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

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Felsteins of Ferndale... Keefer... and East Pender

Over the past couple of years I have been fortunate enough to do house history research work for a number of realtors. Sometimes this is for a full house history booklet that is given to the realtor's client as a housewarming gift. Other times it is a smaller project that gives a realtor some historical background on a property she or he is trying to sell—something that adds cachet to, and stimulates interest in the property being sold. Though not a full-blown, indepth study, sometimes these smaller projects can turn up some pretty interesting stuff.

Last week I finished one of these smaller projects for two realtors who have been great clients of mine, Ruth Chuang and David Jones. The house they wanted to research was at 2057 Ferndale, very close to my daughter's high school, Templeton. Ruth asked me to look and see if I could confirm that the house had been built in two stages... Perhaps there was some neighbourhood lore about this. She didn't explain that to me, but I went to the City of Vancouver Archives and got to work. This is a summary of what I found out.

2057 Ferndale was built in two stages on the south half of Lot 6 in Block 49 in District Lot 184 by two separate owners over a period of two years. On April 21, 1909 an M. W. Taylor applied for water service for the property. Then some months later, on August 30, 1909, M. W. Taylor applied for a building permit to build a framed dwelling estimated to cost $400. M. W. Taylor is listed as the owner, architect and builder of the house.

The 1909 and 1910 directories have a number of listings for M. Taylors but none for an M. W. Taylor. A search of the 1901 and 1911 Canadian censuses turn up no record of an M. W. Taylor, so he is a bit of a mystery. The house was built at a time when Vancouver was booming and real estate speculation was rife. Many people came to the city to make a quick buck during the boom and then moved on. M. W. Taylor was likely one of those men.

I went and looked for a fire insurance map of the neighbourhood. The one you see at left shows the immediate neighbourhood around the house in 1912. Quite a few of the lots were still undeveloped in the neighbourhood. Although MacDonald School at Victoria and Hastings is clearly shown on the map, my daughter's High School, Templeton, has not yet been built. The blocks where it will be later constructed though are occupied by Vancouver's Isolation Hospital. Hmmm. I wonder how many people at Templeton realize that little piece of history. (BTW, you can click on any of the images in this blog and they will enlarge).

On the map, what is now called Ferndale Street, was back then still called Keefer.  You can see 2057 Ferndale on the south half of Lot 6 on block 49. It shows as a plain rectangle. There is not much in the way of interesting detail on this map.

Another search of the building permit records got me the piece of information I was looking for. On August 18, 1911, a carpenter named David Felstein applied for a building permit for an addition to his house at “2054 Keefer Street”. The addition cost $150.00. After going through the city directories for a number of decades I did some research online in the BC Archives Vital Events listings, then went to the 6th floor of the main branch of the Vancouver Public L and found that David Felstein was born in Russia on April 1, 1859, the son of Aaron and Tresa Felstein. His wife Annie was born in Russia in April of 1870, the daughter of Aaron and Pearl Kravitz. The Felsteins had at least three children at the time the house was built: Benjamin Myher born in “Poland” on July 25, 1900, Pearl, born in Russia on June 15, 1904, and Jacob, born in Russia in 1907. For a number of years, David Felstein is listed as "Henry" Felstein. From 1918 onward, David changes professions going into the second hand junk trade, listed during some years as a peddler, then later in the 1930s as the proprietor of a junk and second hand container store at 1322 Frances, near Clark Drive. The Felstein family lived at 2057 Ferndale until shortly after 1950 when the house was bought by carpenter Henry R. Southwell and his wife Mildred.

A glance at the fire insurance map for September 1927 shows that the Felsteins kept chickens in their back yard. There was also a small garage to the west of the house off Keefer (Ferndale). Note how the house is numbered 2054, which must mean an East Pender Address as all the even numbered houses should be on the south side of Keefer. I am not sure what this is all about. There is no alleyway behind the house so I haven't seen what this looked like, but until the lot was subdivided and a house built on the north side of Lot 6, the main entrance of the house early on may have been on the north side of the building.

The Felstein’s were Orthodox Jews. They attended the Schara Tzedeck Synagogue at Heatley and East Pender in the East End. There are no pictures of the Felstein family in either the City of Vancouver Archives or the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia, but there are two pictures taken by David Felstein’s son, Benjamin Myher Felstein, in the Jewish Archives. One of the pictures shows a group of men gathered for prayer inside the old Synagogue at Heatley and Pender. The two men standing in the back of the photo are relatives of the photographer.
Though disappointed that I couldn't find a picture of the Felstein family, I was thrilled to see that some of the men immortalized in the picture were people who lived in houses I had researched on East Georgia, Union Street and Princess Avenue in my neighbourhood, Strathcona. Thanks to this piece of research work from Ruth and David, another couple of pieces of my East End history puzzle had fallen into place.
Photo L.00001 from the Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia has a caption which reads: 

"Led by Rabbi P. Wohlgelernter, the Chevra Chovevi Torah are worshipping at regular morning service.

Top: L-R: Ed Kravitz; Samuel Kravitz.
Fourth row: L-R: Yudah Tischler; Itzik Berger; Schmil Hersh (Hayit) Hyatt; Mnachem Mendel Farber; Daniel Yochlowitz.
Third row: L-R: Alexander (Berezofsky) Barratt; Isaac Lipovsky; Samuel Klausner; unidentified; Gershen Bobroff.
Second row: L-R: Shmuel Gurevitch; Leiser Rome; Maurice Kushner; Solomon Stusser; Maurice Goldberg; Benjamin Baltman.
First row: L-R: Abraham Levinson; David Meier Davis; Rabbi Solomon Wohlgelernter; David Morris."

