Wednesday, March 7, 2012

We've Moved!

As of March 2012, our blog has moved, and we have a new address:

Many thanks for visiting us here and we hope you will join us at our new site as we continue to publicize and discuss the extensive heritage assets we share in the Grandview neighbourhood and along Commercial Drive. 

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

More about "$300 a lot"

Jak's post below shows an ad offering the block bounded by Garden, Parker, Nanaimo and Napier for sale. Six houses had been completed by 1912 when the Goad's Atlas (mentioned in a previous post) was published. The great real-estate boom continued for another year or so before collapsing just before the beginning of the First World War. The three houses on Napier marked by red dots have since been demolished.

The interesting dwelling is the one third from the left facing Napier Street (at the bottom of the map), with a modern address of 2317 Napier. It was probably just a cottage/shack, built for a few hundred dollars and set near the back of the lot, maybe to give more south-facing garden space for growing vegetables. Regardless, the owners built a new house in 1929, which is still there.

You think about the economics of it: $300 for the lot and a couple of hundred more for the structure bought you a piece of security near the city boundary (Nanaimo Street before 1910). And it would have been really modest -- a couple of rooms, a wood stove, perhaps not even electricity, but it would have had running water. A labourer made about $600 a year. The parallel a century later would be a labourer making, say, $40,000 a year being able to buy a modest house for about $40,000. Instead, out at the edge (now Langley or Maple Ridge or beyond) a modest house (albeit much more lavish than the cottages of a century ago) costs more like $450,000.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Grandview Subdivision -- $300 per lot!

Back in the spring and summer of 1907, Grandview was the hot item both for speculative land investors and working class home-seekers.  Much of the land east of Park Drive (now called Commercial Drive) had barely been cleared; new sub-divisions were arriving on the market all the time.

This ad from an East End broker was typical of the lands being offered for sale:

This advertisement is from the "Vancouver World" 6th July 1907, p.10

Monday, February 20, 2012

Goad's 1912 fire atlas on line

Library and Archives Canada have recently added a copy of a century-old property atlas (used by the fire insurance industry) to its website -- the perfect time-waster for a rainy day. Grandview is in Volume 2. Click on the link above and search on the archives site or use Google to search Goad's + Vancouver + volume 2 and you should get it.

I was interested to see that, in my neighbourhood, there was an isolation hospital on the block just north of Templeton Park (block 9). There's no evidence of it left at all (although I will check more closely). Templeton School ended up being built in the 1920s on Block 8, which was subdivided into lots but never sold, it seems.

You can see on the map a couple of early street names: Harris became East Georgia, and Union became Adanac on the section between Vernon Drive and Boundary Road, apparently because property owners in East Vancouver complained that Union Street near Main was notorious for its brothels and bootleggers. Adanac, now the east-west bike route, is 'Canada' spelled backwards.

Power, Energy, Change & Continuity

Today is the first day of Heritage Week.  In BC, the theme is Power and Energy.  In celebration, thereof, I offer this 1950 image of BC Electric workers fixing a power pole at Grant & Commercial (VPL 81076):

Here is the same corner, Grant & Commercial, looking northwest in 2011:

The first thing I notice is just how many more trees we have in our streetscapes than we did 60 years ago.   In fact the rebuilt version of F.N. Hamilton's building on the far side of Grant (which is now Charlatan's Bar) can hardly be seen through the trees.

Fred Hamilton had moved his hardware and plumbing business into 1447 Commercial in 1945.  In May 1957 they demolished the building that can be seen in the first photograph and erected a new shop in concrete block.  The Hamilton's (having been in business on the Drive since 1914) sold out to Hillcrest Plumbing in 1969.  Hillcrest closed in 1987 after which the building was taken over by a series of restaurants and bars.

On the nearside of Grant we have 1501-1503 Commercial which was built by Angus Campbell in the spring of 1936.  As the upper image shows, this building was originally a single-storey flat-roofed structure, a signature style for Campbell. However, as can be seen from the modern image this building now has two storeys, a change that was made in 1970s.

