Notes To January Meeting

We had another full house for our monthly meeting on Thursday, and it was an interesting one.

  • Eric Phillips continued his marvelous Mechanicals and Materials series, this time with a lively discussion of what and how to keep records of your house. Using his own home as an example, he talked about property records, such as building permits, ownership and residency changes, and making an inventory of building components, such as mouldings, tiles, fireplaces, original paint colours and wallpaper designs, etc. He went on to explain the value of documenting, with images preferably, renovations made, including discoveries exposed during such renovations. He closed with ideas for maintaining these records in what he thought could be a House Manual.
  • We then discussed changes in various buildings around the neighbourhood including Brookhouse (becoming ever more derelict), Rob Wynen’s old house (in which the interior has been gutted, and the Brandon Block in the 1700-block of Commercial Drive where building/renovation work in the basement and the upstairs apartments is ongoing. The impending sale of both the Odlin Block in the 1600-block and 2064 Commercial were mentioned. The latter is being sold with the assumption that the 1945 building will be demolished.
  • Michael Kluckner led a very informative discussion on how heritage buildings are evaluated in Canada, in general, and in Vancouver in particular.  He went through the creation of Statements of Significance and how those documents are evaluated and edited, and he also explained in detail the scoring system used to give buildings an A, B, or C in Vancouver’s Register.  He closed by discussing current efforts to formalize building descriptions, mainly through roof styles.
  • It was noted that the deadline for applications for the City of Vancouver Heritage Awards is 2nd February.
  • Penny Street circulated the old photographs that Ron Segev found within the walls during renovation of his house at 1746 E. 3rd.
  • We briefly noted that our heritage plaque at Via Tevere has essentally disappeared through reaction with elements in the atmosphere.  We will endeavour to find a more permanent replacement.
  • Finally, we briefly discussed another intervention on behalf of Grandview heritage into the still-ongoing Community Plan process.  Jak will circulate the 2012 document that we sent to the City in advance of the Plan.
  • Our next meeting will be on the third Thursday of February in the Britannia Boardroom at 7pm.

The Wealthy Barber and The Tin Man

Just the other day I was standing on Commercial Drive looking across at two of my favourite buildings which are in the centre of the east side of the 1600-block.

The building on the left is the Odlin Block and the building on the right is the Rodway Block.  My interest was piqued because these buildings were erected at essentially the same time, on the same size lots, and were designed to service the same marketplace — retail stores with apartments above — and yet their designs are so different. That intrigued me enough to look deeper into their histories, wondering whether these designs reflected their original developers.

Harry N. Odlin was a barber downtown.  He first appears in 1896, working for John Lambert at 530 Georgia Street, and by 1900 he was at the Elite Barber Shop at 617 West Hastings.  Between 1902 and 1914 he worked in partnership with another barber, Charles Herman, at various addresses on West Hastings and Granville Streets, and he lived at 1123 Nelson Street. He appears to have been wildly successful (perhaps not just from barbering) because by 1911 he had purchased an expensive waterfront lot where he built a fine two storey $3,700 dwelling at 3197 Point Grey Road that, much enhanced, still exists.

Odlin was also able to buy a 33 foot lot in the 1600-block of Commercial Drive (then known as Park Drive) at the height of Grandview’s speculative bubble.  Lots of this size were selling for about $10,000 that year, although he may have purchased it earlier. He was issued two building permits for the site in April 1911 to erect a building valued at $7,500 designed and built by W.W. Brehart.  When it was completed by the middle of 1912, one storefront was taken up by Philip Timms, a photographer, the other by a confectioner, and the apartments began to be filled.

In 1912, Harry Odlin listed himself in the Directory as a realtor.  However, he was in fact still a barber, operating as the St. Regis Barber Shop on Dunsmuir Street until the late 1940s. His long and rather uneventful career suggests a steady conservative man, and his building — the Odlin Block at 1608-1612 Commercial — reflects that same conservatism with its flat unadorned brick facade.

Next door the situation was very different.

Joseph Rodway was a sheet metal manufacturer who had been born in Manitoba in the 1850s.  He moved his large family first to Alberta and then to Vancouver where he took up residence at 1644 Woodland Drive.  He found the money to buy the lot next to Harry Odlin’s and in July 1911 he was issued a permit to erect a $10,000 building.  He hired W.G. Thomas to design it and a Mr. Wood to build it.

Unlike the flat brickwork of its neighbour, Rodway ordered up a building with bay windows and significant amounts of ornamentation.  It is easy to believe that the pressed tin cornices, wall pieces and window parts were a deliberate advertisement for Joseph Rodway’s own business which eventually took over both storefronts. By the time the business opened at the new store, Rodway was already in his late 50s and the company was operated by his son Albert.  The Western Call reported at the time that the business was “prospering” under Albert’s “able management.”  However, it seems that sheet metal work wasn’t what the son wanted, and by 1914 the business had been sold to newcomer Fred Hamilton.  Joseph Rodway worked for Hamilton for a short while, but then retired and he was dead by 1922.

The Rodway Block in 1922

Fred Hamilton operated his hardware and plumbing business at 1618 Commercial until 1945 when he moved up the street to his own building at 1447 Commercial where the company stayed until February 1969.

So, is it possible that the conservative barber and the flamboyant sheet metal maker are memorialized in the very different designs of their neighbouring buildings?  I believe it is.

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While I was researching this piece, Don Luxton kindly sent me this wonderful video of a tin shop in Missouri which gives a close look at the business and the pieces of architectural ornamentation that are possible to make.