The Name Game
The building shown above has been known as the “Welton” Building (1912-1919), the “Pacific Coast Fire” Building (1920-?), and recently, probably, simply as good old 325 Howe.
Who decides what a building shall be called? It is usually safe to say that the owner calls the tune. That makes sense when you consider the name which 325 Howe has gone by for the better part of its life. Pacific Coast Fire Insurance bought the building, likely in 1919/20 and from then on (until relatively recently) it was known as the Pacific Coast Fire Building. The name doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue. But naming the building after the corporate owner made some sense.
So, you may ask, who was the owner before 1919/20? Was it a Mr. (or less likely, but possibly, a Mrs.) Welton? Ah, gentle reader, that would be too easy.
In truth, the best I can do is guess why 325 Howe was known as the Welton Block in its early years. The original owner of the structure was National Finance Co. (Thomas Hooper, architect). It could be that there was a Welton on the board of National Finance, but assuming so doesn’t get us anywhere, as that is beyond my capacity to research.
I had the idea of checking Elizabeth Walker’s Street Names of Vancouver, to see if there might have been a street named after a Welton. Apparently so! Part of Sophia Street was once, briefly, known (1905-1910) as Welton Steet, named for “James Welton Horne (1854-1922), a pioneer Vancouver realtor who served on Vancouver City Council, 1888-90; chaired the Parks Board, 1888-94; and was an MLA, 1890-4).”
So the Welton building was named after a guy’s middle name? Really? (Well, it’s just a guess.)
A Glimpse of the Pre-Reclaimed WaterfrontProbably the most fascinating aspect of 325 Howe and the images above and below is that they afford us a glimpse of Vancouver’s waterfront prior to the “reclamation” of land north of what we know as Cordova west of Granville.*
Until 1952, Cordova didn’t extend west of Granville Street. It went to the CPR Station near Granville Street, and there it dead-ended. Between Granville and Burrard Streets was “The Bluff”. Major Matthews, Vancouver’s first archivist, defined the bluff as the “cliff elevation” running between Granville and Burrard.
I was born and raised in Alberta not far from the Rockies, so you’ll forgive me if I take issue with the Major’s choice of the word “cliff” to describe what to me is a “hill” (less than 100 feet, I’d estimate from photos I’ve seen). But this minor word quibble aside, there was definitely a vertical drop,during the early years, from the foot of Howe to the CPR tracks.
It is possible, even today, for someone strolling past 325 Howe to get some sense of the bluff. At the corner of Howe and Cordova, there is a railing over which you can lean and see down to the lower floors of 325 Howe. The then-ground floor (as against what we know today as the “ground” floor on the Howe Street concrete platform) was parallel with the CPR tracks.
*The word “reclamation”, by the way, makes no intuitive sense to me (not, at least, in the way it is typically used by city planners and architects). It suggests that the act of reclaiming has, at its primary motive, the act of putting things back as they once were. But, in fact, reclamation rarely, if ever, has been driven by this kind of historical “purity” (if that is even possible or desirable) as its principal motive or planned result. Rather, it is typically the establishment of a completely new thing, often using materials/technology which were earlier unavailable.