Sidewalk prisms of Vancouver

I was a shy child, consequently I spent a lot of time avoiding eye contact by looking down at the ground. All this time looking down at my feet allowed me to regard the ground upon which I was walking. Thus it was as a child that I first noticed the purple squares embedded in sidewalks.

Have you ever been walking in an older part of the city and noticed a checker board grid of purple squares under your feet?

Sidewalk prism light mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

Sidewalk prism lights mosaic. Photos: C. Hagemoen

No, they are not simply sidewalk decoration [wouldn’t that be nice?] but rather a system to illuminate spaces under sidewalks called areaways. Sidewalk prisms, also known as vault lights (or pavement lights in the UK), are glass prisms set into sidewalks in order to reflect the natural light from above, safely illuminating these subterranean spaces. [Why are they purple? The answer to that is at the end of the post]

The concept for areaway lights came from a similar system used on ships starting in the middle of the 19th C. Deck prisms were used to safely illuminate the cargo hold by bringing in light without the use of candles – which could prove very hazardous on a wooden ship, especially if it was carrying flammable cargo. Later in the century this system of illumination was adapted for city use, and the sidewalk prism was born.

What about areaways? In her interesting article on areaways, Justine Murdy explains that since Vancouver’s incorporation in 1886, property owners in the downtown area ( i.e. The CBD, Gastown, Chinatown) were charged “taxes for sidewalks that aligned their lots, even though using the space above the sidewalk wasn’t permitted”.  Some property owners took advantage of this and decided to use the spaces below the sidewalks to expand their basement space. Murdy explains that “by paying a minimal encroachment fee to the City, basements could be extended into the area under the sidewalk” past the building wall up to the street wall.  By the time areaways came into use in Vancouver, many other cities in North America and the UK were already using glass prisms to safely illuminate these spaces. The appeal of lighting otherwise dark and dank areas with “pure, healthful, white light from wall to wall” was very appealing in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Diagram from the Canadian Luxfer Prism Co. Ltd. catalogue, p. 25., ca. 1910.

Diagram showing sidewalk prisms from the Canadian Luxfer Prism Co. Ltd. catalogue, p. 25., ca. 1910.

 

Sidewalk prisms and areaways were more common in Vancouver's past than they are today. Photos (clockwise): 402 West Pender St., 1918, VPL - 20484; 610 Granville St., 1936 (detail) COV Archives - CVA 99-4856; 8 West Pender St. COV Archives - Bu N158.2

Sidewalk prisms and areaways were more common in Vancouver’s past than they are today. Photos (clockwise): 402 West Pender St., 1918, VPL – 20484; 610 Granville St., 1936 (detail) COV Archives – CVA 99-4856; 8 West Pender St. COV Archives – Bu N158.2

As Vancouver grew, so did its infrastructural needs. Since regular access to utilities (sewer, water works, electrical etc.) was required, it made more sense for the City to use the space under the sidewalk, rather than the street [which would disrupt traffic] to run and access these utilities. At the same time, businesses were shifting away from using coal as their main heating source, so all those coal chutes leading into areaways and basements below ground were no longer needed. In some cases areaways were taken over by the City for its own use.

The second half of the 20th Century also saw a lot of “modernization” in the city which resulted in new building projects and with them came new sidewalks, resulting in the loss of active areaways and sidewalk prisms. New safety regulations from the City engineering department also forced the closure of areaways – the sidewalk above had to be able to withstand the weight of an emergency vehicle parked on it. Areaways were filled in either permanently (with cement) or semi-permanently (with gravel). Such is the case with the historic Hotel Europe, the areaways beneath its sidewalks which once housed among other things a saloon, are now filled with gravel. This is at least a potentially reversible situation.

Ladies entrance, York Hotel 790 Howe Street, 1931. Photo: Stuart Thompson, COV Archives - CVA 99-3997

Ladies entrance, York Hotel 790 Howe Street, 1931. Photo: Stuart Thompson, COV Archives – CVA 99-3997

It seemed to me that I came across those ‘purple squares’ less and less over the past 20 years and I wondered just how many examples were still around in Vancouver. With a little research, I discovered this vault lights (aka sidewalk prisms) map by Samantha Knopp.  I used it as a foundation and tried to locate the 12 vault (or prism) lights spots on the map.

