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

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The New Lucky Rooms--468 Union Street: More Than Meets The Eye

468 Union Street - Courtesy Patrick Gunn,  Heritage Vancouver
When I first moved into the neighbourhood in 2000, I soon found out that certain buildings or houses had a reputation... This was one of those buildings... a three storey apartment building that had seen better days, and nicer management. Over the last little while, things seemed to have improved at the "New" Lucky Rooms... new management, less drug and craziness related problems. Things may be looking up. Perhaps one day it will have a makeover like its neighbour 478 Union just down the street.

So where was I going with this? A while back, when I was looking at a way of stringing together a walking route through the East End I thought the 400 block of Union had to be looked at. Because of the way the MacLean Park project housing was laid out, any tour going through the East End wanting to visit Hogan's alley had to go along the 400 block of Union. So I started researching ten addresses in the block and found out some very interesting stuff: like the home of Vancouver's Amelia Earhart, Tosca Trasolini, the homes of a number of refugee Christian Lebanese families, like the Haddads, Nahomes and Sabas, that the brick house built by Italian-born longshoreman and bootlegger Adamo Piovesan was the second house to be built on the lot and that there was a second generation of bootlegging going on after the Piovesan's moved. You know.. boring East End stuff... the stuff that gets my heart and mind going... the stuff that makes me wish I could research every single house in this neighbourhood... But let's concentrate on one... the New Lucky Rooms.

Prior to the construction of this building, there were actually two other structures built on the same lot. The house on the lane, 466 Union (Barnard Street originally) was built in 1904-05 by Belgian-born mason Jerome C. Martin. Jerome was born in 1854, the son of Zavier Martin and Catherine Van Bergen. his wife, Mary Jane O'Brien, who applied for water service for the house on Augut 23, 1904, was born in Kings Township, County York in Ontario, the daughter of John O'Brian and Jane Milligan. 466 Barnard appears for the first time in the directories in 1906 as Jerome Martin's home. The original 468 Barnard was built in 1906 and first appears in the directories in 1907 as the home of BC Electric Railway motorman Edward J. Goudie. 

Then October 6, 1912, another water service application for the lot was made by Jerome Martin. You can see that there is a new building on the lot, marked in pink. This new
Plate 70 of Volume 2 of 1912 Goad's Atlas Fire Insurance Map of Vancouver
building, today's New Lucky Rooms, first appears in the directories as the White Horse Rooms. Perhaps Jerome had spent some time in the Klondyke before settling in Vancouver. 

Photo courtesy of Patrick Gunn - Heritage Vancouver
The 1913 directory lists the first floor as occupied by the Roma Restaurant, run by G. Giovanetti. Perhaps it was the war, or perhaps Mr. Giovanetti couldn't keep a good cook, but for whatever reason, by 1914 the restaurant space was converted into a grocery store run by a widow named Sarah Lipovsky. Sarah Lipovsky was born in Russia in 1880 and is supposed to have come to Canada around 1904 and to BC in 1910, but she does not turn up in the census under that surname, or under her maiden name, Lazarovitch. Her deceased husband was Moses Lipovsky, a Russian-born sheet metal worker, who died at the Vancouver General Hospital on September 27, 1912 of acute appendicitis at the age of 42. Moses was buried in Mountain View, according to his death certificate, though his name does not turn up on their website. The home address given on the death certificate was 645 East 13th. In the 1912 and 1913 directories, the surname was spelled Lopovsky. In later life, Sarah Lipovsky lived at 1816 West 13th. She died at St. Paul’s Hospital of a heart condition on April 23, 1929 at the age of 49 and was buried in the Old Section of Mountain View in Plot 1/06/014/0002.

For most of World War I, the store was vacant, then in 1919, 468 Union became the home of Abraham and Fredah Charkow. The 1919 directory seems to intimate that Abraham Charkow had an egg store at 468 Union. Abraham Charkow was Jewish, most likely from Poland, there are a number of Polish-born Jews named Charkow in the BC Archives Vital Events listings. Freda Charkow was born in Poland on June 18, 1894, the daughter of Moses and Fagi Chrak. She came to Vancouver in 1915. In later life, the Charkows lived at 5424 Connaught Drive. Freda Charkow died on December 11, 1955 at the age of 60 and was buried in Schara Tsedeck Cemetery in Burnaby.

