Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 23 – Japanese community in Lower Mount Pleasant

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

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Predominately residential Lower Mount Pleasant ca. 1913. Source: CoV Archives, PAN N161B

If you study the few remaining houses in Lower Mount Pleasant (the area north of Broadway) you will notice that they were all built prior to 1914. The pre-WW1 period was one of great growth in Mount Pleasant – its “Golden Age”. After the war, things began to shift. In the 20s and 30s, industrial uses crept southward from False Creek and original settler families (predominately British) moved out and were replaced by immigrant families (like my own Italian immigrant family). Over time, the area declined – buildings aged and were not maintained, and in the 1950s, property-owners successfully petitioned City Council to re-zone the neighbourhood for light industrial development.

Since then, most of the early houses have been replaced by commercial/industrial buildings, but fascinating pockets of the old neighbourhood hang on. This semi-industrial area is often ignored when people discuss the history and historic merit of Mount Pleasant. Few buildings in this area have made it onto the Heritage Register, and even fewer are designated. So, this area is still not on the radar for heritage retention and/or planning.

With the pressure of development of False Creek South, new density zoning, along with plans for a new Broadway subway, there is a lot of pressure for redevelopment and it is increasing at breakneck speed. It is just a matter of time until we see further erosion of heritage resources in the area. But it’s not just about built heritage, the area’s social and cultural history is also surprisingly very rich.

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Fire Insurance Plan, 1940. The arrows point to Japanese residences, cultural buildings, and businesses.

This area (see above) was at the centre of the Japanese-Canadian community in Mount Pleasant. The 1941 census revealed that the largest non-British ethnic group in Mount Pleasant and Fairview was Japanese at 1,400 people. In fact, Mount Pleasant/Fairview on the south shore of False Creek was the second-largest Japanese Canadian community outside of Japantown centered on Powell St.

Many Issei and Nisei came to work in the industries along the south shore of False Creek. During the housing shortage after WW1 cheap tenements and cabins were set up there to house the Japanese workers. (There were also many Indo-Canadians who lived and worked in this industrial part of lower Mount Pleasant.)

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The old Japanese Church at W6th & Columbia ca. 1970s. Source: CoV Archives, CVA 1135-32

Just down the street on 6th at Columbia (PHOTO) was the Japanese Canadian United Church aka Columbia United Church or Fairview United Church. The Japanese Kindergarten (starting in 1912) was also there. On the same block between Alberta and Columbia on 5th was the Japanese Language School and The Mikado Club was at 154 W 5th.

233 West 6th in 2017. Photo: C. Hagemoen

This hold-out house at 233 West 6th Avenue was built ca. 1907 according to the water service records.  In 1910, a building application was placed for the house to be raised, at a cost of $500. Architecturally, it is unique in that it is constructed with hollow-cast concrete blocks; the blocks would be made on the site by the builder with a special block moulding machine.

From around 1937 to 1941, the Asano family lived there: Masao Asano who worked at Peace Cleaners on Fraser St. , his wife Umeko, mother Sugi (widow), and daughter Jean. Jean was a talented young artist as evidenced by the drawings she submitted to the Sun Newspaper’s “Sun Ray Club”(children’s section).

Vancouver Sun, October 13, 1938. Drawing by Jean Asano age 13.

As a member of the Sun Ray club, you get your name mentioned in the newspaper for your birthday along with all the other Sun Rays who share the same birthday. This must have been an automatic yearly event because, curiously, Jean Asano’s name under her birthdate is included on this celebratory list until 1945. (I suppose the Sun Ray’s Uncle Ben didn’t realize he had an enemy alien on his list!)

In 1942 the Asano’s were either interned along with all the other Japanese Canadians living on the west coast or were forced to leave British Columbia. More research is needed to find out exactly what happened to the Asano family of Mount Pleasant.

The last Asahi baseball team in 1941. Back (L-R): Yuki Uno, Eddie Nakamura, Naggie Nishihara, Koei Mitsui, Kaz Suga. Front (L-R): Mike Maruno, Ken Kutsukake, George Shishido, Roy Yamamura, Tom Sawayama, Frank Shiraishi. Centre: Kiyoshi Suga Nikkei National Museum, 2010-26-19

Many of the famous Asahi baseball team players also lived in Fairview/Mount Pleasant.

Asahi baseball player, Naggie Nishihara (see above) lived at 2109 Alberta St. and in 1938 he is listed as a helper at BC Fir. Another Asahi player, Mike Maruno (see above) also worked at BC Fir and he lived at 161 W 6th. Many other Asahi players lived in Fairview west of Cambie.

My Grandfather, Pete Mauro (53 E. 6th) was also a baseball player; he played on several Commercial League and Terminal League teams that took on the Asahi team. Apparently, he was a bit of a hothead, and he was called “pugnacious Pete Mauro” once or twice in the press. There is one newspaper report of him getting into fisticuffs once with Asahi star player, Kaz Suga.

TheNikkei Museum has produced a great booklet on the subject: FE-A-BYU: Japanese Canadian History in Fairview and Mount Pleasant. It’s a great resource to check out.

Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 18 – Triangle Building

Last year I took on the challenge of the first-ever Local History Advent Calendar! For 24 days in a row, I presented random historical tidbits I’d collected over the previous year and presented them in the form of “treats” for my 2018 Local History Advent Calendar. This year, the “Heart of Mount Pleasant” was number 1 on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Watch List for 2019.  So I decided to choose Mount Pleasant as the theme for the Vanalogue Local History Advent Calendar for 2019.  Each day you can “open” a new historical treat. Think of them as holiday cocktail party fodder – 24 facts about Mount Pleasant history that can be used as conversation starters at your next social event.

