Real estate in Vancouver is at a premium. That is a truism. It has nearly always been the case in this city. Sure, there have been periodic and relatively short-lived dips. But only rarely has the real estate market here been seriously “off”.
If we accept that as valid, why are there some lots that seem to be chronically undeveloped (or nearly so)? Here are three that I can think of in the downtown area off the top of my head: the NW corner of Robson at Broughton (vacant for at least 50+ years; the North side of Hastings, just west of Hamilton (vacant from the late 1990s); and the lot near the NE corner of West Pender and Cambie (vacant since the 1950s, as far as I can tell).
I’m going to look at the last address in a bit of detail. I can find only one photograph in the City of Vancouver Archives or the VPL Historical Photos collection where there is a building on the lot in question (the lot is between what today is known as Architecture Centre – on the corner of Cambie and Pender – and the SRO known today as the Avalon). It is the building shown in the image below. The building number in this decade was 181 W Pender. (The street numbering along this stretch changed a bit: the number of the building – or the vacancy where there should have been one – was 189 in the 1920s).
Here is the lot in 1910:
Adjacent to the lot on the left is the Vancouver News-Advertiser building (which would later be occupied by the Province). To the right of the lot (east) is Avalon Rooms.
And here it is in 1981:
Nothing much has changed between 1981 and 2016 with respect to the vacant lot. It’s still empty. (Note: A narrow residential space has gone up adjacent to the Avalon since the 1910 image was made and that is still there today; it seems to have become part of the Avalon property; it is the lot to the west of there that remains vacant).
I don’t know what to make of lots like this one. They are islands of non-development amid a vast sea of lots which (if we listen to our civic officials) must not only be developed, but re-developed to appease the great idol known as Densification.
If, as Conan Doyle’s fictional detective is reputed to have maintained, once everything else is eliminated as a possible explanation, whatever remains must be true. . . then perhaps my ‘alien’ headline isn’t completely goofy!