The Dales House at 414 Alexander Street circa 1890 CVA Photo SGN 490

Sunday, September 20, 2009

207 Union & Jimi Hendrix - Some Clarification

There have been a number of articles in the Vancouver media and online recently about the discovery of a Jimi Hendrix connection to a small red brick building on Union Street, just east of Main at 207 Union. The little building has been turned into a shrine of sorts to Jimi's memory.


There is, of course, a Hendrix family connection to Vancouver's East End. Jimi's grandparents Ross and Zenora Hendrix came here from the US in 1911 and lived in a number of places, including Davie Street in the West End, Triumph Street in the East End, etc. The best known of these Hendrix houses at 827 East Georgia has been beautifully renovated and just recently has had a heritage plaque installed in its front garden. 


But before anyone goes to arrange for a permanent plaque in front of the little brick house at 207 Union I need to interject what I know about this building.


How I came across what I know is from the time I was researching the now demolished little blue house that stood about 100 feet to the east of the red brick building at 227 Union. (See earlier posts below).


I studied about 20 addresses both on the north and south side of the of the 200 block of Union, originally Barnard Street. On the north side, I researched 207 to 227 Union and on the south I researched 208 to 230 Union.


207 Union, the address in question, first appears in the directories in 1902 as the home of bricklayer William H. Hooper, but then in 1903 it appears as a boarding house run by Ontario-born Christopher Foley and his wife Bridget. 


From 1905 to 1911, the address is listed as a rooming house run by Abraham and Elizabeth Turner. Then from 1912 to about 1919 it was again listed as a rooming house run by English-born warehouseman John C. Parkyn and his family.


Wow! A boarding house or rooming house in that little building? What cramped quarters it must have been.


From 1920 to 1939 the address appears as the Westminster Rooms. By now I hope you have gotten it. Just because a house or building in 2009 appears as 207 Union, it doesn't mean that 207 Union is the actual historical address of the building.


Historically, 207 Union has been the address for a house which once stood on the site of the youth hostel building on the corner of Main and Union and then for a Union Street facing entrance of the hostel building. If you look at the wall facing Union Street near the south east corner of the building you will see the faint trace of that entrance which is now bricked up.


So what was the little red brick building that has been now converted into a Jimi Hendrix shrine? And what connection, if any, did it have with Jimi Hendrix?


The little red brick building first makes it appearance in the city directories in 1936 as 207½ Union. That year it is listed as vacant, but from 1936 to 1941 it is listed as the offices for Columbia Taxi. From 1942 to 1946 it is again listed as vacant, but in 1947, it appears as Jee's Grocery & Confectionery. It disappears from the records until 1971 when it reappears as the vacant 207a Union. In 1972 it appears as an Antique Auto Parts & Accessories shop. From 1973 to 1975, 207a Union is the W. Lim Company, a Chinese grocery. From 1976 to 1980, it was vacant. Then in 1981 it was listed as the home of K. S. Fong. In 1982 it was again vacant. That is the last time the little red brick building was listed in the directories. 207 Union as a Union Street-facing entrance of what is now the hostel building disappears from the directories in 1998. I am not able to determine when the little brick building inherited 207 as an address, but it must have been after 2001 when the last Criss-Cross city directory was published.


So what is the Jimi Hendrix connection? Well, if there is any connection at all it is because the address next door, 209 Union--now the parking lot between the brick building and the alley--was from about 1948 to 1979 the location of the legendary Vie's Chicken and Steak House. Vie's was a famous Hogan's Alley landmark known all across the city. It was a favourite destination for visiting Black performers, including Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole. If Jimi's grandmother worked in a restaurant anywhere on Union it was likely here and Jimi would no doubt have visited her there, perhaps even played there, but that history is not written down anywhere I have seen so far.


So does the little brick house have any connection to Jimi Hendrix? Who can really say? There is that period from 1948 to 1970 when the building is not listed in the directories. It might have been used as storage by Robert and Viva Moore during that period, so who went there or played there is something we will never really know. The little building did stand exactly beside 209 Union. From what we can tell from the only picture we have of 209 Union, the little brick building did indeed touch 209 Union. It was only a handshake away from the real thing. And if that type of association is good enough for the shrines dedicated to prophets, patriarchs and saints in the Holy Land, shouldn't it be good enough for us?


Thanks to Wayde Compton of the Hogan's Alley Memorial Project for the use of the photo of 207 Union.

For a great article on Vie's Chicken and Steak House check out Keith McKellar's fascinating book, Neon Eulogy. See page 83.

Also, for more on the history of the Black Community in Hogan's Alley and the East End read Carole Itter and Daphne Marlatt's book, Opening Doors. There is a great interview with Nora Hendrix, Jimi's grandmother from age 53.

7 comments:

  1. Great work, James! I love the new blog.

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  2. Thanks James for clearing that up. I thought Vie's was further east a house or two but the sign (which you can see in the photo) I remember well. Very simple neon if memory serves. I went to Vie's for dinner once. I was in high school so that means it must have been late sixties. Jimi was still alive for sure. It was an exotic experience! I remember plastic table cloths and feeling like we were sitting in somebody's bedroom. And a large black woman serving us. Vie?

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  3. I'm a little sceptical of the Hendrix connection to the little red building. Having worked in restaurants, I can tell you that even busy eateries operate with very little storage space and Vie's in any event would have had more than adequate storage space in the basement of the house at 209 Union, the restaurant being on the main floor. Was Vie's so prosperous that they could afford to rent or buy additional unnecessary storage space next door? And even if so, what evidence is there that Jimi ever set foot in there? Until I see something a little more concrete and not so speculative, I'm dubious. I'm not saying it's impossible, just unlikely, but then I'm a sceptic when it comes to the claims made for saints, patriarchs and prophets too!

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  4. So now what the owner has done since this blog was forst posted is to take down the 207 that was on the little red brick building and replace it with 209...

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  5. Since 80 years old people don't do comments on internet but they drop by the jimi hendrix shrine amazed to see it back after 40 years the story goes.. Vie commissioned Mr Fred Youn carpenter in his 20s and now dead. to build an lean to, or addition to the 207 union street which was the hotel in the 1940 so they could sit more guest when the restaurant was full and the crowd like to sit outside in summer so the shrine and the court yard were part of Vie and Nora the grand mother got him to ply guitar outside for spare change he also payed on Granville st and many people remember this young black-man with Afro hair and crossed leg ply guitar and drew big crowd I lived 10 years in the building and renovate and been the manager of the student residence I have heard more stories than city hall archived barely know about. This building was part of Vie and jimi plyd outside too, along other street musicians of the area try to make a living his spirit still there and anything happens musically there there is an vibe and feeling that this was were he started out in his 20 s after come back and live with his grandmother Nora

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  6. It sounds like "nikky 1975" knows the real deal about these two buildings. Jimi Hendrick's aunt also lived in Vancouver and so did her children- have heard a few stories about family connections to Strathcona (formerly Hogan's Alley area)but was to young to remember them, too bad!

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  7. Well I am not sure if this is the same address or exactly the same spot but there was a hippie house in that area that was much more like a warehouse inside. It looked much like a warehouse with a top section that housed a Chinese man. Perhaps this was removed at some point. The front of it looked exactly like the building used for Jimi Hendrix's shrine. This delights me to think this could be so as many hippies lived there and a whole lot of music filled the place. At one time we had ideas of opening a art shop in the front section called the Walrus Works. The middle section was the living room with two tiny rooms off the side and a kitchen at the back, bathroom and bedroom. This would have been around 1968. Will have to go see for myself.

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