Unfortunately the exact locations are rather vague, and I had a little trouble at first finding the locations as indicated on the map. After some map/street orientation and then walking around trying to confirm the exact location of each spot, the primary thing I discovered is that some of the locations didn’t have any sidewalk prisms at all! My fear was that they were disappearing faster than I thought! Still, this map provided a starting point for my own discovery.

I was determined to create my own (detailed) map and walking tour of the sidewalk prisms of Vancouver primarily to determine the current state of sidewalk affairs. So, I present the result of many, many hours spent researching and walking around the city (looking at my feet). I hope that, through word of mouth, other locations will be brought to my attention and we can add them to the map.

The sidewalk prisms of Vancouver walking tour:

Map of sidewalk prism lights locations. (click on image to view)

Map of sidewalk prisms locations. Prepared by C. Hagemoen using Google map base. (click on image to view)

 

Original sidewalk prisms in front of 440 West Pender St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

1. Original sidewalk prisms in front of 440 West Pender St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Stop #1 – 440 West Pender (in front of Bangtown Hair Salon) – Original. These are a fine example of original sidewalk prisms, enhanced by the use of lights below the surface. The building dates from 1909. This block of West Pender used to have quite a few sets of sidewalk prisms and areaways. Old photographs of the Vancouver Board of Trade Building (1913), located on the corner of West Pender and Homer, reveal that the building was surrounded by them.

Outside 231 West Hastings St. Photo: C.Hagemoen

2. Outside 321 West Hastings St. Photo: C.Hagemoen

#2. 321 West Hastings (in front of Vinyl Records) – Restored. This is a small example of sidewalk prism lights in front of a building originally constructed in 1904. Note that this restoration using new round prisms (fairly unique, historically for Vancouver) takes into account the sidewalk load restrictions for areaways and sidewalk prisms as laid out by the City’s Engineering Department.

 Sidewalk at 370 Cambie Street - Flack Building. Photo: C. Hagemoen


3. Sidewalk at 370 Cambie Street – Flack Building. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#3. 370 Cambie Street – Restored. Part of the Flack Building restoration of 2009, and skirting the entire sidewalk along this corner building, 370 Cambie is a great example of a restoration that utilizes the entire available areaway. Note that this restoration using new round prisms (fairly unique, historically, for Vancouver) takes into account the sidewalk load restrictions for areaways and sidewalk prisms as laid out by the City’s Engineering Department.

314 Abbott Street - Woodward's. Photo: C. Hagemoen

4. 314 Abbott Street – Woodward’s. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#4.  314 Abbott Street – Restored [?] I have to admit this sample confuses me. Part of the large Woodward’s re-development project (2010), I find this to be an awkward example of sidewalk prisms. This small (and, somehow, a little sad) sample is located in an out of the way spot along Abbott street. According to city records, there used to be a tunnel and several “voids” under the sidewalks on the former Woodward’s retail property. Since they were not being used, they were filled in prior to the redevelopment of the property. Ostensibly, this example of sidewalk prisms is a historic nod to the property’s former glory, but seems to lack weight or context. None the less, it’s worth the stop to see the other sidewalk embellishments nearby.

Sidewalk outside 18 Water Street. Photo: C. Hagemoen

5. Sidewalk outside 18 Water Street. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#5. 18-20 Water Street – Restored. The sidewalk prisms in front of the Edwardian era Roberts Building are another great example of a modern restoration in historic Gastown. The original four-story plus lower level commercial mixed-use rooming house building dates from 1911 and is in the Vancouver Heritage Register.

Hotel Europe sidewalks. Photo: C. Hagemoen

6. Hotel Europe sidewalks. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#6. 43 Powell Street Hotel Europe  (corner of Alexander and Powell Streets) – Original. A fine example of original sidewalk prisms (Luxfer Prisms, according to the ca.1910 Luxfer catalogue), which surround the entire six-story “flatiron” shaped building (1908-09). The Hotel Europe’s first owner, Angelo Colari, developed the areaway under his hotel to house the Tivoli Saloon. These prisms were “saved” during the Gastown revitalization project of the early 1970s, as the brick sidewalks encircle the sidewalk prisms sections. However, the areaways underneath were filled with gravel in order to support the sidewalk above. This is a non-permanent solution and could be reversed if the property were to undergo a restoration.

Original vault lights. Photo: C. Hagemoen

7. Original vault lights. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#7. 425 Carrall Street – Original. These sidewalk prisms are along the Carrall Street side of the former BC Electric Railway Co. building which dates from 1911-12. This building was the headquarters for BC Electric until 1957, after which the main floor street car barns were enclosed to house a bank. Unfortunately the sidewalk prisms are in very poor condition and I fear for their future.

