Sunday, February 8, 2009
Operation Phoenix is a year-long project by The Province, CKNW 980 and Global B.C. that hope to engage the community in seeking solutions to the issues facing our most vulnerable citizens in the Downtown Eastside. Where Vancouver's history runs deepest.
The Downtown Eastside birthed Vancouver, forming the heart of the city as it grew from a tiny settler outpost to a metropolis. Today, what was once a vibrant, pulsing core is ailing.
It wasn't always so.
By the 1880s, Hastings Street had earned the nickname "Skid Road," named for the logs sent to Hastings Mill along Gore Avenue. In the 1890s there were at least 60 hotels in the area catering to workers.
Just up the street from where the now-defunct Buddha stood, the Balmoral Hotel (159 East Hastings) opened in September of 1912. At the time, the hotel targeted a decidedly upscale clientele. The City of Vancouver’s Heritage Conservation Program notes that “This type of high-class establishment would have accommodated commercial businessmen and wealthy travellers to the area, rather than the seasonal workers who lived in less elaborate hotels and lodgings.”
Designed by Parr & Fee, the same architectural firm responsible for Gastown’s Hotel Europe, the Balmoral was noted for its Chicago-style cornice and Edwardian detailing. Its neon sign-one of the most famous in the city-was installed in the ’40s.
As the Hastings and Main area slowly slid from being one of Vancouver’s major retail hubs into the rundown skid road it is today, the Balmoral Hotel pub became just another Downtown Eastside flophouse bar. The recent overhaul-coupled with the fact that Vancouver isn’t exactly flooded with live-music venues-bodes well for the spot’s rebirth.