Man Plunges From 15th Floor! (And Other Tales – Thrilling and Banal – at the Standard Bank Building)

AM1052 P-211 – Weart Building (later known as the Standard Bank Building), SW Corner of Hastings at Richards Street, Vancouver, B.C. ca 1912 Valenetine and Sons Publishing Co., Ltd. Note: This is a pre-construction illustration.

Construction started on the “Weart Building” in Spring 1913; it was finished by August 1914. By the time the building opened, it was referred to as the Standard Bank Building as that was the name of the anchor tenant at the time. The name stuck, even though the Standard Bank didn’t.

The building would rise to 15 stories, even though City Council had, in 1911, passed a by-law putting a height limit of 10 stories/120 feet on downtown structures. The City later made an exception for the Standard, since its building permit had been approved prior to the height by-law being passed.

There was some early wild reportage claiming that the Standard’s height would make it the tallest in the British Empire. This was never in the cards, because by 1910 the Dominion Building was already due to exceed the planned height of the Standard (174 vs 171 feet); and, by the time the Standard was built, it would be thoroughly outstripped in height by the World Tower (17 stories/269 feet).

The anticipated building was described by the Province in 1910 – with no little hyperbole – as “a prose-poem in steel, stone and marble (Province 18 Jun 1910)”

CVA 99 – 3312 – Vancouver Harbour [view of Waterfront looking east] 1920 Stuart Thomson. Note the giant light bulbs lining the rooftop of the Standard Bank Building.

I don’t know (and I am assuming other researchers don’t know either) what year changes were made to the upper stories of the Standard. But we know that at some point, a number of the gothic flourishes along the roof were toned down to what is there today. Among these were several large light bulbs (see photo above). It isn’t clear to me whether these were purely decorative, although I’m assuming so, as it was a bit early in the century for there to be much concern with urban aeronautics and tall buildings. Stuart Thomson is the only early photographer who seems to have gotten access to the roof of the Standard in its original incarnation. This photo may be a CVA sleeper, as the location where the image was made – plainly, to me, the Standard Bank Building – wasn’t identified.

What follows is a collection of bits and pieces from print news media pertaining to the Standard:

  • In November 1913, there was a construction accident involving a W. M. Thompson. “While working on a scaffolding on the fifth floor . . . the scaffolding gave way. Thompson was thrown toward the ground, but just in the nick of time caught one of the steel girders from where his fellow-workmen pulled him to a position of safety. He suffered no injuries except a slightly strained back.” (World 26 Nov 1913).
  • In 1915, Miss Cal Young and Mrs. Frances Lohman announced that their business, Venetian Hair Co. would move out of their former digs at 767 Granville (Orpheum Building) and onto the mezzanine floor of the Standard. “Facial massage and hair dyeing are specialties with us.” Hours: 9am-6pm (M-Fri); 9am-8pm (Sat) (News Advertiser 19 Sept 1915).
  • “Mrs. F. Pearce . . . was the victim of a brutal attack yesterday when an unidentified bandit beat her into unconsciousness and looted the offices of the Continental Credit company, 408 Standard Bank building where she is employed. The robber obtained $7 from a desk in the office and $20 from the purse of his victim” (Sun 6 Aug 1920).
  • On April 1, 1941, relative newcomer to the city (from Regina 15 months before), Thomas W. Farmer “plunged 15 stories from the Standard Bank Building . . . to his death on the floor of a cafe immediately adjoining . . . . E. B. Bull sustained cuts on his head from glass which shattered from the skylight as Farmer’s body plunged into Ziegler’s Cafe, 512 West Hastings Street, where about 30 persons were having their midday meal. . . . V. C. Spink, manager of the Standard Bank Building, said the man had apparently fallen from the window of a washroom on the 15th floor of the building (Sun 2 Apr 1941). Farmer was a hotelier in Regina before moving to Vancouver, where, presumably, he’d planned to retire. He was 69.
  • Some of the Standard Bank Building’s tenants over its 100+ year history have included: Li Chao, Chinese Consul; Girish Mathur, Vancouver’s first Indian trade commissioner; the National Council for Canadian-Soviet Friendship; the Vancouver Detective Agency, John O’Grady, Manager, “Complete dicta-phone service”; First Church of Christ Scientist’s “free reading room”; the B.C. Aquarium Society; and, currently, the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.
  • J. W. Weart, former Reeve of Burnaby, who was the principal promoter of the construction of the Standard Bank Building, lived with his family for a few years after construction was completed in the penthouse of the Standard (the 15th floor) from 1914 until ca1920 (Sun 24 July 1951).
  • In 1952, Japan’s first post-WWII consul, Takeshi Yusakawa, had his office in an “over-size suite atop the Standard Bank Building.” Presumably, this meant that he was in the former penthouse of J. W. Weart on the 15th floor. “There is practically no trade from Japan to Canada now,” he said. “Your ships come full to us, with wheat, lumber and, at present, some heavy cargoes of iron ore from Vancouver Island. But they have to go back empty. That is bad.” (Sun 5 July 1952).
  • Sheridan’s Physiotherapy and Slenderizing Salon: “It’s new in this city, but already the women have heard about it and are lugging their excess fat up to room 525 Standard Bank Building. There they leave it without a parting tear.” (Not necessary, it seems, for men to lug their excess fat up to the fifth floor!) (Sun 11 Oct 1945).
  • The Standard, like most tall downtown buildings, was an air raid shelter during WWII.
  • 20 years after Thomas Farmer’s death, a woman was thwarted in attempting to jump from a 15th floor window in the Standard. She later went to the Cypress Hotel, 655 Robson, and asked the manager to see a room on the top floor. She left her purse and gloves on the dresser of the room and leaped from the window. Police escorted the woman to VGH, where she was reported to be in “poor condition” with a fractured leg and ribs and internal injuries. The 45-year-old woman had earlier been a patient at Essondale (Province 3 Mar 1961).
  • During the Great War, strawberries, lettuce, onions, and beans were grown on the roof of the Standard in answer to the national call for additional food production (Sun 28 July 1937).
Current roof line (minus many original gothic features) of the Standard. June 28, 2022, mdm photo.

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4 Responses to Man Plunges From 15th Floor! (And Other Tales – Thrilling and Banal – at the Standard Bank Building)

  1. Daniel Friesen says:

    We’ll, that was a fascinating look into the past life of the building where I worked for number of years!! Our office on the 15th floor included a beautiful two-storey space with a working fireplace. The washroom stall dividers we’re slabs of marble, with gorgeous mahogany doors – very classy!

  2. Kathie anderson says:

    Thank you so much for your great stories. I’m learning so much about the important people who shaped Vancouver to be what it is now & the history activity that took place there.

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