Sidewalk at 412 Carrall St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

8. Sidewalk at 412 Carrall St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#8. 412 Carrall Street – Restored. Portland Hotel Society – Pennsylvania Hotel. The building was originally constructed in 1906 and was fully restored in 2009. This restoration included reintroducing the sidewalk prisms above the basement areaway. This is another excellent restoration which takes into account the sidewalk load restrictions for areaways and sidewalk prisms as laid out by the City’s Engineering Department

Sidewalk prism lights at 8 West Pender St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

9. Sidewalk prism lights at 8 West Pender St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#9. 8 West Pender – Restored. Sam Kee Building. This internationally renowned narrow building was built in 1913 and includes a lower-level extension beneath the sidewalk, in which original owner, Chang Toy, created a public bathhouse. The glass blocks in the sidewalk are illuminated by coloured lighting underneath, so to be visible from above.

Entrance to 212 East Georgia Street. Photo: C. Hagemoen

10. Entrance to 212 East Georgia Street. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#10. 212 East Georgia – Original (preserved?). This is a lovely, small example of a preserved piece of history at the entrance to the Brixton Pub. This four-story section of the historic (1903) London Hotel (208 East Georgia) was built in 1910. I really like this sample as it proves that a complete restoration of sidewalk prisms and areaways is not always necessary/practical for historical impact. In this case, a little goes a long way. (This may be a perfect point in the tour to stop for a bit of refreshment).

Sidewalk in front of 260 East Georgia St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

11. Sidewalk in front of 260 East Georgia St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#11. 260 East Georgia – Original. Outside the Tin Lee Supermarket (located in a two-story brick building that possibly dates from 1909-10) in the heart of Chinatown, these prisms are an excellent example of what you would have seen all over Chinatown at one time. The sidewalk prisms are often covered by produce display boxes, which may be assisting in preserving them or hastening their deterioration. Hopefully it is the former.

Detail 1014 Main St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

12. Detail 1014 Main St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#12. 1014 Main Street – Original. In front of Bodega on Main, these are an interesting example of original purple sidewalk prisms. They appear to have been covered by some sort of “clear varnish” that has discoloured over time. Ostensibly this was done to preserve the integrity of the prisms and prevent further deterioration? According to some accounts, the areaway beneath the sidewalk is still in use and is accessible from the restaurant. (If you didn’t stop at the Brixton, perhaps a stop here is in order).

500 Block Beatty Street (east side). Photo: C. Hagemoen

500 Block Beatty Street (east side). Photo: C. Hagemoen

If you have time for only one stop on the tour, then 500 block of Beatty Street is the place for you – a sidewalk prisms mecca!

Beatty street Photo: C. Hagemoen

13. 564-566 Beatty street Photo: C. Hagemoen

#13. 564-566 Beatty Street – Restored. The sidewalk prisms in front of the Beatty Gate building (1909-1912) have been restored according to the sidewalk load restrictions for areaways and sidewalk prisms as laid out by the City’s Engineering Department.

Sidewalk outside 540 Beatty St. Photo: C. Hagemoen

14. Sidewalk outside 540 Beatty St. formerly The Crane Building. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#14. 540-546 Beatty Street – Restored. This is a grand display of sidewalk prisms in front of this former industrial building. The sidewalk prisms were restored utilizing purple glass to mimic original historic sidewalk prisms. My favorite example of restored sidewalk prisms, as they are a most faithful reproduction of the historical sidewalk prisms commonly found in old Vancouver.  The areaway beneath the sidewalk is accessible from the lowest floor. The Crane Building was built in 1911-12 as a warehouse, showroom, and offices for Crane Co., suppliers of steam, mill, and plumbers’ supplies.

2545 Main Street. Photo: C. Hagemoen

15. They are under there somewhere. 2545 Main Street. Photo: C. Hagemoen

#15. 2545 Main St. – Original (but covered). Serendipitously found along the E. 10th side of Belvedere Court (formerly the Harris Block), which dates from 1911-12. I was very happy to discover this example of sidewalk prisms for several reasons. First, the location is outside of the downtown core, but still located in a historic Vancouver neighbourhood (Mount Pleasant). Second, it is a visual example of what commonly happened to sidewalk prism lights, once they become damaged and a hazard – they were covered with asphalt and only an impression of them remains.