The apartments above the store first appear in the 1917 directory and for most of the buildings life their address is 468½ Union. during the early years, often only the name of the resident caretaker is listed, not all the residents.

In 1920 and 1921 the main floor was an Italian confectionery run by Eugenio Falcioni, then victor Dorigo.By 1923, it was a butcher shop run by Herbert J. Stickland. In 1925-26 it was the Union Tailor Shop run by Louis Battistoni. From 1927 through to 1929, Luigi shared the space with his brother Giuseppe who ran the Union Shoe Repair from the same address. Around this time the south side of the block, at least all ten of the houses included in the study I was doing were occupied by Italian families.

In 1929, the corner store at 578 Union was taken over by a Japanese family, the Sogas. In 1930, 468 Union became the Lethbridge Meat Market run by a man named John Ungeren. At first I thought John might have been Swedish or Finnish. There were lots of Swedes and Finns in the neighbourhood, but John was actually Romanian. John Ungeren was born in Romania in 1881 and came to BC around 1928. His father's name was Constantine Ungeren. His wife, Dora Henko, was born in Romania on May 13, 1898, the daughter of Pete and Florence Henko. They had at least one daughter, Katie Ungeren, born in Lethbridge Alberta on March 12, 1923. The same year, the apartments in the upper floors were run by a Japanese man named Masashi Nakagawa.

The depression shook things up badly in Vancouver, especially in this neighbourhood. In 1931-32, the Ungeren family took over operations of the entire lot. The Ungeren family lived behind in the lane house at 466 Union. Mrs. Ungeren ran a grocery store in the front unit of 468, while john took over running the upstairs rooms.As the depression progressed, the grocery went out of business, the storefront remained vacant for a number of years, the extended Ungeren family moved into the upstairs apartments, and "Orientals" rented out 466 at the back. Of the Ungeren children living at 468 Union, George and William Ungeren worked as shoe shiners at the Stock Exchange Barber Shop, Annie worked as a waitress at the Union Cafe, Victoria worked as a waitress at the Newton Cafe, and Mary worked as a waitress at another restaurant. Nick Ungeren worked as a shoe shiner for F. Lee.

By the time World War II rolled around, 468 Union was renamed the Lethbridge Rooms. By 1940, leather cutter Joseph King and his wife Annie lived in the lane house at 466 Union. In 1941, the Lethbridge Rooms were renamed the Adora Court Rooms, probably after Dora Ungeren. They remained the Adora Court Rooms long after the Ungerens moved away in 1943. For the remainder of the war, it seems that the block was looked at L. & Christina Few. Mr. Few was listed as being in Active Service so perhaps Christina Few was the manager. The lane house at 466 Union was rented by logger Einer Nylen and his wife Tillie. After the war, the Adora Court Rooms were taken over by George and Katie Kohut.

In 1951, the Kohuts moved out and a man named William Baert took over as caretaker. The ground floor until was rented out to a Chinese interpreter named T. H. Liu, and George A. Sloan, a furnaceman for Great Western smelting and his wife Kay took over the lane house.

Sometime prior to 1954, a woman named Ho Lam took over proprietorship of the Adora Court Rooms. She ran the place until at least 1981, but hired a number of resident caretakers over the years. 1981 is the last year you see the name Adora Court in the city directories. In the 1980s and 90s the directories list mostly Chinese residents in the apartment while the lane house at 466 Union was rented out to the Odegaard and then the Sollazzo families.  From 1992 onward, 466 became the home of Yen Chia Liu, the manager of the Sun Ah (New Asia) Hotel at 100 East Pender.

Although the name may have been used prior to that, the first time Lucky Rooms appears as a name in the directories is 1999.

This is only a small distillation of the history of this place. It is a great reminder that every house, every old apartment building, no matter how run down, has a history and that history is worthy of being investigated.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Some years back, the people of Vancouver were captivated by the story of a young Vancouver couple and their extended family who, through their own labour and family resources, restored a dilapidated East End house that looked to most to be a certain tear downer.
Courtesy of Graham Elvidge and Kathleen Stormont - May 2003
When I first went inside 844 Dunlevy, the house seemed to be a ruin. The roof had been leaking for years, causing a lot of water damage. The owner, George Winchcombe, had let a number of generations of his beloved companion dogs infuse the floors and baseboards with an odor that floored most of the prospective buyers the day of the open house... and this was after the floors had been power washed!