The names that are bolded above I have come across doing house histories in Strathcona. It was great to be able to put faces to some names.

I did an online search to see if I could track down any living relatives of the Felsteins but could not find any. If you read this and are a relative, I would love to have a picture of David and Annie Felstein or any of the children mentioned in this blog.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Strathcona Residents Association Website

In between trying to make my living as a house history researcher and intermittent neighbourhood history walking tour guide, I also work on a number of boards. For a few years now I have been on the board and am currently the chair of the Friends of the Vancouver City Archives. It's a great organization that works to raise the profile of the work of the City of Vancouver Archives and also raise funds for specific projects at the archives. These include things like reprinting the old crumbling city directories used by house history researchers like me, scan and digitize thousands of old Vancouver photos and upload them to the CVA site, etc. Membership has its benefits. If you are interested in purchasing some archival photos of Vancouver's historic buildings, people, or scenes, you get a 50% discount on 8x10 black and white prints if you are a "Friend".

Another group I was involved with was the Heatley Block Preservation Society. We organized to fight against the planned demolition of a landmark East End building on East Hastings at Heatley and in the course of our fight, found out that one of the two old houses attached to the Heatley block was probably one of the four oldest houses still standing in Vancouver. After a year and a half of fighting tooth and nail against the Library Board, they finally listened to us and let the Heatley Block go. So you see you Borgs out there, "Resistance is NOT futile!".

At about the same time I got involved with the Heatley Block fight, I also joined the board of Heritage Vancouver Society. This is an amazing organization the advocates for Vancouver's built heritage. Each year they organize a Top Ten Endangered List. They helped us raise awareness of the Heatley Block struggle by including the Heatley Block in the Top Ten Endangered List two years running.

My most recent, and perhaps my most passionate involvement, because it concerns the neighbourhood I live in and love, is that I am now the Chair of the Strathcona Residents Association. The SRA was created in 1992 at the end of a three-year process of community meetings with city planners, during which very large numbers of residents participated in planning for the East End neighbourhood’s future. The community planning process asked the local residents to articulate what they wanted for their neighbourhood’s future, and the answers led to the formation of the Strathcona Community Plan. The Plan was written by City staff and includes zoning regulations, a traffic plan, and an expression of social goals.

In accordance with the goals of the residents, the plan was designed to preserve the heritage architectural character, to protect the streets from commuter traffic and make them safe for walking and cycling, and to maintain a multi-cultural and mixed-income family population through modest increases in density, and through a supportive attitude to the maintenance of affordable rental accommodation alongside owner-occupancy. The Strathcona Residents’ Association was formed in conjunction with the Community Plan and was recognized by City Council when the plan was approved.

I am a relative newcomer to Strathcona. I lived in the West End from 1978 to 1995, then moved to a house in the East End's Grandview Woodland neighbourhood where I lived for five years. I have been living with my partner Richard in a 1908 rowhouse unit on Hawks Avenue since Hallowe'en 2000. Though I have lived here for only a decade, it somehow feels like I have always been an East Ender. I explained the origins of my love affair with this neighbourhood in my Message From The Chair on our new website.

When I was considering taking the job of Chair I had to think about the goals I wanted to achieve if I took this job on. One was to raise the profile of the SRA within our neighbourhood. There have been lots of newcomers to the neighbourhood even since I have moved here, and many are seemingly unaware of this neighbourhood's history and how and why the SRA exists, and what the SRA does and has achieved.

Second was to ensure that the recently completed Strathcona Neighbourhood Vision Statement was uploaded on to the City's Strathcona Community Webpage. In the 1960sand 1970s this neighbourhood was almost bulldozed to the ground because City Hall thought they knew what was best for the East End and proceeded to enforce their vision without properly consulting the residents of this neighbourhood. Currently our neighbourhood is under threat again and depending on which city department or social agency you ask, Strathcona's boundaries jump all over the map.

Over a period of three years, an umbrella group called the Strathcona Revitalization Committee, composed of several Strathcona organizations including: the Strathcona Property & Tenants Association (SPOTA), the Strathcona Residents Association, The Strathcona Community Centre Association, the RayCam Cooperative Centre Association  and the Strathcona Business Improvement Association, worked together to create the vision statement for Strathcona. Called Strathcona 2010: A Clear Vision For Our Community, this vision statement clearly defines the boundaries of Strathcona as from Gore to Clark, and from Railway to Malkin. I have contacted the person in charge of the City's Community Webpage's and asked herto ensure that our Vision Statement was uploaded. There have been several e-mails back and forth, but we are still waiting.

In order to achieve these two first goals, I thought it wwas absolutely necessary for the SRA to have its own website. Not only could we upload information about the SRA, its history, our community vision statement, neigbourhood events and news etc., we could also upload a much needed explanation of what this neighbourhood's specailly designed Zoning By-law, RT-3, was all about.

Long story short, our long awaited SRA Webpage is up and running. It still is a work in progress, but there is an awful lot to look at and read there. Please take a look. If you like the design and are in the market for a Content Management model website for your business or organization, I can highly recommend our webmaster Digiboy Pete. As you can see, he does some pretty amazing work. And you are only seeing the front end of the website.

Anyway, I best get back to work on a more history oriented posting. Until then, take care, and see you in the Blogosphere!