Excerpts from CBUT’s “Summer Afternoon” featuring sidewalk prisms on East Pender St. in 1957.

 

Recently I have been noticing the occasional nod to Vancouver’s sidewalk past with new building developments. Modern interpretations include square grid patterns in the concrete or even contrasting squares embedded in the sidewalk. Take for example the sidewalk outside The Crossroads development at Broadway & Cambie, there is no denying that these green squares are reminiscent of the sidewalk prisms of the past.

Illustrated sidewalk at Cambie & Broadway. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Sidewalk decoration is a good thing, it brightens up the mostly gray tableau of our city streets. Illustrated sidewalk at Cambie & Broadway. Photo: C. Hagemoen

To me, the preservation of areaways and sidewalk prisms is akin to setting a nice table for a great meal – first impressions make all the difference. Entering a dining room to a beautifully set table, is like entering a building where all the external historical elements are in place. Yes, you will still have a delicious tasting meal, without a beautifully laid table, but no one can deny that the total experience is not enhanced when all the elements are in place.

I learned so much information about sidewalk prisms and architectural heritage that there was no possible way to fit it all in one post. Stay tuned, there may be a Sidewalk Prisms of Vancouver post – Part 2, coming soon.

 

Special thanks to heritage architectural consultant, Donald Luxton for meeting with me in person and providing me further illumination about sidewalk prisms and filling me in on areaways in Vancouver (no puns intended… well, maybe just a little).

Fun Fact: The reason original sidewalk prisms are purple is that manganese was added to the glass in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. When exposed to UV light or sunlight, the manganese turned purple or amethyst over time. The amount of manganese added determined how deep a purple colour the glass would turn.

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Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band

The first time I saw this intriguingly odd photo on the City of Vancouver Archives website, I was inspired to know more about the photo and Alvin Lesk and his Victory One Man Band.

Alvin Lesk with his dummies of public figures on the north side of the 600 block West Georgia Street. Photo COV Archives, CVA 1184-60 - Jack Lindsay, Vancouver News-Herald

Alvin Lesk with his dummies of public figures on the north side of the 600 block West Georgia Street. Photo COV Archives, CVA 1184-60 – Jack Lindsay, Vancouver News-Herald

The photo depicts Lesk and life sized effigies representing the leaders of the Axis and the Allies. The photograph, dated February 1942, is from a series of photographs taken for the Vancouver News-Herald newspaper by photographer Jack Lindsay.

I made a trip to the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch to search the historic newspaper microfilm reels to see if I could find the photograph in a February 1942 edition of the Vancouver News-Herald. It wasn’t long before I found the image (or a version thereof) in the Thursday, February 19th edition of the Vancouver News-Herald. Unfortunately, the image that appears in the paper has cropped out Alvin Lesk and only focuses on his effigies.

Photo in the Thursday, February 19th 1942 edition of the Vancouver News-Herald.

Photo in the Thursday, February 19th 1942 edition of the Vancouver News-Herald.

Here is the caption that accompanies the newspaper photo:

Here’s Alvin Lesk’s ideas of how the war should end — Churchill, Uncle Sam and Stalin standing erect over the crumpled beaten forms of a cartoonist’s version of the Axis trio — a frustrated Japanese, a sobbing Hitler and a dour mouthed Mussolini. Lesk has built life-sized effigies to enact the scene and has them on display on Georgia Street, near Granville. He originally planned to put the fascist chieftains in a jail on a trailer, but couldn’t find parking space.

When I discovered that Lesk had originally planned to put the Axis leaders in a jail, the sign that the Churchill effigy holds then makes a little more sense:

This is where We would like the Axis Gang, Help put them there! Buy the new Victory Bonds!

The Canadian Encyclopedia entry on Victory Loans states that “Victory Loans were Canadian government appeals for money to finance the war effort in WWI and WWII” through the purchase of Victory Bonds.

Save to Beat the Devil - Canadian World War II Poster. Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-30-1220

Save to Beat the Devil – Canadian World War II Poster. Photo Credit: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1983-30-1220

Victory Bond sales were slow in Canada at the beginning of WWII, so after “the slow-moving second war loan of 1940, the Victory Loan returned with the panoply of colourful posters, patriotic pleas and vast sales apparatus which had become familiar in WWI”.  Alvin Lesk and his One Man Victory Band were just one example of a local patriotic plea for citizens to buy the “new” Victory Bonds.

