Follow the Bouncing Grand Union Hotel

IMG_4786

Grand Union Hotel, 2019. MDM photo.

When it occurred to me, recently, to research the history of the still-standing Grand Union Hotel (on unit block West Hastings), it seemed to me that it should be a fairly straightforward task. How mistaken I was. It turned out to be a story of some complexity — and numerous real estate ‘flips’!

Oxford

The predecessor of the Grand Union Hotel was known as the Oxford Hotel and was at 38 West Hastings Street (ca1907-1911). The hotel at this address had 32 rooms, a small bar room and a parlour (with a piano in it).

There are no CVA photos available of the Oxford.

Grand Union #1

The Oxford was sold sometime in Spring 1911. Permission was granted in May by the city’s hotel licensing board to change the hotel’s name to the Grand Union Hotel and to move it to the Godson building (aka Braid-Godson; aka Braid-Robertson-Godson; aka Robertson-Godson), just east of the site of the Oxford. In June, the former Oxford Hotel was gutted and the furnishings sold at auction. (Daily World 31 May 1911)

The building in which the first Grand Union Hotel would be located as of 1911, had been constructed in 1901 amid some controversy brought on by multiple accidents on the construction site:

A persistent hoodoo seems to follow the new Braid-Robertson-Godson block. . . . The fourth of a series of accidents occurred there at noon today . . . . The accident was occasioned by the fall of the elevator which is used to hoist building material to the top of the building.

There were seven men on the lift at the time. They were just coming down for lunch . . . . and the engineer, receiving the signal, started to lower away . . . . The descent of the hoist is controlled by a friction brake, which did not seem to hold at first, and when within about thirty feet of the floor, the engineer put it on a little harder to check the rapid fall. Just then the crosspiece supporting the cable at the top of the elevator shaft on the third floor gave way, and the elevator, with its living freight, came down with a crash that could be heard for several blocks.

When the cloud of dust had settled the other workmen who had gathered around saw the seven unfortunate workmen lying around the broken hoist, none able to rise. . . . Of those hurt J. G. Bell sustained the most serious injuries, consisting of a double compound fracture of the left leg and a dislocation of the right. James Paull also suffered a fracture of the left leg and a dislocation of the right. This unfortunate accident calls to mind three previous accidents which have occurred since construction commenced on the block.

The architect who drew the original plans is now in a sanitarium and shortly after the construction was commenced a workman named Penway was injured by being struck by the elevator as it was coming down. A few weeks later Mr. W. T. Whiteway, the architect who is supervising the construction was also struck by the same elevator. The third chapter in the series of accidents happened on Tuesday when Contractor Forshaw had the misfortune to fall down the elevator shaft alongside that on which the accident occurred today.

Province. 24 July 1901.

‘Persistent hoodoo’? Nonsense! What was needed was someone charged with ensuring workers’ safety on that job site.

The first Grand Union Hotel had 102 rooms, thus giving it about 2/3 greater capacity than the Oxford had. According to a press account, the new hotel also had an “airy” dining room and a “strictly modern” bar. It was four stories.

The first co-owners of the new hotel were Leslie Park Clement and Isbrand DeFehr. Both men had cut their teeth in business enterprises in Alberta. Clement had hotel experience in Didsbury and Edmonton. DeFehr didn’t have any prior hotel experience, it seems, but was formerly a lumberman in Didsbury and Carstairs.

Within four months of buying the Grand Union, Clement bailed and DeFehr was left as the sole proprietor. Before the advent of 1912, De Fehr had sold the hotel to Harry Watson and William Murdoff for $65,000. The sale did not go smoothly, however, and by January, a receiver had been appointed to run the Grand Union while DeFehr sued the new owners to recover $30,000 for breach of contract; Watson and Murdoff, in turn, counter-sued DeFehr to recover their deposit paid for the property. DeFehr won both the suit and counter-suit and was granted possession by Mr. Justice Murphy of the Grand Union (again). But only for a few months. By the Fall of 1912, the hotel had been sold again — this time to T. J. Hanafin and W. Lucas.

But the hotel had only a few years before the wreckers came calling. By 1916, the Grand Union Hotel (32 W Hastings), the Strand Theatre¹ (36 W Hastings) and a then-vacant store that had earlier been the site of Mainland Meat Market would all be demolished to make room for the second Panatges Theatre (later known by the names Beacon, Odeon and Majestic Theatres). The demolition of the three properties would give the Pantages a huge frontage along Hastings of 102 feet. Demolition work began in July 1916.

There are no CVA photos available of the Grand Union Hotel #1.

Grand Union #2

I don’t understand how (or why he’d want it after finally successfully selling it), but by July 1916, through some real estate shenanigans, Isbrand DeFehr had snatched back ownership of the Grand Union Hotel.

Just in time for another move!

V SUN 10 May 1939

Vancouver Sun. 10 May 1939. Photo shows some of the exterior re-decorating done to the Grand Union Hotel in this year by Girvan Studios.

By July 1916, the first Grand Union Hotel was dust. Within a month, DeFehr had received permission from the city to re-establish the hotel at a new site (in the same block of W Hastings, but closer to Abbott Street than to Carrall). The former businesses at this site had been Bergman’s Rooms (74 W Hastings) and Bergman’s Cafe (76 W Hastings), both built in 1913. The rooming house component would become the second Grand Union Hotel, while the cafe would become the Grand Union beer parlour (today, “Vancouver’s Favorite Country Music Pub”) and a boot shining establishment. I could find no evidence that the number of guest rooms was increased between the rooming house period and the opening of the second Grand Union. Indeed, it appears from an auction notice that appeared in the local press in May 1930, that the Grand Union in that year had 20 guest rooms. (Province, 27 May 1930)

Grand Union Today

The ‘hotel’ is extant, but according to recent press clippings, it no longer functions as such. It is a type of Single Room Occupancy residence for seniors.

The Grand Union has been in decline since it was first established at 32 W Hastings in 1911. It began life in the heart of the business district and was the subject of considerable realty competition. More recently, it has been on the border of Vancouver’s east end, no longer the subject of competition by realtors nor those with spare cash to spend on hot properties.

 

Notes

¹The Strand Theatre on Hastings should not be confused with The Strand Theatre (first known as the Allen Theatre) on Georgia at Seymour.  The Hastings Strand was known as the Electric Theatre when it was built in 1911; as the Panama (1912); the Regal (1914) and, finally as the Strand (1916). Thanks to Tom Carter for helping keep me on the ‘straight and narrow’ when it comes to the history of Vancouver’s theatre names!

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4 Responses to Follow the Bouncing Grand Union Hotel

  1. jmv says:

    What a wild ride! The financial crash of 1912 at work here I think! If only Isbrand DeFehr saw it now, what would he say about Vancouver and redevelopment…

  2. Darren says:

    The steamroller that ran the Balmoral and the Regent out of business ran the Grand Union down to a similar fate on Tuesday April 23, 2019. A city inspection resulted in the pulling of the license (which license(s), I’m not certain) to operate. Leaves me and a few others without a job. Your work here is a nice history.

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