In the most recent Changes On The Drive, I reported that the building at 1301 Commercial, which most of us these days know as the Wonderbucks Building, is now for sale after lying empty for more than a year. The building has a fascinating history which I thought I might relate here.
The Fraser family built 1301 Commercial in 1927 to house their Crystal Dairy. Founded in 1922, Crystal Dairy was the largest independent dairy in Vancouver by 1936. Most of the building was essentially a milk delivery depot and stables, but some of the frontage along Commercial Drive had served retail.
The retail space was completely renovated in 1939 to be the finest soda-and-ice-cream fountain in East Vancouver. This was a title they fought over with Louis Toban’s Toots Restaurant at Commercial and Broadway. For more than a decade the two competed mainly in a series of renovations, using new chrome, glass, and lighting, each trying to outdo the other in popularity with the teen crowd.
In those pre-feminist days, girls would vie for positions as waitresses at Crystal Fountain as it was the best place to meet eligible boyfriends and husbands.
The Frasers sold the dairy a few years after the War and by 1954, the new owners had consolidated operations elsewhere and the dairy and fountain were closed. For the next 15 years, the building served as the offices and warehouse of the Select Music Company, a division of Acme Novelties.
In 1968, the building, damaged from two recent fires, was purchased for $90,000 by Carlo Gallo and Giuseppe Padovano, and renovated into the Italian Melodi Dance Hall. When it opened, the Echo called it “fabulous, new”, and described it as “in the style of old Venice with a terrazo floor, beautiful pictures on the wall,and a statue complete with fountain in the foyer.” Dinner and dancing for New Years Eve that year was $15.
It was a success for a while but in 1974, the same owners closed the hall and remodeled the store into G & P Food Market.
From 1995 to 2001, the building was used first by a liquidator and then by a haulage company. Wonderbucks took over the space in 2001 and stayed until the size of the rent forced its closure in early 2017.
Now it is for sale, and we are ready for the next chapter.
Sources: “Highland Echo” 1936-1960; City Directories; GHG Database