Though I had some success finding the photo in the newspaper, I wasn’t very successful finding out anything about Alvin Lesk himself. The city directories of the time only listed a Vera Lesk, who was a musician. I suppose it is possible that they were related, but it would be hard to say definitively. I also checked the Vital Statistics for BC and could only find evidence of members of a Lesk family that lived primarily in New Westminster. Vera Lesk appears to be related to those Lesks. I found no evidence of Alvin Lesk in the BC Vital Statistics.

So for now, it seems that Alvin Lesk himself remains a bit of mystery. He must have felt very strongly about supporting an Allied victory to put so much energy in creating his effigies and promoting the sale of Victory Bonds. I wonder how many Vancouverites were motivated to buy Victory Bonds by Alvin Lesk’s Victory One Man Band and creative street display?

 

Fun Fact: Author Pierre Berton was the News-Herald’s first city editor.

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Fun with sticks and stumps

1885 view of cleared forest in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. Copy of photograph titled “clearing for a new city (Vancouver) at Granville.’ . From "Wanderings with a Camera" by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050372.

This was Vancouver. 1885 view of cleared forest in Granville, now Vancouver, BC. From “Wanderings with a Camera” by Erskine Beveridge. Photo: Erskine Beveridge, RCAHMS, DP050372.

In the mid to late 1800s Vancouver was literally being carved out of the forest. As the city grew, the forested land around the town site of Granville (later Vancouver) was being cleared resulting in great piles of slash – branches and other residue left on a forest floor after the cutting of timber. This waste material was mainly disposed of by being burned in controlled fires (one of which, infamously got out of control in June 1886 and resulted in the Great Fire) but, not all of it.

Where most saw waste, a few saw opportunity. Along with the (sometimes giant) tree stumps left in the ground, this slash gave some creative/resourceful early Vancouverites lots of raw material to work with.

 

The bar at the Poodle Dog Hotel.

Bar at the Poodle Dog Hotel. Photo: CoV Archives - Hot P5.

Bar at the Poodle Dog Hotel, ca. 1898. Photo: CoV Archives – Hot P5.

One such example is the bar at The Poodle Dog Hotel (love the name!). According to the Major J.S. Matthews notes that come along with the photograph, “the unique Poodle Dog Hotel bar was made of almost every kind of bark, cedar bark, vine, and maple twigs, moss and fungus, etc. it was built by George Cary for Bert Burton.”

Though the image above is a little primitive (early artificial light photography), you can still see the amount of intricate work that Cary did. It sort of has the feeling of an old west tiki bar.

George Cary with dog (far left) poses in front of the Stag nad Pheasant Hotel. Photo: CoV Archives - Hot P22.1

George Cary with dog (far left) poses in front of the Stag and Pheasant Hotel, ca. 1888. Photo: CoV Archives – Hot P22.1

The Poodle Dog Hotel first appears in the 1896 city directory at 318 Cordova with C.S. McKinnell listed as the proprietor. Two years later, in the 1898 directory (same date as the photo), the proprietor of the Poodle Dog Hotel is now listed as a H.F. [Bert?] Burton. This must be the Burton that Matthews’ notes refer to and who had George Cary build him the unique and rustic bar. According to Matthews’ notes, Cary even spelt out the owner’s name in big letters made of maple twigs along the front. “The Poodle Dog” was on Cordova Street between Cambie and Homer Street.

 

Three room stump house.

Stump House in Mount Pleasant, ca. 1908/9. Photo: CoV Archives - SGN 988

Three room Stump House in Mount Pleasant, ca. 191-?. Photo: CoV Archives – SGN 988

The stump for this stump house (or rather shack) was likely left over from when Mount Pleasant was cleared of its trees to make way for the ever growing need for land and of course,  timber. These two side-by-each stumps were converted into a shack by Swedish immigrant Gustav Burkman, a carpenter/builder who lived at 4230 Prince Edward St. (formerly Seacombe Rd.). The stump house was located on the east side of Seacombe Road, now Prince Edward street, between E. 26th and E. 27th Ave. It was reached by a short trail from Horne Road (now  E. 28th Ave). According to the notes made by Major J.S. Matthews, this photo was taken by photographer W.J. Moore, who lived nearby, and who also provided some of the particulars.

