What Might Have Been

Anyone who knows Commercial Drive knows Joe’s Cafe on the corner of William Street.

joes-cafe

It is an unprepossessing single-storey flat-roofed structure, not unlike many other similar buildings along the Drive.  This one has been that way since Harry Evans had it built in 1910:

  • Building Permit issued 9th November 1910
  • Owner: Harry Evans
  • Architect: Townshend & Townshend
  • Builder: Mr. Lauger
  • Value: $3,550
  • single storey, three storefronts

But this is not what Harry Evans had really wanted. In fact, a year before he had announced something completely different for that site. In the 3rd March 1909 edition of the Vancouver Daily World, we find this:

harry-evans-dream

I can only surmise that, even in the hyper-ballooning real estate market of 1910-1912, he couldn’t raise the $10,000 and had to settle for a less ostentatious addition to Commercial Drive.

 

Getting To Today On The Drive

During a recent debate on the future of Commercial Drive, Jak King briefly described the historical/social processes that have created the Drive of today. These remarks may be of interest to our readers:

“From its founding in the early years of the 1900s through to the Second World War, the Drive was a rather staid and boring street, dominated by a population that was 85%+ Anglo. There were always a few Italians, a few Germans, some Chinese and, until 1942, a substantial Japanese population. But the English, Irish, Scottish, and Welsh dominated.

By the mid-1950s, the Drive was collapsing as an economic unit and Grandview was undergoing what the City called “slumification.”  The area was saved by two circumstances: the Italians who had previously lived in Strathcona decided to move East; and Federal immigration laws were relaxed, allowing many more southern and eastern Europeans to come to Canada, many of whom settled in Grandview.

Perhaps surprisingly — but certainly an important marker for the future — the Anglo elite welcomed these newcomers because they added a vitality and prosperity to the Drive that had not been there for a generation.

Since that time – for some 60 years – the Drive has been the scene of continuous change. We have had a constant change of people on the Drive – starting with the Italians and the Portuguese and some East Europeans, followed by Central Americans, Jamaicans, those from the Middle East, and a variety of Africans. Not only different cultures and nationalities and languages, but also different sexualities and those of various economic circumstances were welcomed to the neighbourhood.

Each of these groups have left their mark on the patina that is the glory of the Drive today. They have changed our building styles, grocery options, street art, food availability, everything; and they have done this over and over again.

And all of these continuous changes have been welcomed, indeed encouraged, by most Drive residents.  And that is because each of these changes have been subtle, incremental, and evolutionary within the general envelope of what the Drive is – which is a place of low-rise buildings, 25′ store fronts, and, importantly, local business ownership.

That is how we got to today, and it this same velocity and style of change that will maintain the Drive that we all love. Introducing rapid and intrusive change can only damage what is a highly successful and well-loved neighbourhood.”

Notes From The March Meeting

Another full house attendance last night — the Boardroom was bursting — including several new attendees, with a lively level of conversations and questions.  As usual, we covered a lot of ground:

  • We began with a presentation by Tania Willard about a piece of public art she is organizing.  The art work will be two 5.5m diameter limestone rings on which will be imprinted an image of a Douglas fir’s complex root systems surrounding an image tree rings from a 1400-year old fir from the Island.  The work is to symbolize the interlocking roots of First Nations’ history and languages.  She is negotiating with Translink to have the work placed on the SkyTrain’s new platform in 2016 and its placement will also represent the First Nations’ presence in our district for scores of generations.
  • This was followed by another of Eric’s popular Happenings in the Hood series. It was noted that there are a lot of renos going on right now (2036 and 2038 Graveley, and the Cultch’s Green house [see below] for example), along with a high number of house sales.  We discussed the recent sale of 918 Salsbury, 2084 Commercial, 2154 E. 1st, and 2111 Kitchener [see below].  We noted the “sale pending” on the former Salvation Army Building at 1648 First Avenue, and the almost $1 million dollar price for each half of the new duplex built at Napier near Commercial. The lack of apparent progress on renovating 1731 Commercial was also mentioned.  This agenda item always evokes a great deal of lively discussion.
  • Michael discussed the current status of the Green House at 1985 Venables.  The Cultch had planned to demolish the heritage building and replace it with a modernist structure. GHG had opposed this and had met with Heather Deal and Libby Davies to discuss our concerns.  We also wrote a letter to Council.  The Cultch had $1m in its coffers that was going toward the $2m of the new building; however, that money will now be spent, after Council’s decision, on renovating the Green House.  A marvelous building has been saved.
  • 2111 Kitchener has been sold for $2.05.  It is on a double lot. It seems there are some issues with simply bringing the old house up to speed, which left offers only from developers.  We understand the purchaser may try to move the house closer to the Lakewood side of the property and then build a coach house behind. However, there may also be issues with an easement on the lane. We await developments.
  • Bruce showed us another of his video interviews with Grandview seniors.  This time it was with Doreen Herman who recently died at the age of 90, just a few months after the video was completed.  In the video, Doreen talked about going to school at Grandview School of Commerce, going dancing, working in the lumber industry for 30 years. She used to live on William Street in a Guinet-built house that was demolished to make way for the Britannia School expansion in the 1970s. She said she missed the house a lot.
  • We discussed the project to create heritage stories for houses being listed by local realtors.  Dorothy and Penny are leading this effort. They have met with a couple of realtors who are interested in the concept for special properties. Lance suggested that we try to get information from realtors, especially interior photographs, that we can place in the wiki.
  • We had our first brief discussion of the 2015 Heritage Signs Project. We noted that we have to soon collect and clean the signs that have been gracing houses since 2014. Maria suggested breaking down the map and having volunteers make the first cut of potentials for this year. A volunteer sign-up sheet was circulated.  We will discuss the 2015 campaign further at next month’s meeting.
  • The Community Plan and its effect on heritage was discussed.  It was noted that at the Commercial Drive workshop, there was some push to raise the height limit to 6 storeys. This was countered witgh a suggestion to downzone it to two storeys. However, we have to understand that downzoning or creating a form of heritage designation may well cost us additional density elsewhere in the neighbourhood. There was a discussion about the value of RT8 zoning such as is availabke in Kits.
  • Bonnie Beckwoman joined us for the meeting. She discussed the fire that has closed Beckwoman’s and her preparations for re-opening soon. She also discussed the issues facing small businesses in the current climate.

Lots to talk about indeed!

Jack Burch at Age 92 Recalls Grandview’s 1920, 30s, 40s…

 

Jack Burch worked at Grandview’s local newspaper, the Highland Echo, from 1949 until he retired in 1994 as the owner and publisher.
This video interview starts with Jack’s experiences in Grandview in the 1920s and 1930s, and covers his experiences overseas in World War II. After the War, Jack describes his work at the Highland Echo and his experiences with the Italian immigrants – who made great soccer coaches.
The interview ends with various images and articles from the Highland Echo over its long history since 1917.
This film was part of a New Horizons grant to encourage people to use their smart phones to record interesting people for the benefit of everyone, and then to encourage the use of free computer software to make the footage into interesting short films. Anyone can do it!

Meeting Notes: April 2014

There was a heavy rainstorm and a wintry wind last night, but still the came out for the latest of our regular monthly meetings.  As always, the meeting was full of erudite and fun stuff:  We discussed:

  • The student program, working with UBG Geog.  It didn’t work very well for us this year.  In fact, it is reasonable to say that we got nothing out of it at all — not even a look at the final paper so far.  The student met with us once and then declined to meet with us again.  It should be no surprise then that Michael, who attended the class project presentations, said her paper veered off track from what we had hoped.  It was agreed that we review the situation again next year if the offer comes up.
  • On a more positive student note, Jak mentioned that SFU’s John Ngyuen‘s piece on Commercial Drive and the Community Plan should be available late this week.  In the meanwhile, his class project on youth estrangement from politics is now available.
  • We then discussed the fact that Commercial Drive as a whole was put on Heritage Vancouver’s Top 10 Endangered List this year.  Several of us disagree that the development pressures that may be leaning on the Drive today are anything to do with heritage.  The debate drifted into the current situation in Shaughnessy One and Dunbar.
  • It was noted that the owners of several heritage properties on the north side of the 1800-block Venables have received letters from a developer seeking to assemble lots there.
  • Michael then took us through the situation with our plaque on the Shelly’s Wall.  It is deteriorating quite quickly, fading.
  • This led us to the 2014 Centenary Celebration House Signs project. We have 39 houses on the shortlist and 24 signs.  We will launch again in June with a cake-in-the-park party.
  • Penny and Bruce will be talking to the Mount Pleasant Heritage Group about setting up a centenary signs project of their own.
  • Which brought us to the main event of the night.  Eric’s latest episode of this Heritage Mechanicals and Materials. This one was on glass.  He entertainingly took us through the history of glass making and its use in houses.  He had illustrations on slides and brought along a fine collection of artifacts for us to see and handle. Another excellent episode.
  • We finished the evening by talking about and sampling the ware’s of Bomber, the only brewer in the main part of Grandview.  A fine end to a fine evening!

The 900-Block Commercial east side

A group of us were at Zawa’s the other night, after the Heritage Awards, relaxing over food and beers, when the conversation turned to the short one-storey flat-roofed building that sat at Commercial & Venables until it burned down at the end of the 1990s.  It seemed that most of us had memories of one store or another that had done business in those four storefronts:  Everbest Grocery, Master Tailor, Grape Escape, the conctionery store that had twelve owners in its first twenty years, and many more, including cafes, furniture stores and political hang-outs..

000079-1That got me remembering the problem of dates. There was an assumption that the building had been erected in 1907.  However, I was never sure of that date. There had been no entries for any buildings at that end of the block until 1923, when they all suddenly appear at once.  A more logical suggestion is that the building was erected in 1922 ready for full occupation by the following year. It has the appearance of similar buildings erected by Angus Campbell up and down the Drive in the late 1920s and 1930s, but I am not sure exactly who built this one. The image above is dated 1922 by City Archives.

Just today it occured to me to look at Goad’s map from December 1911,

Commercial and Venables 1911

And the evidence is plain, there were no buildings in that entire quadrant of Block 22 in December 1911. Thus, the 1907 building date previously accepted by most of us appears to be inaccurate. I am not aware of any later photographs that could prove the case, but I strongly suspect that those first four lots on Commercial remained vacant until 1922.

Another brick in the wall of Grandview history.

Many thanks to Patrick at Heritage Vancouver for wading through his pile of water permits!

Notes From The February Meeting

We had a busy, lively and highly productive meeting on Thursday last.

