Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Duncan and Shelly

For those of you who have been following my blog you may remember when I showed a photo of this building. I said that I thought it was a historic building but couldn't find any information on it. Instead I wrote on a gorgeous mural that was the across the street. Thanks to the website I have now found information on it.

This is the Chinese Nationalist League Building also known as the Kuomintang Building or the Nationalist League Building. It was constructed in 1920 and is at the eastern gateway to Vancouver's historic Chinatown.

This building has historic significance for many reasons. One is that it was built by W.E. Sproat and is considered his landmark building. (Sproat usually built houses not commercial buildings) Sproat used a mixture of eastern and western styles which was common for structures built during this time.

Another historical fact of importance is the involvement in Chinese politics that this building has had. In 1920 the Chinese Nationalist League or Kuomintang (KMT) had this building built as their Western Canadian headquarters. After 1927 the KMT governed China so the league's influence in overseas communities increased.

The league that once governed this building was quite influential in Chinatown and raised money for relief back in China and contributed to educational projects in Vancouver. (The Chinese Public School was once a tenant in the building) As time went on though and more residents were Canadian born Chinese support for the KMT diminished.

The facts I have on this building are a little confusing. According to my source - which I have quoted earlier - this is known as the Shelly Building formerly the Duncan Building but as you can see it still reads Duncan Building outside. As well Equitable Real Estate, who now manage the building, refer to it as the Duncan Building.
Architectural firm, H.L. Stevens and Co. built this in 1911 and it was touted as being first-class, modern and fireproof. It is a good example of the commercial style with characteristics like grid like organization of the windows and wall surfaces. The elevations are divided into three sections: a base with large glass display windows, a mid-section where most of the floors are, and the attic, typically capped by a bold cornice.

The original owner and developer of this building, Howard J. Duncan, is a mystery. That could be because the building wasn't that successful to begin with. Location and timing - business rentals slowed in 1913 and with the advent of World War I soon after things were a bit sparse - contributed to the initial financial failure of the Duncan Building.

A real estate and financial firm - the London & British North America Company Ltd - acquired the building in 1916. But it continued to struggle and the top two floors were converted to use by the Young Woman Association.

In 1925 the building was purchased by Cora Marie Shelly who was married to entrepreneur and philanthropist, William Curtis Shelley. (Mr. Shelly was founded Home Oil, Pioneer Timber, Canada Grain Export, Nanaimo Sawmills, Canadian Bakeries, and Shelly Bakeries. He was also a politician)

I don't usually go inside a building but this time I did. And, as you can see, that was a good thing.

That's all for now. I hope you find the beauty around you.

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  1. Please correct the family name: it is Shelly, not Shelley . Here is a related article, just so you can verify the spelling. Thanks!

    Shelly Saunders
    (WC Shelly's great granddaughter)

  2. Thank you for catching that error.