The narrative for this stump house was cobbled together by Major Matthews from the information he gleaned from Moore (the photographer) and a conversation he had with the Burkman’s foster daughter,  Mrs. Robert Williams, in 1963. Apparently the Burkman’s (Gustav and Hannah) came to Vancouver via Seattle during Vancouver’s Real Estate boom (ca. 1905-1912). The large hollow stump near their property, was converted into a shack, or tool house, and was about half a block from the Burkman’s house in Mount Pleasant. One has to remember that at that time city blocks didn’t look the same as they do today, and often houses were few and far between. Mrs. Williams recalls that an old gentleman (then in his 70s), Mr. Cunningham, lived inside the stump. The Lower stump was the kitchen, and the lower part of the higher stump on the left was the living room. The sleeping area was in the top of the higher stump (a loft?) and was reached via a ladder.

The date of the photograph of the stump house is most likely around 1912. This would coincide with the time period that Moore and Burkman were in the Mount Pleasant area. They both first appear in the Vancouver city directory that same year.

 

J. W. Horne real estate office in big tree.

Real estate office in big tree [Georgia Street, near Granville] Photo: CoV Archives - LGN 453.

Real estate office in big tree [Georgia Street, near Granville], May 1886. Photo: CoV Archives – LGN 453.

Though this is a promotional stunt, it still shows excellent use of land-clearing forestry detritus. The photograph shows a group of men posing on and around large tree stump used as the staged office for real estate capitalist, James Welton (J.W.) Horne. He used the photo to promote the sale of lots in the new city of Vancouver. The men in the photograph on the ground are (L-R): Mr. Stiles, A.W. Ross, Dr. Luke Port, J.W. Horne, Mr. Hendrickson, and U.S. Consul Mr. Hemming. The men on the log are (L-R): H.A. Jones, Mr. Perry, and an unidentified man thought to be Mr. Perry’s partner. This identification is based on Major J.S. Matthews’ notes with the print indicating identification provided by the photographer H.T. Devine who took the photo in May 1886.

 

Considering that the large area we call Vancouver today, was clear-cut of its old-growth forests in the second half of the 1800’s it is not surprising then that some inventive citizens would take advantage of all that debris and get creative.

 

Fun Fact:  Tree stump houses were actually quite common in the Pacific Northwest. They were the only thing that remained of a logging industry once enriched by the giant trees of the old-growth forests.

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For the love of old buildings

I no longer live at the corner of 1912 and 1925.  I recently moved into a 103 year old brick apartment building. This was a big change coming from the mid-century (ca. 1960) time-warp apartment I left – wood paneling, pink bathroom suite, Formica countertops – all very Mad Men-esque.

I love old buildings; they often have special architectural details that you just don’t find in newer construction – high ceilings, claw footed tubs, odd little closets, built in furniture etc. This is the third time in my life that I have been fortunate to reside in a heritage building.

The first was an apartment building at 15th and Granville. Originally built in 1912, Shaughnessy Mansions (as it was then known) was designed by the architectural firm of Townsend & Townsend. They were known (infamously perhaps) for a “zig-zag” pattern in the brick work of many of their buildings. A fine example of one of their buildings (still standing) is Quebec Manor at East 7th Ave and Quebec Street.

Photograph shows Shaughnessy Mansions under construction at 15th and Granville, 1912. Photo: Cov Archives - Trans P89.

Photograph shows Shaughnessy Mansions under construction at 15th and Granville, 1912. Photo: Cov Archives – Trans P89.

Despite the noticeably sloping floors and other ‘wabi-sabi’ details that came with age, it was a sturdy old gal. Proving as such when a van smashed into the ground floor early one Sunday AM (at first I thought it was an earthquake).

When the building was sold several years ago it was torn down (save for the front façade) in yet another example of architectural taxidermy that has become popular in Vancouver lately. For those who don’t know, architectural taxidermy is the situation where developers literally “skin” the exterior of an old building and re-apply it to a new structure (stuffed inside). In my opinion, this practice of architectural taxidermy is a pathetic attempt by developers to fulfill their heritage preservation requirements. What is supposed to be seen as a nod to the history of the building is really only lip-service. It should not be confused with actual preservation.

