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2014 – Vancouver – Hurry! Only Two Flats Left
Image by Ted’s photos – Closes 03 Aug
This building is the latest addition to the rapidly changing face of Vancouver’s Chinatown. The edges of the community are seeing increasing numbers of buildings razed for new condo construction. A block west of here on Main Street between Georgia and Keefer is seeing the entire east side of the street under construction and the lot north of Keefer on Main the same thing.
This building on East Georgia is not the first new one on the block between Main and Gore and two more are underway.
It may be difficult for some businesses to hold on unless the new residents shop local as the pressure to sell for big profit may be too tempting. Hopefully city rezoning practices will save the community.
Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest in Canada and the second largest in North America after San Francisco and was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2010.
In the last year or two efforts have been made to revitalize the historical Chinatown. The City of Vancouver along with provincial and federal departments and the local Chinese business and cultural communities have joined to contribute to this initiative.
HERITAGE VALUE: – From "Canada’s Historic Places"
Vancouver’s Chinatown was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in June 2010 because:
– one of the oldest and largest Chinatowns in the country, its physical fabric, its development as a self-segregated enclave, due in part to racially motivated hostility elsewhere in the city prior to the Second World War, and its ongoing uses reflect the many contributions and struggles of Chinese Canadians throughout most of their history in this country;
– it [Vancouver’s Chinatown] is characterized by a distinctive “recessed balcony” style of architecture, a hybrid style that blends aspects of Chinese regional architecture with western styles and building methods that is seen most clearly in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Common architectural features include deeply recessed balconies, a strong verticality, mezzanines, and a separate, narrow door at grade leading to a deep staircase to the upper floors. These features taken together create a harmonious ensemble; and,
– Chinatown is one of the earliest established communities of Vancouver and has remained a vital element of the physical and cultural history of the city.
In addition, the heritage value of Vancouver’s Chinatown lies in its ties to the development of the social and cultural life of Chinese immigrants to British Columbia and Canada, and to the commercial activities of Vancouver’s original business and port districts. The district is defined by its form, embellishments, layout and architecture. Incorporated in 1886, Vancouver became a major point of entry for new Chinese immigrants, many of whom settled in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Chinese labourers were granted a 160-acre lease and built their settlement along Main Street at East Pender. In the early 1900s, Vancouver’s Chinatown became Canada’s leading Chinatown, remaining so until the 1970’s. Within the district’s streetscapes the 70 contiguous properties are a mix of commercial, residential and cultural buildings, alleys and courtyards, many dating from the early 20th century. Significant newer cultural resources, such as the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Classical Garden and Park (1986), the Chinese Cultural Centre (1981-86) and the Millennium Gate (2002), enhance the traditional Chinese character of the area.
Protected since 1971 under provincial and municipal heritage legislation, the area has 24 properties listed on the Vancouver Heritage Register. Vancouver’s Chinatown displays a continuity and connection to its past, and – as a working urban neighbourhood – offers lively contrasts between its peaceful public garden, distinctive buildings and colourful street-life.
A brief history of Chinatown
Neighbourhood dates back to mid- 1880s, making it almost as old as Gastown
The Vancouver Sun November 15, 2014
Chinatown is as old as the City of Vancouver. Thousands of Chinese labourers were imported to Canada to build the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s, and some of them settled around Carrall and Dupont ( now Pender) when the railway was finished.
Initially Chinatown was concentrated in the two blocks between Carrall and Westminster ( now Main), but by the 1920s it had spread east to Gore and south to Union.
The neighbourhood was designated a provincial heritage district in 1971, after residents rallied to defeat a city plan to put a freeway down Carrall Street.
Many of the designated heritage structures in Chinatown are family association or benevolent society buildings, such as a four- storey structure at 104- 108 East Pender that was built for the Chinese Benevolent Society in 1909.
This summer, the city introduced a $ 2.5 million grant program to help rehabilitate the dozen society- owned Chinatown buildings. But it probably won’t go that far, because restoration costs can run in the millions.
A few years ago, restoration costs could be offset under the heritage density transfer program, where developers purchased “air rights” off owners of heritage buildings. The owners got money to restore the buildings, the developers got the right to add a floor or six to the highrises.
The program proved very successful in Gastown, but the city was alarmed at developers building up banks of unused density, and canned the program.
Retired Vancouver planner Nathan Edelson said devising a heritage incentive program to rehabilitate Chinatown will be tricky.
“The heritage incentives that we had for Gastown worked well for companies that are selling condos, because they’re selling a share of the building,” said Edelson.
“Whereas the incentives for family association ( buildings) need to be very different, because they want to keep their buildings, and keep them affordable. So it needs a different kind of incentive.”
Edelson thinks the province and the federal government will probably have to put in money or incentives to properly restore Chinatown, which was declared a National Historic District in 2011.
The National Historic District was limited to Pender Street between Carrall and Gore. This is bad news for the old buildings on Main, Keefer and Georgia, which could fall to redevelopment.
A converted house that may have dated to 1892 was recently torn down at 245 East Georgia for a nine- storey, 40- unit building, which is being built on a 25- foot wide lot.
In the past, developers had to assemble several lots to build this high, but the city has relaxed the rules for part of Chinatown.
Heritage expert Don Luxton said this could doom many of the small buildings in the neighbourhood.
“If you don’t even have to assemble, you can tear anything down,” he said.
“The problem with that is there is going to be very little ways to preserve something that’s on a smaller lot. It’s just not going to survive.”
City planner Kevin McNaney said there have only been a couple of developments on 25- foot lots to date, including one on an empty lot.
“We haven’t had a lot of development on those small orphan lots, which is why we created some guidelines to create those types of buildings where it’s appropriate,” he said.
“We’re going to have to monitor it to see if the plan is doing what we want it to do, and that’s what council has asked us to do as well, to monitor and evaluate as we move ahead.”
Two old buildings that look to be goners are 730 Main, which was built in 1902- 3, and 796 Main, which dates to 1899.
They are the last remnants of Hogan’s Alley, a historic black neighbourhood that was recently commemorated on a stamp by Canada Post.
Many Vancouverites will know 730 Main as the longtime home of nightspots like Puccini’s, Hogan’s Alley and the Brickyard. McNaney said it used to be on Vancouver’s heritage register, but was taken off in the 1990s.
Bonnis Developments purchased 730 Main for $ 2.3 million last year, and paid $ 4.8 million for two empty lots next door.
No transaction has been officially recorded for 796 Main, which was originally called Westminster House. A small building behind it was built as a cab stand in 1925, and has achieved international renown as a shrine to musician Jimi Hendrix, who spent part of his youth in neighbouring Strathcona.
Developer Kerry Bonnis said that he hasn’t submitted a development proposal to the city just yet. But you can find a design for a new 15- storey, 148unit building at Union and Main on the Studio One Architecture website.
Tosi’s store at 624 Main isn’t part of a redevelopment thus far, but could soon be. Angelo Tosi is 82, and will sell when the price is right.
“Five years ago they offered me two and three- quarter million, a little less than $ 3 million for two lots,” he said.
“The girl next door who owns the property says ‘ Why don’t we sell it as one, all together, instead of 50 ( feet) make it 75 feet and see if we can get more?’ So they went up a half a million, and now they’re squibbling and squabbling. We’re just going step by step.”
Tosi’s building was hooked up to the city’s water supply in 1895, which makes it one of the oldest buildings in the city. The interior is virtually unchanged, with ancient fir shelves, marble counters and bare incandescent light bulbs that hang down from the 18- foot ceiling.
But it isn’t on Vancouver’s heritage register.
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