When Westminster Avenue (now Main Street) and Westminster Road (Kingsway) provided the primary connection to New Westminster and the U.S. border, hotels and commercial establishments stretched south as far as the old bascule bridge that crossed False Creek before the land was filled to build the Canadian National (now Pacific Central) Station.
An isolated vestige of that early development still exists south of the Georgia Viaduct, featuring everything from miraculously intact boomtown structures, such as the 1907 Main Sheet Works with its detailed wood façade, to substantial brick and masonry buildings such as the Ivanhoe (VanDecar) Hotel built the same year.
The streetscape was — and still is — unique for its double-sided buildings designed to front both Main and Station streets. However, this stand of buildings is extremely vulnerable: over the last decade, large chunks of the 1000-block have been flattened, leaving numerous gaps in the east side of this historic streetscape. Unfortunately, the Heritage Register includes only a few of the buildings in the group.
Without recognition, and the preservation incentives that accompany it, we will lose the remaining structures through abandonment and decay, or through redevelopment under the inundating wave of East False Creek condo towers. Even the Register buildings are vulnerable to development, particularly the small ones like Main Sheet Works.
The redevelopment process has already begun, and so far with a ‘good news’ story: abandoned for many years, the former Bank of Montreal (1929) at 906 Main Street— a listed Register site that aided its retention — has undergone complete restoration for retail and commercial use as part of a wrap-around condo development.
But other sites may not be so lucky: inexplicably, the Register does not list the B.C. Electric Railway Men’s Quarters (1913) at 901 Main Street. This skinny brick tower is instantly recognizable just south of the Georgia Viaduct and has an important history as a sleeping facility for BCER motormen.
Next door, and also unlisted, is the 1911 Cobalt (formerly Royal George) Hotel at 917 Main Stret, the last hotel still retaining its rear passageway for receiving horses and carriages.
Across the street, the boarded-up American Hotel has faced an uncertain future since revocation of its pub liquor license.
Also unprotected is the Station Hotel at 1012 Main Street which, with its white glazed brick, Corinthian pilasters and intact cornice, is a perfectly preserved example of Edwardian commercial architecture — matching its 1911 architectural drawings in every detail.
We fear that the end may be at hand for these sites unless a comprehensive review is undertaken and missing sites are added to the Register. Given the similarity to sites in Gastown, Chinatown, and the Hastings Corridor, we urge the City to extend the tax incentive program to include this historic portion of Main Street.