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The Pro-Rec Program (1934-1953)

Group of women doing a Pro-Rec fitness display in Stanley PArk

Group of women doing a Pro-Rec fitness display in Stanley Park, 1940.   Photo City of Vancouver Archives – CVA 1184-2355

Pro-Rec dance demonstration. CVA 586-237

Pro-Rec dance demonstration in Stanley Park, 1940. Photo: City of Vancouver Archives – CVA 586-237

These intriguing photos are from a series of images that depict a ‘Pro-Rec’ mass demonstration held at Brockton Oval in Stanley Park in 1940. “Pro Rec”, short for Provincial Recreation, was a community sport and recreation initiative offered through the Physical Education Branch of the BC Department of Education. It was developed by Jan Eisenhardt (program administrator) with the support of BC Minister of Education, George Weir.

Pro Rec [demonstrations in] Stanley Park, ca. 1940. Photo: CoV Archives - CVA 586-226

Pro Rec [demonstrations in] Stanley Park, ca. 1940. Photo: CoV Archives – CVA 586-226

The community-oriented scheme (initially set up in 1934) offered volunteer-run games and recreation classes for those unemployed aged 15 and over. The program proved so popular, that the Pro-Rec program was eventually made available to all in 1936. Summer displays (like these from 1940) were used to promote a changing schedule of activities.

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“Please wait a minute Mr. Postman”

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of her move to this Province, a friend of mine recently mailed out postcards from her extensive personal collection to all her friends. Each of the thoughtfully selected postcards contained a brief narrative about one of her many experiences over the past 25 years. It was a delight to receive such a personal memento in the mail.

Postcard from my friend along with a flyer (what I usually receive in the mail) arrived in my mailbox recently. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Postcard from my friend along with a flyer (what I usually receive in the mail) arrived in my mailbox recently. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Analogue experiences like this are far and few between these days thanks to the internet. There is no doubt that everyone loves to receive a handwritten card, however very few people actually take the time to write one these days. Since the advent of email, texting, twitter, Facebook and other digital technology there really isn’t a need, nor desire, to write and send letters (or cards) via snail mail. Even etiquette traditionalists, bowing to the new technology, agree that email is an acceptable way to deliver an invitation, thank-you note or business letter.

What does this all mean? It means the end of the conventional post office and mail delivery as we know it. I’m afraid that door-to-door mail delivery is going the way of the rotary dial landline telephone (remember those?) and I think that is a real shame.

Illuminated letter drop at the main Vancouver Postal station. Photo: C. Hagemoen

Illuminated letter drop at the main Vancouver Postal station. Photo: C. Hagemoen

It’s a shame because it’s not just about the lost art of letter writing and receiving hand written items in the mail. It’s a shame because it’s also about losing the tradition of having your mail delivered personally to your door by another human being.

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The city in flux: Cedar Street (aka Burrard Street)

Spend any length of time living in Vancouver and you know it is constantly changing (old buildings come down, new buildings go up). Vancouver is a city in flux.

For a relatively young city (in the global scheme of things), Vancouver has certainly gone through its fair share of changes in its 129 year history. Personally, I am amazed how quickly one can get used to the new scenery and forget what used to be there before. In my own experience, that is just in the past 40 years. Imagine how much the city would have appeared to have changed for people who lived here 80 or 100 years ago – it would be almost unrecognizable to them.

Here is a brief snapshot look at one part of that flux – Cedar Street aka Burrard Street.

Cedar St.

This sidewalk stamp found along Burrard St. near 11th Ave. dates to 1931. Photo: C. Hagemoen

This sidewalk stamp reveals the former name of the southern portion of Burrard Street in Vancouver. According to “Street Names of Vancouver” by Elizabeth Walker, Cedar Street dates back to 1885 and was named by L. A. Hamilton, Vancouver’s most influential street namer. When the Burrard Bridge was completed in 1932, Burrard St. (north side, downtown) was then linked to Cedar St. on the south end of the bridge. Cedar Street was officially renamed Burrard Street in 1938.

Looking northwest towards the intersection of Cornwall Avenue and Cedar Street (Burrard Street), July 1931. Photo: Stuart Thomson, COV Archives - CVA 99-4630.

Looking northwest towards the intersection of Cornwall Avenue and Cedar Street (Burrard Street), July 193[2?]. Photo: Stuart Thomson, COV Archives – CVA 99-4630.

The addition of the Burrard Bridge in 1932 dramatically changed this part of the city, and eventually Cedar Street permanently. As seen in the photo above, this part of Cedar Street from the southern end of the Burrard Bridge to 1st Avenue was mainly undeveloped, scrubby land – no Molson’s Brewery complex (originally Sick’s Capilano Brewery – 1953) or Seaforth Armoury (1936) to be seen.

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