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).
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.
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.
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).