvaged pieces from all over North America. When Scout Editor-in-Chief Andrew Morrison took a peek inside a couple of years ago prior to opening, he observed:
The truth of it is that only half the restaurant is in the original Homer Cafe spot, with its bird Lamborghini [a reference to the fancy rotisserie machine], old bones, and pressed tin ceiling panels reclaimed from an old church in rural Ontario. The other half is in the freshly constructed Beasley (connected by a short staircase). This half will see a 40 seat lounge sporting a good looking bar with wood paneling salvaged from a 1900 butcher shop in the American Midwest. Up a few steps beyond is an elevated private room with beautiful swing out windows sourced from an old mill, circa 1910.
This is all in addition to the heritage-inspired light fixtures and a slew of charming antiques placed along the walls and shelves. Pop around to the upper section and you’ll find a huge portrait of Winston Churchill – an original – spying down on you. As mixed-used developments go, it’s a very interesting fusion of the old and the new. If that doesn’t pique your interest, the rotisserie chicken and potatoes au jus will.