What the two images also reveal is the wonderful continuity of the Blue Bird Beauty Salon.  The Blue Bird was an original tenant of 1503 Commercial in May 1936 and they have stayed there ever since. In the image from 1950 I was excited to see their old Blue Bird sign at the far left of the photo.

Finally, and returning to the theme, the electric pole being working on in 1950 is no longer in that position (though the fire hydrant is!)

Friday, February 17, 2012


We had an interesting meeting last night, spending a long time discussing how we can "incentivize" the retention of heritage-worthy buildings, both in the residential and commercial districts of Grandview.

James Evans noted that he had recovered a copy of the Toronto Post dated 25th January 1906 from his renovation of the Jeffs House. The paper is rolled up and in a fragile condition. He is looking for someone who might be interested in it and who has the skills to preserve it.  Anybody out there?

This week has also seen a number of useful and interesting articles flowing by in the Twitterstream. These include a piece on the development of greenways in Seattle, a good article from Toronto about the hidden value of heritage properties, and another about heritage being the way of the future.

Finally, there are also some great images of the Waldorf Hotel's tiki bar in the 1950s.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group is on Thursday 16th February in the Boardroom at Britannia Info Centre. 

Everyone is welcome!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Grandview Theatre -- 100 Years Ago Today

On February 12th, 1912, Thomas Shiels opened the Grandview Theatre movie house at 1712 Commercial. It is the white-arched building in the middle of this image.

The building permit had been dated 10th October 1910, with J.J. Donellan as architect and Jones & Purvis as builders. In his opening advertizing in the Western Call, Shiels claimed that the theatre had "been built to suit the public regardless of cost."

Understanding the audience's desire for novelty, the Grandview Theatre changed its program every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

At the end of 1922, Shiels built himself a larger theatre a few doors up the block at 1730 Commercial. The old theatre was closed in November.

Shiels sold out to Famous Players in 1927 and the new Grandview Theatre became a central feature of Commercial throughout the 1920s, '30s, '40s and into the 1950s. Not only did they show all the latest movies, but they made themselves available for fashion shows, relief concerts during the war, and even mass political meetings.

When the rival Rio Theatre opened at Broadway & Commercial in 1938, Famous Players spent $25,000 on renovations to the Grandview, including new floors, new seating, two new projectors and a brand new foyer. The front of the theatre was redone once again, this time in red and black, in early 1940.

Tommy Thompson, a wounded vet from WW1, was manager of the Grandview from 1943. A popular figure in the neighbourhood, he became a key figure in the formation of the Canadian Legion Branch on Commercial after the end of WW2.

Like many cinemas, the Grandview Theatre was threatened by the introduction of regular TV service in the early 1950s. They put in a brand new "VistaVision" screen in December 1954 in an effort to compete, but it was too little too late. The Grandview Theatre was closed at the end of 1957 and the building was immediately demolished.

1712 Commercial, the Grandview Theatre's first home has survived to this day. For most of the last century it was part of Manitoba Hardware. Today it is a pet store.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Drive's First Answering Machine

Fifty-five years ago this week, in February 1957, Jack Bowman -- who had just taken over Illustra Photography at 1525 Commercial -- installed what was probably the Drive's first telephone answering service. It was a service offered by BC Tel and the local press called it a "gimmick."

Source: "Highland Echo" 21 Feb 1957

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More Links From The Stream

Our twitter feed @GVHeritage has brought us more interesting items:

Here is Allan Garr's opinion that the STIR program has not brought affordable housing to Vancouver. Given the assumed change in planning philosophy, this needs to be kept in mind.

This next piece is from the Economist and discusses the feel of streetscapes and crowd dynamics.

Finally, City Archives came up with this wonderful photograph of an imitation elephant on Burrard in 1900.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

All Ramped Up ...

... and ready to go. Here is the Jeffs House jacked up on rollers just before it was moved across the site at Charles & Salsbury.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Caught In The Twitter Stream

Through our twitter feed @GVHeritage we capture a lot of interesting and useful information. Here is a recent selection.

