Local History Advent Calendar 2019 – Day 24 – Mount Pleasant Heritage Group

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.

This past May my three colleagues in the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group and I were collectively awarded a City of Vancouver Heritage Award of Merit for our “efforts in raising and promoting public appreciation of both the neighbourhood’s history and the resources within the community, as it contributes to education and awareness”.

The Mount Pleasant Heritage Group (MPHG) is a grassroots collection of Mount Pleasant residents, local historians and other interested people working to identify, preserve and celebrate the built, natural, cultural & industrial heritage of Mount Pleasant. The MPHG grew out of community connections formed during the City’s community planning workshops (resulting in the 2010 Mount Pleasant Community Plan) and the subsequent Implementation Committee (resulting in the 2013 Implementation Package). Since MPHG’s formation in 2013, we have compiled an information base and embarked on projects aimed at presenting Mount Pleasant’s rich heritage to the public.

Mount Pleasant has been known in the past and is currently known for its vibrant mix of locally owned small businesses, some of which have been in the neighbourhood for decades. Many of these businesses reside in heritage buildings like The Federal Store, Laura’s Coffee Shop, The Whip Restaurant & Gallery, and Pulp Fiction Books.

Mount Pleasant is a vibrant urban community. It has always evolved with the changing world…. it adapted and yet was able to maintain its “village” feel. But that is threatened with development. Recent zoning changes in Lower Mount Pleasant and the new Broadway Plan which includes a subway transit station at E. Broadway and Main are threatening to destroy what makes Mount Pleasant so pleasant and appealing in the first place. Imagine getting  off of the subway in Mount Pleasant and exiting the station, and not knowing where you are because all you see are the same ubiquitous chain stores and homogenous architecture. You should be able to exit the station and know that you are in  Mount Pleasant… not Anywhere, North America.

Kerry Gold wrote a great piece in the Globe and Mail August 2018 titled ‘Mount Pleasant Transforms as SkyTrain Grows’ … in it she outlines how increasing development is threatening the neighbourhood’s “village atmosphere…affordable rental apartments, historic architecture and independent businesses.”

Other good reads on the subject of the threat to Mount Pleasant’s heritage are:

With SkyTrain on track, Mount Pleasant businesses worry about train lines and bottom lines– Liam Britten, CBC Vancouver – November 23, 2018. Mount Pleasant is getting better transit. But will ‘character’ be a casualty?

“We really want to see the vibrancy and street life and all those wonderful little small businesses continue to exist.” “It’s going to take some real out-of-the-box thinking … and, quite honestly, guts at city hall to find ways that things can be maintained.” – Alyssa Myshok

Mount Pleasant’s on the rise, but for whom? – Sean MacPherson, Megaphone – July 20, 2015. As Vancouver’s oldest suburb changes, let’s consider what we’ve lost.

As urban “improvement” strategies begin to transform the neighborhood, it seems a fit time to think about the cycle of change throughout the history of this place. It is important to consider these changes and their ramifications for the people who live here. – Sean MacPherson

Vancouver’s industrial heritage faces uncertain future – Mike Kissinger, Vancouver Courier – December 23, 2019. In this article, Javier Campos, president of Heritage Vancouver Society, discusses the difficulty in preserving the city’s industrial past. Something that is very relevant to Mount Pleasant’s own industrial heritage.

“Heritage is about that. For me personally, it’s to understand a shared history that we have. But it also needs to allow things to evolve and develop. Industrial heritage is part of our history. It’s part of why Vancouver is here. It’s about how it developed. It’s about how we became Vancouver. So it’s very important to preserve some of that and to help people remember and understand where we came from.” – Javier Campos

We don’t want to hold our communities in aspic, (think suspended fruit in jello) but we also don’t want to obliterate them in the name of progress, or in the name of density. So no matter what happens… there will be changes, the plan is to work together to mitigate those changes so that we can preserve what we already have, while still getting what we need.

It is the desire of the MPHG to open up a conversation with the City about ways to protect the neighbourhood’s treasured heritage assets – both tangible and intangible – which contribute so deeply to its liveability. We want to find ways to manage change so that the neighbourhood is able to hold onto its valued characteristics. We would also like the City to recognize all the work that has already been done with the creation of the Mount Pleasant Community Plan and 2013 Implementation Plan.

The MPHG believe an important first step would be to set up a neighbourhood advisory committee and follow the suggestion of the Mount Pleasant Community Plan to make Mount Pleasant (and in particular its ‘Heritage Heart’) a heritage area with a management plan. Such a plan would follow best practices in heritage and city planning. One of the goals would be the creation of a Main Street Heritage Precinct in the Old Mount Pleasant Village or Heritage Heart of Mount Pleasant. This unique area, with some of the most historically cohesive blocks left, has continuously been the hub of the neighbourhood. It is a vibrant and well-loved shopping and gathering space with an active streetscape that draws people from all over the city, and it is worthy and in desperate need of protection and preservation.

MPHG is going to need your help. The new year will bring a call to action for those interested in preserving and protecting Mount Pleasant’s heritage. So please follow the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on our MPHG website  – for updates on how you can help and for news on what’s happening.

This post was written with files from the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group. All photography – Christine Hagemoen

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.