Sunday, February 11, 2007

227



Last week we found out that 227 Union Street, a beautiful, old house right across from the viaduct, had been slated for demolition. 227 was the last residential building left on the city block of Union and Gore. This block which is now empty space, with a few grocers and empty industrial buildings was once home to many houses and a few venues. Some memorable places used to grace this block like the Bingarra Hotel on the corner of Main and Union that was torn down due to the viaduct as well as Vie's Steak and Chicken house which was two houses down from 227 and no longer stands. Is 227 any less significant? It wasn't a hotel or a restaurant, but many families had occupied this house.







The photo below was taken courtesy of Elwin Xie who's Father ran a laundry on Union, just doors away from 227. The picture was taken in the mid 70's on the South-side of Union facing North West. You cannot see 227 from this angle because the house actually was set in from the street. It is where the little blue car is parked rigth in the middle. The picture is a bit blurry, but you can see that there were many residencies within this block.



James Johnstone, an East End based house genealogist who has been researching houses within the East End for the past 10 years stated, " That house (227) was over a hundred years old. It was built in 1900 by a New Brunswick-born carpenter, John Bruce Smith, on a lot on which a smaller cabin had stood from 1894." James then goes on to explain that many families occupied this ancient landmark, " By 1913, the house was rented out to Joseph Lacterman, a Russian-born Jewish tailor, and his English-born wife Bessie. The rest of the block was undergoing changes as well. Union and Main Street had become the nucleus of a growing Italian colony in Vancouver."

209, which is three houses to the left or west of 227 with the darker roof and the bigger blue car parked in front, is where Vie's Chicken and Steak house stood and James found that, " The house at 209 Union, built in 1891 and first occupied by New Brunswick-born dressmaker Mary Marion Myles and her trader husband Robert Johnson Myles, had been turned first into a boarding house, then into a restaurant by a man named Thomas A. Kelly. This same house would, by 1948, become the home of Robert and Viva Moore and as Vie’s Chicken and Steakhouse become a Vancouver icon." This icon operated for 27 years and it was still standing and open for business several years after the viaduct went up.



Given this context two HAMP members, Karina and myself decided to take some pictures of the bright, turquoise house before this last bit of evidence that there was a community here would be ripped out. Snapping pictures from behind a fence didn't satisfy us so I found a piece of wood which helped me boost myself over the fence.





















As soon as I hit the ground on the other side of the fence the house welcomed me with it's open door.
Stepping on to the unique, sagging porch I imagined what it was used for. Who sat out here? Is this where mom rested or where the kids played? Was it where the dog slept or a rooster crowed? Each family was probably a very different experience for 227.








James states that this house was rented out to a black resident for 9 nine years, " from 1924 to 1933 Kansas-born Elijah “Lige” Holman became the first black person to live in the house. Elijah Holman and a Mamie Holman owned and lived next door at 221 Union from 1922 to 1924. Elijah Holman was born in Kansas on March 8, 1875 and came to Vancouver in 1911 where from 1932 to 1942 he worked as a laborer for the city of Vancouver. According to his death certificate he never married."
Indeed, the families in 227 represented a microcosm of the myraid of ethnicities who actually lived near and around Hogan's Alley.








In James Johnstone's article, 'When an Old House Falls' he mentions that at least seven solid families lived in 227 from 1900 to 1951. Being over 100 years old, it was still in fairly good shape and looked like it was well taken care of. When inside of the house, although most windows were broken and the door was open, it was warm. How long had it been abandoned for? It smelled of life and it smelled of dust. There were so many details to capture I didn't know where to begin or from what angle. Sunlight was streaming in everywhere revealing beautiful wood paneling, antique door knobs and hand crafted cabinets.




This picture is a bit blurry, but it captures an emotion. The ceilings were high, there was a big pantry and I think five layers of wallpaper. Many different meals were cooked here. Was this room where family members spent most of their time? The wood on the wall that is painted white would have cost a fortune today. In fact everything in this house would have. I started fantasising what this house could be used for. Our meetings, a studio, a place to hold gatherings or a home for another family. Yet, was anything salvaged? James did mention that there was some stained glass missing from the last time he was there, but what about all of the other details?






This is the hall and you can see Karina outside. She was my guardian that day. Five police cars drove by, we know that there has been an increasing number of police in the area due to the on going gentrification that has been taking place over the past 15 years. Here you can see the tiling job and in fact, in some places the paint still looked fresh.














This is one of my favourite photos, the staircase was magnificent. You can see that the hard wood floors are still in great shape and are painted red. These drawers were actually part of a dresser upstairs which I managed to take out with me. I wanted to take many things that day. If only I had some proper tools and less police, I would have taken everything and built another house piece by piece. Why wasn't this house recognised as a heritage house and saved? How much was lost by throwing out such great craftsmanship and memories? 5 days later after we left - the house was torn down.





Johnstone had a vision, "I thought that if I could research its (227) history and show it had a story that the house would be saved." In a way 227, to me, was saved. Perhaps not as a whole piece, but with the diligent research of James Johnstone, architectural drawings by Graham Elvidge, photos collected from neighbors in the past as well as current photos taken by HAMP members, we have in fact created and saved many pieces - and together we made the best whole we could.

2 Comments:

Blogger Grace Wirta said...

Truly beautiful. Today, houses are modern, no characteristics, no anecdote; they are from the future. This house has many stories, you can tell. Genuinely a home.

March 23, 2016  
Blogger Sandra Peters said...

Having just read your article 'Viaducts About to come Down, Hogan's Alley Plan may follow (Vancouver Metro News, November 10, 2016), I find myself cheering for you, Wayde Compton.
Establishing an historical cultural site, in the Union/Prior/Gore Street area, would add to the exciting cultural mosaic of Vancouver and promulgate the idea Vancouver is a truly cosmopolitan city as well as hopefully vindicating Vancouver's former inconsiderate planners.

November 11, 2016  

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