From the Natural Resources Defense Council we have an excellent piece extolling the virtues of reusing and recycling older buildings. They quote architect Carl Elefante, who coined the wonderful phrase, “the greenest building is one that is already built,” because you don’t have to use environmental resources in constructing its replacement.

Urban Studies has an interactive map of fruit trees in Vancouver, including Grandview.

And for the hands-on amongst us, the Old House Web has a useful guide to preserving ornamental decoration in heritage houses.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Waldorf Hotel Anniversary

The Waldorf Hotel on East Hastings has recently been spruced up and thoroughly renovated. The work has been completed in time to celebrate the Hotel's 63rd birthday today.

The Waldorf opened to local acclaim on 24th January, 1949. The owners put a full page ad into the previous week's Highland Echo:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Grandview Community Plan and Heritage Issues

At our regular meeting last night, Andrew Pask who is heading up the upcoming Community Plan for Grandview-Woodland, gave a presentation on the process. He then listened as we bombarded him with ideas for heritage issues that need to be front and centre in community planning for our neighbourhood. He took a lot of notes and seemed to be sympathetic to many of our concerns.

It was good to have representatives from Heritage Vancouver sitting in on the meeting and adding their useful comments and suggestions.

The Community Plan is still in its preparatory phase prior to an official launch later this spring.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Jak King presentation of the history of Commercial Drive, January 26th

Jak King, one of our core members, is giving a presentation about Commercial Drive at the Museum of Vancouver, NEXT Thurs, January 26th, 7:30, in honour of the launching of his new book, an encyclopedia of The Drive.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Preparing for the move

The Jeffs' house has now been stripped and is just about ready for its journey.  After some more internal bracing and some excavation work out in front of the house, the movers will come and move it.  The move is tentatively scheduled for the week of January 23rd.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Northwest from Victoria Park, c. 1920

Here's a photo looking northwest over Victoria Park from the top of Edward Odlum’s landmark 135-foot flagpole at the corner of Grant and Victoria Drive, c. 1920. [E. F. Odlum photo, courtesy of Ruth Raymond]

Next meeting: January 19th!

We will be meeting at Britannia, in the Board Room in the Info Centre, 7:00, next Thursday, January 19th! Please join us!

4th & Commercial: 1912

In August 1911, T.A. Allan and his brother received a building permit to erect a three-storey brick apartment building on the corner of Commercial & Fourth Avenue. In the previous two years, the Allan Brothers had erected large buildings at 1872 Barclay, 1460 Bute, 1860 Comox and 3216 E. First. By the spring of 1912, the building on Commercial, then known as the Allan Block, was ready for occupation.

In this image (VPL 7418) note the condition of the unpaved 4th Avenue. The building included 1932-1938 Commercial and apartments at 1707 E. 4th.

The building was called the Allan Block until 1921 when, for reasons I have yet to pin down, it became the Henderson Block. However, it was once again the Allan Block between 1924 and 1928. In the latter year it was called Highland Block which is what is known as today.

As the image above shows, the building was designed with two storefronts on Commercial. The storefront at 1932 had a hard time finding tenants who lasted more than a year of so. Mrs. Flora Murray's dry goods store was the first tenant but she was swiftly followed by electricians, a fish store, a meat market, several music stores, a couple of beauty parlors and an upholstery dealer. The storefront has not been used for retail since 1943.

The corner storefront had better luck. A series of real estate agents were the first tenants and they lasted until the mid-1920s. In 1930 Cut Rate Cleaners opened and the store remained a dry clearers (under the names Cut Rate, Uneeda, Steve's) until the mid-1970s. Later, there were furniture stores and the return of a real estate agent. However, the store has been used by a series of cafes since 1998.

