Monday, May 11, 2015

102 East Georgia

Let's go back to 1911. We are standing at 102 East Georgia Street - then named Harris Street - facing an establishment known as Central Rooms. It is a brick building with nineteen rooms and each room has a service bell, hot and cold running water, and steam heat. It is one of the many rooming houses or SROs - single room occupancy - hotels built from 1908 to 1913. That's not the reason I want to tell you about it.

This building houses the Lincoln Club. The club was an early railway porter's club and a social centre for Vancouver's black community and entertainers passing through town on the vaudeville circuit. This is an interesting area of town in our history and before I tell you more about the club, I am going to look at what was happening in the district.

If you take a look at the names of the neighbours in the area at the time - Andrea Morton, Blanche Douglas, Minnie Clayton, Nellie St Clair, Dolly Darlington, Alice Bernard, Blanche Lewis, Ollie Gilbert, Cleo Devere, Jewel Hall, and Kitty Clark - it would be safe to assume the city's red light district was centred here. The ladies of the evening had been pushed off Dupont Street and Shanghai and Canton Alleys because a train station was built there.

But the proper citizens who lived on Harris Street had to find a way to separate themselves from the lower class so the section of Harris Street where the Lincoln Club stood was renamed Shore Street in 1908. Not that it caught on - I couldn't even find it in any of my books.

Ergo, it is likely that a madam commissioned the construction of 102 East Georgia (or Harris or Shore) Street. Unfortunately, another effort to move the red light district happened. This time, the sex trade moved to Alexander Streets.

 The Alexander Street brothels differed from those on Shore Street. They were more flamboyant, featuring more decorative features custom flourishes, which reflected the owner's brand and would, hopefully, draw in customers.  Instead of the ground floor being used for retail purposes, these brothels had more of a homey feeling to them. The ground floor had a dining room, bar and a piano in the lounge for entertainment.

But prostitution hadn't disappeared from Shore Street. Up until 1913, it continued until the construction of the first Georgia Viaduct. With the viaduct on the Lincoln Club's doorstop almost and the profitable sex trade moving on, property values dropped.

In 1916, a miner by the name of Charles Alexander owned the building and he spent $1,000 on a brick extension to it. 1917, is when the first time the name the Lincoln Club appears when a phone line was installed.

Prior to WWI, prostitution was tolerated in Vancouver since the feeling was that it was going to happen anyway. By placing the sex workers in a certain area, the police were able to keep the hookers away from respectable society. (Remember prostitution in legal in Canada) 

Back to the club. There is no evidence that prostitution was ever run out of the Lincoln Club. The year the club opened, alcohol prohibition came into effect. Not good for a club business but something even better than alcohol was about to kick off. The start of Vancouver's Jazz Age.

I want to thank the Past Tense blog for the above information and Wednesday, I will tell you more.

I hope you find the beauty around you.


  1. Wonderful story! Karen, you know I've lived in Vancouver and we still commute from Vancouver Island about once a month. I'd love to do a tour with you of the area. I used to go to acting classes twice a week in Gastown, not far from Alexander. So, I've tramped the area a bit.

    1. We'll have to get together sometime. I live in the Commercial Drive area, which I like, but I love the history and vibe of the Strathcona/Chinatown/Gastown area.