1930s View Down Richards Street

Images 2592/3 present unusual northward views of Richards Street. They show a commercial strip in the early 1930s that was ignored by many photographers.

Who do we have to thank for these atypical views? Photographer, Stuart Thomson? Well, not really. Thomson received the commission to make these images. But the commissioner was Col. John S. Tait of the Tait Pipe Co. (26th Ave. and Nanaimo Rd.), probably as record shots of the firm’s work manufacturing the telephone poles (which also served as lamp standards) along Richards St. Unfortunately, the telephone poles didn’t survive into the 21st Century (nor even into the late 20th century)!

CVA 99-2592 - [Richards Street scene (showing telephone poles taken for Col. Tait)] 1931 Stuart Thomson

CVA 99-2592 -Richards Street scene (showing telephone poles taken for Col. Tait). 1931. Stuart Thomson. (Notes identifying buildings were added by author).

St. Amdrew’s Presbyterian Church (shown at right foreground in Image 2592 above) was at Richards and Georgia (demolished in 1934). Dunsmuir Hotel (Richards and Dunsmuir) is extant but has been boarded up for years; I suspect its days are numbered. The Weart (aka “Standard”) Building (SW corner Richards and Hastings) is extant and remains a going concern. The tall-ish structure just this side of the Weart is the Lumberman’s Building which also still stands and is in use today (509 Richards – known in the 1930s as the North West Building). Gordon Craig Radios was at 637 Richards.

The Vancouver Bindery (650 Richards) apparently published local, small press volumes. One of the titles they published, which is still doing the rounds today, is The Mysteries of  Angling Revealed (1937).

Beneath the the Vancouver Bindery sign is a horizontally-oriented sign which probably indicated the presence of an antique shop nearby. Although it isn’t designated as anything more than “Hersey, B. C.” at 660 Richards, in the 1931 directory, Robert Moen has pointed out that in later directories (e.g., 1934), the business at this address is described as an antique shop. It was owned by Bertram Hersey in 1931, evidently. But by 1934, his wife, Ethel, (who was separated or divorced from Bert by then) had taken over the business. Bert took on work as a furniture upholsterer. (Thanks, Robert, for your help with that!)

CVA 99-2593 - [Richards Street scene (showing telephone poles taken for Col. Tait)] 1931 Stuart Thomson

CVA 99-2593 – Richards Street scene. 1931. Stuart Thomson.

Image 2593 seems to have been taken from the east side of the 500 block of Richards. The horizontal laundry sign seems to be advertising Excelsior Laundry (556 Richards).  Two businesses which are extant along the 500 block of Richards were on the block in 1931, although not visible in these photos: St. Clair Rooms (577 Richards; today, a hostel) and B.C. Stamp Ltd. (581 Richards).

CVA 778-372 - 500 Richards Street east side 1974

CVA 778-372 – 500 Richards Street east side. 1974. Note: There is still evidence in this photo of antediluvian B.C. alcohol regulation which required separate entries for “gentlemen” and “ladies and escorts” into locales where liquor was served.

The “Marble Arch Hotel” is the once (in the 1930s) and future (it has been given its original name, again, in recent years following a renovation to make it over into an SRO) “Canada Hotel” (514 Richards). The hotel is the tallest building on the right side of Image 2593.

The “Western Trophies” building (522 Richards) – two doors south of the hotel – was in 1931 “Kingsley Rooms”, the sign for which is visible in Image 2593. The 3-storey block between the hotel and Kingsely Rooms was, according to the 1931 city directory, Love’s Furniture at street level (520 Richards) and above the shop, Shirley Rooms (520-1/2 Richards). However, Love’s Furniture, in Image 778-372 appears to have given way to expansion by the adjacent hotel; whether or not Shirley Rooms was likewise swallowed by the Marble Arch isn’t clear, but seems likely.°


PR brochure. Author’s collection.


PR brochure. Author’s collection.

In the 1970s, when Cathedral Square was built on the NE corner of Richards at Dunsmuir, neither of the two multi-storey buildings south of the Canada Hotel survived.∞


°Interestingly, perusal of later editions of the City Directory indicates that both Love & Co. and Shirley Rooms continued to exist at this location at least until 1935.

∞I learned while writing this post that Cathedral Square hides a BC Hydro substation beneath it. This was a progressive (and relatively early) development that must have inspired current planners in considering installing other downtown substations beneath Emery Barnes Park and the Lord Roberts School Annex.

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