The Highland Apartments have always been very popular and "The Encyclopedia of Commercial Drive" lists 497 residents from 1912 to 1999.
This image from 2011 shows the building with Prado Cafe on the corner.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Jeffs' Residence Surprises

We've run into a number of surprises, particularly in the basement, as we stripped out the old walls and the ceilings, including the supporting post that doesn't and the rather precarious crumbling fieldstone foundation (or whatever is left of it) under the main supporting post at the front of the house.  Sort of looks like something that Fred Flintstone would have built. 
It never ceases to amaze me how much abuse these old houses can take and still remain standing, even though by all rights it should have fallen down years ago.  Suffice it to say our structural engineer was horrified.

Actually posted by James Evans.

Jeffs' Residence Progress Report

Work progresses on the Jeffs' house.  The house was shorn of its stucco cocoon that it's been wearing since about 1955, revealing much of the original siding underneath.  The addition at the northeast and northwest corners of the house which were added probably in the 1930s have also been removed in preparation for raising and moving the house, which we expect to take place in about two weeks.
Actually posted by James Evans.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Commercial Drive in 1912

Just to the east of Cotton Drive, site of the previous photo, stands Commercial Drive, and these are images taken the same year as the panorama of Grandview, one hundred years ago in 1912.

The year 1912 saw the end of a major building boom that had been in play for a couple of years. Commercial Drive benefited greatly from that construction.

The first image (VPL 7417) is of the westside of 1700-block Commercial, looking NW. The Brandon Block sits proudly in the middle of the block as it does today.

The second image (VPL 7423) is of the westside of 1800-block, again looking NW.

Finally, we have the just-completed Highland Block on the corner of Commercial and 4th Avenue (VPL 7418). The owners and builders were the Allan Brothers and the building -- valued at $20,000 -- was called the Allan Block until 1921.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Grandview in 1912

CVA 377-820

This is a marvelous panoramic shot of part of Grandview looking west from a point somewhere on Cotton Drive. Which avenue or street are we looking down, I wonder?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Captain Copp's Exciting Life

One of the major real estate men who helped boost Grandview in the 1900s was Captain W.H. Copp who built a magnificent estate on Victoria Drive in 1905. An experienced sea captain, he had based himself in Vancouver before the city was even founded. In 1888, on a trip from Liverpool to Vancouver via Australia, he and his wife found themselves in deadly danger as this clipping from the Sydney Morning Herald on 29th December 1888 attests:

This was certainly not the end of his adventures. In 1892, after taking a vessel from Vancouver to the Bering Strait on a hunt for seals, he was taken into custody by the Russian authorities. However, he somehow managed to talk himself out of trouble; he was allowed to sail away with some British sailors who had also be apprehended. His exploits were reported to the British Privy Council.

Grandview must have seemed very tame after this!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Brandon Block Revived

The problems that the Brandon Block at 1731-1739 Commercial has been having this year, with severe structural damage to the upper storey, have been documented elsewhere. Now I am glad to report that the reconstruction work seems almost complete:

The building which dates from 1912 has an elegant design, and the current owners are to be commended for taking the effort to restore it so promptly.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Next meeting: January 19th!

The next meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group will be Thursday, January 19th, 7:00, at Britannia Centre (in the Board Room in the Info Centre).

In the spring of 2012, the City of Vancouver will formally launch a Community Plan process for the Grandview-Woodland Local Area. The Planner overseeing the process is Andrew Pask, and he will be at the meeting on January 19th, to get our input.  He writes:
Community Plans are policy documents that provide guidance and direction on a wide range of topics, including housing, transportation, public realm (parks and open space) improvements, land-use, urban design, social issues, and cultural spaces and activities.  In the case of Grandview-Woodland, the planning area will comprise the full neighbourhood — bounded by Nanaimo, Clark, Broadway and Burrard Inlet.
We’re at the beginning stages of this work, and are in the process of developing a neighbourhood specific Terms of Reference (T-O-R) to that will outline how the 21-month planning process will unfold.
 As part of developing the Terms, I had spoken with a few of you about conducting a small focus group with the heritage committee.  The purpose would be to gather some preliminary input on the following items:
  • Issue and asset identification (what are the strengths of the Grandview-Woodland neighbourhood?  Where are there opportunities for improvement?)
  • Sub-Area geographies (identifying areas in the neighbourhood that require more focused attention)
  • Specialized outreach and engagement considerations (how can we best involve the G-W community — and the people that you work with — in the planning process?)
The information that I gather during this session would be used to directly shape the planning process that then unfolds in the neighbourhood.
Please attend! It should be a very interesting meeting!