That 844 Dunlevy was eventually transformed from a noxious horror story to a homey showcase was little short of a miracle and is a tribute to the owners' vision, tenacity, and their ability to inspire and involve others in the restoration process. Restoring the 1899 F. W. Sentell-built Queen Anne to its former glory helped give life and colour to the southwest edge of Strathcona and, I hope, will inspire others to look at other run down pioneer era East End homes as something to value and rehabilite, not destroy.

Photo courtesy of Graham Elvidge and Kathleen Stormont
All through the process, The Province and a local TV station covered the restoration saga. People fell in love with the house and the intrepid extended family working on it and would drop by with period chandeliers, light fixtures and other antiques that they thought might go well with the house once it was finished.

Photo courtesy of Graham Elvidge and Kathleen Stormont
I jumped on the bandwagon and presented Graham and Kathleen with a history of the house. I had found out that 844 Dunlevy was built in 1899 by Frederick William Sentell, a New Brunswick-born house contractor and former Vancouver alderman, and the man who built Vancouver's first City Hall on Powell Street.

In the end, the house was awarded top honours for heritage preservation at both the civic and provincial level. Here are some articles on the house and its history:

So that's a rather long preamble to what this post is all about. Among some of the things that George Winchcombe left behind in his house were a number of photos, including this one taken in 1920. I am hoping readers might be able to help identify where the houses are.

Uncle Charlies Cement Crew - courtesy George Winchcombe
George's uncle, Charlie Winchcombe, was a cement contractor. The photo shows one of his crews working on a road or sidewalk somewhere in Vancouver. I have seen a number of houses which look like the one in the centre... There is one similar on Fraser Street, but i don't think it is the house. Do these two houses look familiar to you? If so, please let me know. The first person who can correctly identify these houses for me will get two free tickets for one of my neighbourhood history walks. : )  Remember, you can click on the photo to enlarge it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

1606 East 15th Ave - The House that Thomas Bell built

A few year's back I was called on by a very nice realtor  named Shelly Smee to do some research on a newly restored Cedar Cottage Arts & Crafts bungalow across from Clark Park. 
The owner had done an amazing job in bringing the house back to is former glory after years of it being quite run down and was toying with the idea of moving on. What you see above are some of the "before" pictures.
     I did some basic research and presented it to Shelly who then presented it to the owner. The information I dug up about the house so interested the owner, that  unfortunately for Shelly, she not only decided not to sell the house but hired me to do more in-depth research on the property. The final package contained the history of three houses on East 15th Avenue and three houses on Fleming Street, and was one of my most interesting jobs to date.
    There were several challenges associated with the project. for one thing, East 15th Avenue was the border between Vancouver and South Vancouver and depending on which municipality you lived in was numbered differently.  This caused me quite a few headaches researching the earlier years of the house's history.  Another challenge was that for many of the early years of the house's existence, the directory records for Cedar Cottage were rather patchy. But I persisted, and after much trial and error, I was able to piece together a rather interesting story.

