Friday, January 13, 2012

Vancouver snapshots — then and now

In the 1940s, the downtown corner of West Cordova and Granville hummed with activity. The train station was across the street and the main post office next door. Wilson's newsstand is next door to Lando's Furs. City of Vancouver Archives photograph, CVA 1184-3272.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
January 11, 2012

The garage is a utilitarian wonder, a concrete box standing seven storeys tall on a downtown Vancouver street corner. An interior series of ramps winds to the rooftop, where painted stalls provide room for yet another 58 automobiles.

From that roof one can marvel at the neo-classical beauty of Waterfront Station across West Cordova Street, as well as the mixed art deco and Edwardian Baroque magnificence of the Sinclair Centre across Granville Street.

It is much better to be in the garage looking out than to be outside looking in. The garage, built in 1969, is an ugly, dreary blot on the landscape. The garage’s opened facade is like a grim stack of grey concrete pancakes.

The site was not always so unwelcoming.

Once, a strip of mom-and-pop businesses operated on the block. A photograph taken during the war years depicts well-dressed couples strolling past businesses with opened doors.

The two images — the sterile parking garage and the vibrant street of shops — are paired in a fascinating new blog called Changing Vancouver. The site matches then and now photographs taken at the exact same location.

Launched on Christmas Day, the blog already has more than 50 entries complete with historical background and information on architects and builders.

It is an irresistible time waster.

The blog is produced by Andy Coupland, a London-born City Hall planner, and John Atkin, the historian and heritage advocate. It is a followup to The Changing City, their book of walking tours published last year by Stellar Press.

The contemporary photographs are shot by Mr. Coupland (pronounced coop-land), who strolls city sidewalks armed with a digital camera, a tripod, and a wallet of black-and-white prints as he seeks the precise spot where the historical photographs were taken. It is not as easy a task as it sounds and even somewhat hazardous.

“A lot of them were set up standing in the middle of traffic,” he said. “That is quite problematic.”

Sometimes, the before-and-after images are surprisingly similar. (A trio of buildings facing the northeast corner of Victory Square remains intact.) Other times, it is hard to imagine what has forever disappeared. That ordinary, ho-hum, never-give-it-a-second-glance Standard Life Building office tower at Howe and Dunsmuir? It stands on ground once occupied by the many-gabled Manor House Hotel, which boasted a wraparound porch on all three levels, as well as a bell tower overlooking the intersection. The Manor House was designed by William Blackmore, a British-born architect who skipped debts in Winnipeg and Minneapolis to set up practice in Vancouver a year after the city was founded.

One of the blog’s most shocking contrasts is the pairing of today’s parking garage with yesterday’s modest shops at the corner of Granville and Cordova.

“That single story is so much more interesting than the parking garage,” Mr. Coupland said.

“It’s interesting how busy that corner used to be, and how dead it is now.”

In that one block, now relegated to memory, can be told the story of a city.

Along Granville Street could be found a lunch counter and an office of the Railway Express Agency, which shipped parcels. There was also a barber shop operated by James Willows; the Wigwam novelty store offering native crafts and Japanese porcelain; and, a furrier. The corner was occupied by Wilson’s, described as the Post Office News Stand in the city directory.

A star-shaped neon sign advertised the Star Weekly magazine, while other exterior signs promoted Coca-Cola and Sweet Caporal cigarettes. The newsstand is open to both Granville and Cordova Streets, attracting customers from the train station (now Waterfront Station) and the post office (now Sinclair Centre).

The adjacent fur store was founded by the Lando family. Lou and Sara Lando’s son, Esmond (Bud) Lando became a prominent lawyer and sportsman in the city, while his wife, Edith, was named to the Order of Canada as a “quintessential volunteer.” Their children are known for their own volunteer and philanthropic works. One of them, Barry Lando, worked for a quarter-century as a producer on CBS’s 60 Minutes.

All of which is more interesting than a parking garage.

While the blog has so far used archival photos, Mr. Atkin is dipping into his extensive collection of private, never-before-seen photos dating from more recent decades.

Among these is a 1962 shot of the Courtesy Kitchen, serving Chinese and Canadian food, at the corner of East Broadway and Scotia. Next door, a one-time foresters hall houses a shop selling foam.

Today, both buildings have survived. The former Courtesy Kitchen is now home to the pleasant Rhizome Café, while the foam store, which has also been a confectionary, a print shop and a strip joint, is home to Starbucks.

At least it was the last time I checked. In Vancouver, you never know what’s going to be there in the morning.

Since 1969, a dreary parking garage has snuffed the vibrancy from the same intersection. Andy Coupland photograph.

3 comments:

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