Triangle Building in the 1950s with neon signs. The large one at the point was a large clock face with a swinging pendulum. The text reads: “Wosks for Ranges”. Photo: (cropped) Alvin Armstrong, CBC Vancouver Still Photo Collection

The Triangle Building, the cornerstone of Mount Pleasant, sits at the intersection of Main and Kingsway. It’s part of the ‘Triangle Block’, which is recognized and celebrated as the “historic heart” of the neighbourhood.

Furniture retailer, developer, and philanthropist Ben Wosk built this landmark structure, initially known as the “Wosk Block”, in 1947. During its 70-year history, it’s been home to numerous street-level shops and cafes, including two of Vancouver’s iconic businesses: Wosk’s Furniture and Bain’s Candies & Fine Chocolates. The second-floor offices (2414 Main) have hosted a variety of trade unions, community groups, professionals, writers, artists, and not-for-profit organizations that have been an integral part of the city’s cultural fabric.

Triangle Building looking all streamline and moderne. Photo: C. Hagemoen

The Wosk Block/Triangle Building is a rare Vancouver example of the Streamlined Moderne architectural style. A later variation of the Art Deco style construction, Streamline Moderne buildings display the influence of the technological marvels of the day and developments in materials science, characterized by aerodynamic curves and smooth planar surfaces. The Triangle Building’s stainless steel window and door frames are also representative of the period’s affection for slick, shiny surfaces.

Currently hidden under a skin of painted mural on grey stucco, the triangle-shaped building once featured the mid-century palette of jade green and black Vitrolite exterior finish. A product of the machine age, Vitrolite is a pigmented structural glass that was used in interior and exterior applications. Recently exposed areas of the building on both the Kingsway and Main sides reveal glimpses of the original exterior finish (take a look for the next time you pass by).

Jade Vitrolite revealed around the door frame of Dig It Select Vintage on Kingsway side. Photo: C.Hagemoen

The Triangle Building is not only notable for its architectural significance. It might even be more significant in the continuing history of the social and cultural identity of Mount Pleasant and the city as a whole.

The types of businesses that have called it home have always been a reflection of the evolving community. The graphic design businesses and skateboard shops of the 1980s and 90s replaced the dress shops and shoe stores of the 1950s and 60s. In the 1990s, several independent theatre and arts groups like the Public Dreams Society, Ruby Slippers Theatrical Society, and the Fringe Festival eventually replaced the high concentration of trade workers’ associations and credit unions that occupied its offices during the industrial 1950s and 60s. In addition, many popular-priced eateries like Palm’s Grill (in business from the 1950s to the 1970s) and Budgies Burritos (2005 to today) have occupied the Triangle Building’s street-level restaurant spaces. And of course, we can’t forget that the Triangle Building was where MP for Vancouver East, Libby Davies had her official office.

Budgies Burritos along Kingsway. Photo: C. Hagemoen

The community-based Mount Pleasant Heritage Group (MPHG)* believes that the Triangle Building’s continuing “popularity as a social gathering place, both inside its shops, café’s and eateries and outside along the sidewalk, reflects how much the building and its tenants are held dear by the residents of Mount Pleasant and the citizens of Vancouver”. The ultimate goal of the MPHG, and of heritage supporters all over the city, is to identify buildings like the Triangle Building that not only have “architectural significance” but also have a “history of contributing to the social & cultural identity of the community”.

The Triangle Building is not included on Vancouver’s Heritage Register. This is an oversight that should be remedied. In my opinion, it could easily be included on the Heritage Register under the “Recent Landmarks Program”, an initiative that recognizes the historical and cultural importance of structures built during Vancouver’s post-war period.

Today’s post was an abridged version of the article I wrote for Scout Magazine, March 12, 2018.

*I am an active member of the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group.

Master Chef and the 1978 Vancouver Heritage Advisory Committee photos

Master Chef Cafe at 2400 E. Hastings Street  – 1978. What can I say about the shirtless guy in micro jean cut-offs?! (CoV Archives , CVA 786-83.19)

Oh man, how fantastic is this photograph?!  If you ever had the privilege of dining at Master Chef you would realize how special this image is. I had no idea that the restaurant I knew as a simple “old school” diner at one time sported a cool neon sign. This space is now home to “What’s Up? Hot Dog!”, but prior to that it was home to the best turkey club sandwich and home-cut fries that I’ve ever known. Continue reading “Master Chef and the 1978 Vancouver Heritage Advisory Committee photos”

Finding “Bunty” Brennan, part 2

In an earlier post I introduced you to Bunty Brennan, she was the creator of a collection of  16 mm films and photographs. The Eileen ‘Bunty’ Brennan (nee Noble) collection is a orphaned collection currently being ‘fostered’ at the CBC Media Archives in Vancouver.

Film countdown on Steenbeck
Film countdown on Steenbeck. Photo: C. Hagemoen

What is an orphaned film? According to Howard Besser (Director of the Moving Image Archiving and Preservation masters degree program), an orphaned film is “a film without a parent…. [usually film is] taken care of by people who own the rights, claim ownership or parentage…there are a lot of films where no one takes ownership”.  Basically, an orphaned film is abandoned (intentionally or unintentionally) by its owner or creator.

The term can also refer to all types of non-commercial, neglected or little-known films like public domain materials, documentaries, silent-era films, newsreels, home movies, avant-garde works, industrials, independent films, small-gauge films, educational films, outtakes, etc. These films or “ephemeral cinematic artifacts” are most at risk due to the fact that few nonprofit and public institutions/archives have the support (financial and infrastructural) and know-how to care for the films (in a variety of formats). Orphan films generally fall out of the collection mandates or collection policies of most traditional institutions/archives, therefore making them even more at risk to be neglected.

Continue reading “Finding “Bunty” Brennan, part 2″