  • The Centenary Birthday House project: We are still exploring options for permanent signs for the Centenary House campaign.  These will be offered to those houses that were celebrated in 2012. We followed up on our walk for the 2013 campaign, and will finish off the second half of our potentials list on Sunday.  We will be meeting at Continental Coffee at 10am if anyone cares to join us.
  • There was a fascinating discussion about the plans for preserving the Shelly’s 6X sign on Via Tevere’s wall. We discussed the pros and cons (and possible availabilities) of various funding sources for the estimated $3,000 cost, including neighbourhood grants, foundations, paint companies, and other.  We will be exploring these options over the next few weeks.  Michael Kluckner will also supervise a small test patch to confirm the methods we hope to use to preserve the sign.  We also discussed the potential for various tie-ins to the project, including the Rose/Lily annual block party, St. Francis Church, and a historical tour.
  • We looked at a number of relevant events that are upcoming:
    • Michael Kluckner is organizing an Art Mob to help save the Mac-Blo building at Van Dusen Gardens.  This starts at noon on Saturday 23rd.
    • The Grandview Woodland Community Plan is holding a workshop on housing on Wednesday 27th from 6pm at the WISE Hall.  This is a workshop that has obvious implications for heritage in the neighbourhood.
    • Eric is attending the Heritage Foundation’s Old School workshop on plastering on Saturday 2nd March.
    • Also on 2nd March, the Rio Theatre is showing the excellent documentary called “The Hollow Tree” about the efforts to save an iconic relic in Stanley Park.  It features our own Bruce Macdonald.
    • On Monday 4th March at 7pm, the monthly GWAC Meeting will include a presentation by the Commercial Drive BIA on their Vision Report for the Drive.  This again has strong relevance to heritage.
    • Finally, on Saturday 23rd March, Penny Street will be presenting her workshop on researching the history of a house.  We will write a detailed post about this at the beginning of March, but we suggest you pencil in that afternoon in your date book.
  • It was noted that Spank on the Drive is looking for vintage photographs.  This led to a discussion about venues where we could display some of the heritage images of Grandview.
  • Eric has offered to present at our March meeting a talk on heritage electrical systems.  His offer was enthusiatically approved.  We’ll have more information on this in a later posting.
  • Bruce Macdonald presented the first draft of a booklet he is preparing on the early history of the Cedar Cove district of Grandview.
  • Jak noted that he is now formally at work on the second volume of his history of Commercial Drive and he is looking to schedule interviews with those who lived or worked on the Drive (and neighbourhood) between 1955 and 2000.

Many thanks to those who came along on Thursday night and helped the conversation.

 

 

Next Event: Talk On December 8th

At 3pm on Saturday 8th December, the Grandview Heritage Group will sponsor an illustrated talk by Jak King on “The Birth of Our Community: Grandview 1890-1915.” It was this quarter-century that turned Commercial Drive and Grandview from a raw forest to one of Vancouver’s primary residential and shopping centres.

The talk will take place at the CFEC Room upstairs at Family Place at the south end of Britannia Community Centre facing Grandview Park (1655 William Street.)

Seats are limited and so we would welcome a note in advance to grandviewheritage@gmail.com to let us know you will be coming.  We will be asking for a $10 donation to assist the work of the GHG.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Meeting Notes: October

Even the torrential rain couldn’t keep us away from the latest meeting of the Grandview Heritage Group last night!

We began by reviewing the latest news on rezoning following Council’s approval of the recommendations from the Mayor’s Task Force of Housing Affordability.  There was a spirited and articulate discussion that noted the economics of the recommendations are not yet clear.  However, a heritage-dense neighbourhood such as Grandview is at peculiar risk from the upzoned designations now allowed at certain distances from arterial roads and shopping areas.

Maurice Guibord gave us more details on what will be the first ever historical/heritage walk along the slope west of Commercial Drive.  The tour will go ahead rain or shine at 10:00am on Sunday morning.  Maurice promises us that it will finish at the Gelato place at Venables and Glen.

We also discussed dates for the November talk.  In the end (after the meeting) it was agreed Jak King will talk about the early history of Commercial Drive on the afternoon of Saturday 8th December in the Learning Centre at Britannia.

Finally, Jak displayed his now completed database of the building stock in Grandview (some 4,100 lots) and the maps and graphs associated with the database.  There was a long discussion about the uses to which the database can be put, and the additional data that can be added.   The following is an overall map showing the age of the building stock in Grandview: the darker the colour, the older the building.

The maps — which are searchable by decade and lot-by-lot — need some informative and analytical text to make their interpretation as valuable as possible.  Perhaps more immediately useful are graphs produced by an analysis of the database, such as this one:

… which shows that 50% of the current building stock in Grandview was constructed by the end of the 1920s.  Talk about heritage-dense!

Once again it was an excellent meeting with a lot of information and ideas shared.