The Jeffs' Residence at Charles and Salsbury

Local history buff and Grandview resident James Evans is the developer of the site on the northeast corner of Charles and Salsbury. He has negotiated a Heritage Revitalization Agreement with the City that enables him to retain the enormous 1907 Jeffs' mansion, move it closer to the corner, and renovate it. He will also add market infill housing behind the mansion and along both Salsbury and Charles.

He has made some interesting discoveries while stripping the mansion down for its big move, including a hidden stained glass window, a five-panel pocket door, and, in the basement, some charred joists (indicating that there had at some point been a fire).

In this first photo, you can see the stripped-down mansion (photo taken today, December 16, 2011). The actual moving of the mansion will take place sometime in January.

The original wood siding is being revealed under the stucco:

The five-panel pocket door:

The Little stain-glass window:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Wall Decoration Uncovered

The ongoing restoration of the old York Theatre in the 600-block Commercial has revealed an old wall and what I take to be its decoration.

It is hard to say exactly what it is. However, it would be nice to think it might be from the original Alcazar motion picture house days of the 1910s. It seems to fit where the left-hand side of the original entrance arch would have been.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Robertson Presbyterian Church Development

A large part of the iconic 1908/c.1921 Robertson Presbyterian Church (and from 1978-2011 a Fijian Hindu temple and cultural centre) will be demolished to make room for a ten-unit housing development on the corner of Napier and Salsbury. The south-facing wing and the west-pointing lean-to will be torn down. The remaining BC Mills Timber & Trading Co. structure, along the north lane, will be transformed into three townhouse units. There will also be six units of row housing along Napier Street and a separate "carriage house" in the northwest corner. Underground parking will be entered from the lane.
The first photo shows the building in about 1921, and the second photo was taken in 2011.
Construction will likely begin soon.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

New copper steeple at St. Francis of Assisi

In this era of metal theft and high copper prices, it's wonderful to see the new copper steeple atop the St. Francis of Assisi Church on Napier at Semlin. The church dates from 1938; Franciscan monks had used the grand old house adjoining it as a monastery beginning about 1924. The monastery evolved into a chapel and became the focus of a Catholic parish in the 1930s and, post war, was one of the draws for Vancouver's Italian community settling into Grandview. The old house itself, facing Semlin Street, was built in 1908 for an Australian real-estate speculator named William Miller; his brother J.J., the founder of the PNE, built the Queen Anne house called "Kurrajong" at Napier and Salsbury, two blocks to the west.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Creating A New Storefront

I see that Liberty Wines are just about ready to open at 1622 Commercial, in the storefront that used to be Waazubee Cafe. I also see they are only taking the south side of what has now become a two-storefront building for the first time.

The original property on this lot was an office with a peaked roof that was set back 35 feet from the Drive. It was originally used as the office for C.E.Railton who was a civil engineer for B.C.E.R., presumably when they were laying track for the Chilliwack interurban. The building became increasingly isolated from the Drive as the block filled in along a more normal setback. In this image from 1926 (VPL 7144), it would be easy to miss the peaked roof showing above the "General Repairs" sign. The woman by the pole is standing in front of the "gap" made by the extended setback.

In 1929 or 1930, the building was demolished and the present structure was erected. Safeway was the first tenant and they stayed until their new supermarket was built at First & Commercial in 1940. For the next dozen years the building was used by appliance stores (Warman's and Moore's) and then was taken over by a series of furniture outlets. In then end, they didn't survive and the property was vacant for a year.

In September 1963 the Grandview Chamber of Commerce issued a strong protest when it heard that Guido DiGiacinto was preparing the place to be a billiards hall. They said that such a use might be “detrimental to the area.” However, by the end of January 1964, the hall was in operation and the owner was working on plans for a coffee and snack bar. The Grasmasso Billiards Hall eventually morphed into the Gransasso Italian Restaurant and survived until the early 1990s.

