West Cordova Unit Block*

CVA 780-768 - [View of West Cordova Street from Carrall Street] 196--2

CVA 780-768 – A View looking west down the Unit Block of West Cordova Street from Carrall Street. Photographer unkonwn. 196-.

It is a pity that we don’t know who made this photograph. To me, it is one of gems in the City of Vancouver Archives (CVA) collection. Why do I say that? The muted colour tones, for one thing, speak of a decade that was moving away from black and white images in favour of colour. The people in the image also are appealing to me. Nobody seems to be in a rush. Even the automobile traffic seems quiet. It could be a Sunday afternoon if this photo were made in an era when there was a good reason for pedestrians to be strolling in a retail area — Sunday shopping is two or three decades in the future.

The mix of businesses represented in the image is striking. Rainier Grocery is just visible at the southwest corner of Carrall and Cordova; the Army & Navy anchored the block then (as it does now) in the  Dunn-Miller block; there appears to be a loan service on the south side of the street, mid-way down; and, according to the 1969** Vancouver directory, there were assorted other shops plying trade in hardware, lock & safe services, sporting goods, tailoring, umbrella manufacture, and food service.

But if there was a dominant trade on this block, it was the hotel/SRO (single room occupancy) business. On the south side of West Cordova, at least two hotel signs are visible: the Cansino Hotel and the Hildon Hotel (for which, I have to believe, there must have been at least an informal slogan to the effect of ‘If you can’t afford the Hilton, stay at the Hildon!’). And on the north side of the street, there were Boulder Rooms, the Travellers Hotel (also known as the Fortin Building), the Stanley Hotel, the New Fountain Hotel, and Marble Rooms.


The iron fencing that seems discouraging to potential shoppers at retail shops on street level of current Stanley/New Fountain Hotel. 2016. Author’s photo.

There are some big changes in the future for the block. One of the most significant is the redevelopment of the Stanley/New Fountain Hotel. Plans are reportedly in the works for a “facadification” of these old hotels. If reports are accurate, the currently 2-3 storey hotels will be replaced with an 11-storey combo market- and non-market-housing structure. The time is ripe for changes to be made to these SROs and the retail businesses that crouch beneath them (behind a foreboding metal fence). I know that there are critics of the 11-storey profile of the proposed Stanley Hotel. But, frankly, that will put it only three stories higher than its neighbour, the Lori Krill Housing Co-Op.

I’m not sure what is going into the former home of Rainier Grocery, but it looks as though it will be a food service vendor of some description. Across the street, on the northwest corner of Cordova and Carrall, the Bauhous Restaurant has established itself on the main floor of what was once Boulder Hotel/Rooms. But it is pretty clear that there are few, if any, tenants on the upper floors, currently. That will probably change soon.

Meanwhile, there has been at least one change to the block that would have our forebears scratching their heads. The Float House (specializing in “floatation therapy and sensory deprivation”, no less) today occupies the space that once was the manufacturing site of the eminently practical BC Umbrella Co.



*A “unit block” is the block of a street or avenue numbered less than 100.

**I looked to the 1969 Directory because the 1960s are identified by CVA as the likely decade when this image was made. I have my doubts about that, however. I favour an early year in the following decade: possibly 1971 or 1972.

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