Nearly every city in the world can be described very easily just by mentioning their greatest landmarks. If you say Big Ben, it’s clear you’re talking about London; the Eiffel Tower is typical for Paris; and you can recognize Toronto if you see the CN Tower. Vancouver is no exception. There are a couple of important places and buildings that characterize our city remarkably well. Sadly, a few of the landmarks have disappeared over the years. This article presents a couple of them, aiming to show that we’ve not forgotten they were a big part of our city for a long time.
The Birks Building
The Birks building, erected in 1913, used to be one of the most popular buildings in Vancouver; everyone just loved it. In fact, “Meet me at the Birks clock,” was one of Vancouverites’ most common phrases for roughly six decades. Not even huge support and great amount of love from the public could save this eleven-storey, gorgeous, Edwardian building from being torn down, however. Luckily, the famous wooden-movement clock has not been completely destroyed and nowadays can be found at the corner of Granville & Hastings.
The Hotel Vancouver I’m talking about is the one built in 1916. There were three, and this is the second. The 16-storey Italian Renaissance style building designed by Francis S. Swales used to be an extremely hot spot back in the day. Many well known and respected people, including Winston Churchill and Ethel Barrymore, very much enjoyed their stay at this hotel. Considering its more than 700 rooms, a few dining rooms, a billiard room, ballrooms, and a rooftop garden, this comes as no surprise. The rooftop garden in particular was beloved by the people of Vancouver, who spent many dazzling nights up there. The Hotel Vancouver did not survive for too long, however; it was torn down in 1949 to make space for the proposed Eaton’s building.
This three-storey wood apartment block topped by a beautiful cupola was built in 1909 and it was an iconic part of the Georgia Street entrance to Stanley Park for more than seven decades. The bike rental business on the main floor of the building made this place extremely popular among both the people of Vancouver and tourists. Much to the public’s distress, a Macau billionaire demolished this lovely place for purely selfish reasons in 1982. He decided to build a glass and concrete house for himself and his family to replace the gorgeous Stuart building. What a sad ending to the favourite venue of many!
Vancouver Opera House
Many would argue that the landmark our city misses most is the Vancouver Opera House, opened in February 1891. The venue was built for $100,000 by the Canadian Pacific Railway and it had 2,000 seats — which is amazing considering the fact that the population of Vancouver was only about 13,000 at that time. The building could furthermore “hold over 1,000 patrons in orchestra, gallery, and box seating, and had a drop scene with a Canadian view of mountains and the Bow River.” For a long time, this place was precisely where the cultural life of Vancouverites focused. In the 1960s, it was demolished to make space for the Pacific Centre and Eaton’s department store. If it were up to me, it would never have been torn down.
The Pantages Theatre
I’m sure most of you still remember the sad demolition of the oldest theatre in Vancouver and oldest remaining Pantages theatre in North America, which only took place last year. The historical building, located at 152 E. Hastings and constructed in 1908, was listed as a heritage building in the Vancouver Heritage Register. In 2008, City Council rejected the idea to restore the theatre, which had not been used since 1994. Its destiny was thus more or less clear and today, this wonderful landmark is no longer a part of our city. The Heritage Canada Foundation even called the teardown one of Canada’s worst losses of 2011, and rightfully so, I’m afraid.
What About the Future?
Unfortunately, the future doesn’t seem terribly optimistic with regard to losing Vancouver’s landmarks. Actually, our city is “at risk of losing landmark communities like Granville Island and False Creek” if measures to protect our shoreline against rising sea levels aren’t taken. According to Bing Thom Architects planner and researcher Andrew Yan, Vancouver will have to spend more than $510 million to improve the state of its seawalls. As if it were not enough to keep losing landmark buildings to create new stone and glass monstrosities, even climate change poses a threat. Let’s hope the city decides to act and save what memorable architecture we have left.