The wonderful Waazubee Cafe opened up here in 1995, keeping a lot of the Gransasso decor, but adding more art and heavy doses of trance music.

The good old place kept going until November 2010 when it just couldn't get up one morning. It has been sad to see the space vacant for a year, and so the moving in of Liberty Wines can be seen as a plus.

It will be interesting to see what takes over the northern storefront, a storefront that has never existed before

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Development of the 1500-block Commercial

From the earliest days of Grandview's development, the lots on the southeast corner of Commercial and Grant were owned by the Odlum family. Professor Odlum, the pioneering patriarch of the family, built himself a large house on Grant Street, leaving the lots along Commercial vacant, paying taxes on them and keeping them neat.

In this late 1935 photograph taken by the Professor's son Edward Faraday Odlum (and available courtesy of Ruth Raymond) the view is from the northwest corner of Commercial looking SE across the street. The Odlum house can be seen and pedestrians are walking beside the Odlum lawns on Commercial.

The Odlums finally sold the lots at the end of 1935 and in January 1936 Signal Oil began excavating the lawns to prepare for the gas station they were going to build.

In this early 1936 image (again from E.F. Odlum, courtesy Ruth Raymond), the photograph is taken from the Odlum House looking west. The stores are on the westside of Commercial and the machine can be seen excavating the eastside lawns. The Signal Oil gas station had its formal opening in May 1936.

A year or so later, E.F. Odlum snapped another shot from his house, again looking west (once again we must thank Ruth Raymond for the image). The forecourt of the gas station can be seen beyond the wooden fence. There was a gas station on that corner -- under various names and owners -- until 1972 at which time the lot was completely changed.

This modernist building was completed in 1973 and the TD Bank was the principal tenant. The Odlum house can still be seen peeking out at the left of the photograph. Today, this structure houses different business and this is a recents StreetView shot:

Quite the change from the quiet lawns of the 1920s and 1930s!

Friday, December 2, 2011

The York Theatre

The old York Theatre at 639 Commercial Drive is undergoing a massive renovation.

It was originally constructed in 1913 as the Alcazar moving picture show theatre. It quickly became the home of Vancouver's Little Theatre Company who used the facilities for 54 years under the name York Theatre. Some while ago it became a movie house for Indian films called the Raja, and closed for good about two years ago.

This image from Heritage Vancouver shows the Alcazar, the York and the Raja:

Now, the front section has been demolished and today it looks like this:

Hopefully by next summer it will be a brand-new York Theatre once again.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Derailed Streetcar at 12th & Commercial

Here's a picture of a derailed streetcar at 12th & Commercial after it was hit by a firetruck, May 10th, 1918.
Submitted by James Evans.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Reno on Ferndale

This house at Ferndale and Semlin has been surrounded by a construction fence for some months, awaiting the start of a basement reno. Joseph Rainey built it in 1909, probably with his sometime partner George Tyson, whose name appears on the permit for the similar blue house on the southeast corner of Ferndale and Semlin, built in 1911. Rainey and Tyson were also responsible for the row of cottages on Pender, numbers 1918 to 1980, in 1908-9 -- Michael Kluckner

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Next Meeting: December 15th!

Our group was conceived at a meeting of the Grandview-Woodland Area Council (GWAC) in the Spring of 2011, and we have met regularly (and separately from GWAC) ever since.

We are developing a heritage inventory of the neighbourhood, and, in the future, we plan to produce walking tours, lectures, signage, and pamphlets to present Grandview's history and heritage to the general public.

We are participating in the City’s Grandview Community Plan process, which has just begun (and will probably take close to two years to complete).

Starting in January, we also plan to celebrate the "birthdays" of buildings in the neighbourhood that were built 100 years ago. Let us know if you know of any 1912 houses we should acknowledge.

Do join us for our next meeting, Thursday, December 15th, 7:00-9:00, in the Board Room at Britannia Community Centre, 1661 Napier Street!