‘That Old [Herzogian] Feeling’

CVA 780-41 - [Houses along] Helmcken St[reet] 1966

CVA 780-41 – Scene on Helmcken Street. February, 1966. City of Vancouver Planning Dept. (Photographer unknown).

This image is a powerful reminder, to me at any rate, of a Fred Herzog image. I make no claim at all that this is a Herzog photo (it isn’t; it is one taken for the Vancouver Planning Department by a photographer for whom no attribution was attached). But it does have a few elements that remind me of Herzog’s published prints: 1) the mid-20th-century hint of smog in the air (most evident in the background near the BC Electric HQ on Nelson at Burrard); 2) the palate of blues, greens and rusty red; 3) the overall tone of the image that cannot be truly captured by a digital camera (nor with post-processing software); it comes only with images made around the mid-century period with traditionally-processed film.

At the same time, there is a major clue that this wasn’t a photograph made by Herzog. There doesn’t seem to be any artistic point to the photo. What do I mean by ‘artistic point’? This is where things get fuzzy and harder to relate in prose; but I’ll try. A huge part of it is that there are no people in this image (except for the part of a shoulder in the lower right corner). Not all of Herzog’s photos from the 1950s/60s were populated, but I’d guesstimate that at least 70% captured at least one individual that contributed to the ‘story’ of the photograph. For the Herzog images of this period – with and without people (for one without, see Blue Car, Strathcona) – there generally seemed to be a ‘story’ that he wanted to tell about life downtown (or in Vancouver generally) at this time. As with most art, however, the interpretation of that story is left to the viewer.

Although I’ve made the claim that the image above doesn’t have an artistic point, it certainly had a pragmatic point. It was taken by a photographer for the Vancouver Planning Department with a purpose in mind. I’d speculate that the point of this image was to be a ‘record shot’ of the three rooming houses.

Where on Helmcken Street was this image taken? It seems to have been made on the 500-block between Richards and Seymour. The CVA image below claims to be an image of the north side of that block in about 1981. It is remarkable how much remained unchanged between the mid-1960s and the early 1980s. The single-level commercial structure seems still to be present, as are the three rooming houses (by the 1980s, probably, looking worse for wear, although that is less obvious in a black & white image).

CVA 779-E08.28 - 500 Helmcken Street north side 1981 Vancouver Planning Dept Photo (Unknown photographer).

CVA 779-E08.28. 500 Helmcken Street north side. 1981. Vancouver Planning Dept Photo (Unknown photographer).

Although the roughly twenty-year period from the 1960s to ’80s left the buildings on this side of the 500-block remarkably unchanged, the subsequent 30 years have been less ‘kind’. The north side of that block has been wholly given over, now, to residential towers.

Helmcken west of Richards north side of block

Helmcken between Seymour and Richards. North side of block. 2016. Author’s photo.

Happily, however, the next block (the 400-block between Richards and Homer) includes a few vintage homes that have been re-done for commercial purposes, but still retain something of the ‘early-Vancouver home’ style.

Helmcken east of Richards north side of block

Helmcken east of Richards. North side of block. 2016. Author’s photo.

The title of this post was inspired by lyrics by Lew Brown (melody by Sammy Fein) of a tune by the same name. For the record, I prefer Diana Krall’s rendition to that of Sinatra (who had a hit with this song in 1960).

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3 Responses to ‘That Old [Herzogian] Feeling’

  1. Dave Banks says:

    The Alpha Romeo building is at Helmcken and Homer. Both street signs are present. Unfortunately, there are a large number of photos in this section of the archives that are completely mixed up,

    Some of the houses in the final photo were moved from Richards in the mid 00s. One was once 1080 Richards Streets, where a couple of friends lived about….25? 25! twenty five years ago.

  2. David Banks says:

    The Alpha Romeo building is at Helmcken and Homer. Both street signs are present. Unfortunately, there are a large number of photos in this section of the archives that are completely mixed up,

    Some of the houses in the final photo were moved from Richards in the mid 00s. One was once 1080 Richards Streets, where a couple of friends lived about….25? 25! twenty five years ago.

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