Monday, May 30, 2011

Brothers and Sisters

I meet a lot of characters on my walks around the city and don't usually take their photos but this fellow I did. Ain't he cute?

This building at 118 Alexander Street - formerly known as 110 Alexander Street - makes up one of the largest building masses in Gastown. It was built in four stages between 1898 and 1951.

The oldest component of the building represent the architecture of the late Victorian age. Originally it was only three storeys high and was built for the  wholesale grocer W. J. McMillan (subsequently McMillan & Hamilton) about 1898. 

Two additions were added to the east and replaced a two storey building that had the distinction of being one of the few to survive the Great Fire of 1886. This building's upper floors had been as Keefer Hall and were used for Roman Catholic Church services and as meeting rooms.  But demolition gangs had done what the fire didn't and the lot stood empty until the late 1890s.

In 1941 the building was owned and occupied by Fleck Brothers Ltd. who were dealers in machinery and industrial supplies. They commissioned architect William Gardiner to add two floors, bringing the building to five storeys.

Fleck Brothers Ltd. moved into this building after it has stood empty for some time and they did well here. The firm acquired the building to the east - 144-146 Alexander - as well as the CPR right-of-way at the west and Fleck Brothers built a five storey wedge shaped building on it in 1950-51.

Fleck Brothers Ltd. stayed in the building until the 1970s before moving due to the change in Gastown. The wholesale industry in this area was waning. In 1988 architects Davidson and Yuen Partners rehabilitated the building and turned it into housing. The Four Sisters Housing Co-operative is a pioneering venture by the Downtown Eastside Residents Association.

Right beside the housing cooperative is this two - storey, free standing facade wall which was built in 1912-1913.

The building that was originally here was built probably for the Terminal City Iron Works which had operated on this site since about 1906. Before 1916 Terminal City Iron Works was defunct and Burrard Iron Works took over the building. Soon the building was in the hands of Shandia Engines. By mid century it was a warehouse for the Army and Navy Department Store before becoming part of the Fleck Brothers Ltd. complex.

The two-storey building was designed by architects Braunton and Liebert who designed many fine commercial buildings in their short lived career. (1912-1914). Today it has been landscaped and is a garden for the Four Sisters Housing Co-operative and all that remains of the building is the front facade which is braced by metal storeys behind it.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Erickson's Evergreen

If you were walking east along West Pender you would come across this unique building at the corner of Pender and Jarvis. It is newer than most of the buildings I write on, built in 1980, but it is still historically significant.

Designed by one of Canada's most brilliant architects, Arthur Erickson who collaborated with pioneering landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, the Evergreen is one of Erickson's most significant works.
This building marks the mid-career evolution of Erickson's design aesthetic and reflects his belief in site, light, cadence and space.

The Evergreen Building was commissioned by John Laxton for whom Erickson had designed two significant residences. The spatial complexity and restrained detailing respect and emphasize the context with diagonal lines in a bold sawtooth pattern and are sensitive to the difficult, trapezoidal site.

Erickson created complex geometries through the interplay of offset zigzag and linear floor plates, each floor diminishing in floor area within the tapered, trapezoidal building footprint and took full advantage of the stepped configuration. He also kept true to his belief of combining nature and architecture. Not only does the building resemble a mountainside with its receding balconies but foliage overflows the sides, softening the edges and giving the impression that this building was carved into a mountain.

Erickson was a Vancouver BC native and although he travelled the world, he made Vancouver his home. When he died in 2009 we truly lost a great visionary. I hope to be covering more of his buildings in the future.

Built in 1888 the Leslie House is not only a rare example of a cottage version of  the Queen Anne style Victorian house but is also one of the earliest surviving example of a single family dwelling in downtown Vancouver.

This style began in Britain around 1860 then made its way over to Victoria. From there it progressed to the United States where modifications were made to make it more flamboyant. It then returned to my fair city where further adjustments were made to include some Italianate elements.

The style is shown through the hipped roof, irregularly projecting gables, an octagonal tower projecting from the front corner, and the decorative surface treatment, such as turned spindlework and ornamental balustrade details of the open front porch and upper balcony.

This address is also home to Umbertos, an Italian restaurant. According to their website the house was built in 1896. Whichever date is correct it is still an old house.

I hope you find the beauty around you.
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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stone Arts and Crafts

One of the things I love about walking around the city is the things I find by accident. Like this mural.

Or this piece of artwork.

(I may have shown you this before it is interesting.)

Another great thing is the people I meet and the stories I hear. Some of my information has come from the most unusual sources.

But onto some historical buildings now.

Arthur G. Ferguson was one of our city's pioneer landowners and developers. He built a succession of buildings and named each one Ferguson Block. So while this building is known as Ferguson block it is also known as the Boulder Hotel.

It is one of Vancouver's early buildings, built in 1890. It is a simple design that makes the most out  of natural materials, contradictory to the Victorian complexity of many structures of the time.

Leading architect of the time, Robert Mackay Fripp, designed the Boulder Hotel. He was an outspoken proponent of the Arts and Crafts Movement in architecture and this is one of Vancouver's earliest buildings to have plain rectangular sash windows set into a rough-dressed masonry wall.

A few construction details worth noting are two main facades of coursed ashlar rough-dressed sandstone with granite foundation blocks; single sandstone blocks spanning upper floor window openings; continuous running band of window sill blocks; smooth-dressed sandstone cornice over main entry; and common red brick construction of secondary facades.

This is a massive cubic form building on a prominent scale with a flat roof and regular massing. A third floor was added in 1910.

I want to tell you about Jimmy Cunningham who was a stone mason. Jimmy was born in Scotland in 1878 and came to Canada in 1910. He served for Canada in WWI. When he came home Cunningham worked extensively as a stone mason and his work can be seen at places such as UBC, certain Vancouver homes, the pools at Lumberman's Arch, 2nd and Kitsilano Beaches, the Empress Hotel and the Banff Springs Hotel.

In 1931 Cunningham was named 'master stonemason' of Stanley Park and he was entrusted with a special task: to secure Stanley Park's shores. He retired fourteen years later bu kept coming down to check on the seawall until he died in 1963. Once he even came down in his pyjamas! That's the Scottish work ethic for you.

One time Cunningham built a small wall around his property but upon learning that it would raise his taxes by $4 a year, he and his wife "went out and tore the whole blooming thing down.” That's the Scottish frugality at work.

I hope you find the beauty around you.
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