3500-block Commercial Street in 1913 - CVA Photo LGN 504
The house at 1606 East 15th Avenue was built sometime around 1907 at a time when there were great expectations that the Cedar Cottage area would prosper and develop commercially. It is perhaps the grandest example of house architecture left in the district. Located on the height of land on the corner of 15th Avenue and Fleming Street, it was built for retired sheet metal company owner Thomas Bell, just across from the house plasterer John Fleming built. John Fleming’s family had been landowners in the Cedar Cottage area for many years. Fleming Street is of course named after him. Sadly, John Fleming’s original and historically valuable old house was demolished sometime in the 1950s to make way for the two duplexes that now stand there.
     Cedar Cottage and the Municipality of South Vancouver were not the main focus of the early city directories so we do not even know for sure the first year that Thomas Bell lived in the house (although this study has arbitrarily put him at the house every year the directories listed him as living in Cedar Cottage).
     What we do know is the Thomas Bell was born in Ontario and that he, his wife Georgina, and his son Frederick Ewart Bell lived in the house until 1918. Sometime in 1918 dentist Thomas Peden and his family lived in the house for about a year but by 1919 the house was bought by Scottish-born lithographer Frank C. Smith and his wife Margaret.
Pearl Dixon
     Frank and Margaret lived in the house until 1947 or 1948 when the house was sold to New Brunswick-born lumberman Frank King. Prior to moving into 1606 East 15th Frank’s first wife passed away. At some point before his death, if one of his obituaries and one directory listing are to be believed, he remarried a woman named Ella. It seems though that Frank lived alone in the house for most of the time he had it, but had a housekeeper named Pearl I. Dixon,  who may or may not have lived there. She is not listed in the directories as living there when Frank had the house. She is not listed in his obituaries, even though the non-present wife is. Whatever the story, and a good part of it remains a mystery, when Frank died he willed the house to his housekeeper Pearl who lived in the house from 1954 through 1960, marrying retiree Roderick G. MacKenzie along the way. This picture of the house and Pearl Dixon was presented to the current owner by a neighbour, Hazel Carter. What an amazing picture! click on it for a larger view.
Note the original Catholic Church across Fleming Street where the school is now.
When Pearl died the house was willed to the Catholic Church and for many years 1606 East 15th was run as a children’s home by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society. The BC government took over in management in 1974. By 1985, the Nisha Children’s Society was operating a group home there until 1996.
     For a number of years, the Thomas Bell House remained in limbo, threatened with the possibility of demolition or unsympathetic renovation by developers. That the house stands today, whole and restored, is a testament to the love and determination of its current owner. Whoever Thomas Bell was, I think he would be pleased.
1606 East 15th as she is today...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

828 Royal Avenue Is Finally Gone

828 Royal Avenue Photo courtesy of Bob Hare
Last year I was hired to research the history of a dilapidated Royal Engineer sapper's bungalow at 828 Royal Avenue in New Westminster. New Westminster, which is so much older than Vancouver, and unfortunately has many gaps in its directory record, can be very challenging for a researcher like me. ...but with the help of the good folks at the New Westminster Museum and Archives and the New Westminster Public library, as well as some valuable input from past residents, I ended up putting together one of my favourite house history projects to date. Here is a link to my findings.

BC Archives Photo H-00332 Gilley Brother's Dray in front of 828 Royal Avenue
I will not go into the details of my findings here but there are a couple of things that I would like to mention. First of all, this nondescript little bungalow has an amazing history. Outside of Irving House, further down the street, this little house was the only house left standing south of Royal Avenue that survived New Westminster's great fire, and as such deserved to be preserved somehow.

Map showing extent of Great Fire of Sept 10, 1898 house under V in Ave. is 828 Royal
The two things I will mention are that I made a wonderful connection with a woman of Japanese heritage whose aunt and uncle lived in the house prior to World War II and was able to glean so many rich details concerning her family's time at the house that I would not have been able to find through my usual archival and online sources. Here is a picture of little Mitsue Lorraine Elliott with her uncle Sennosuke Nishi and his wife Shizu.

The Nishis were childless and at one time had hoped to adopt little Lorraine. This story is touched on in the older blog post. Anyway, the Nishi family lived at 828 Royal Avenue from 1925 to 1942 when they were forcibly removed from their home to a camp at Bridge River in the BC Interior. The removal to the camps was a huge tragedy to the Nishi family. Mrs. Nishi did not survive the ordeal in  1943. She was only 50. After the war, Sennosuke did not return to New Westminster but moved to Ashcroft.

There is so much more history about this little house in the longer blogpost on 828 Royal. It was such a shame that something could not have been done to preserve it or move it.

Back of 828 Royal last year

Same view on February 9, 2011 (Camera date is incorrect)
Two days ago, the little sapper's cottage had its day with the wrecking ball. Last year when I was talking with Lorraine about the impending demolition of her Aunt and Uncle's home I mentioned to her that I would try to salvage some bricks from the chimney for her. I didn't know how many I would be able to get, but we liked the idea of something of the house being saved. We are constantly expanding our (little) front patio using bricks I have salvaged from demolition sites. I thought it would be neat to have some of the bricks in my front yard and some at Lorraine's place, two little shrines to the memory of the little house that survived the Great Fire of 1898, and ended up touching so many lives.

On Wednesday when I went out to see if I could salvage some bricks, the house had been already torn down but the lot was still being cleared with heavy machinery. I checked with Heath, the foreman, and also talked to Mr. Krishan Anand, the owner of the property who originally hired me to research the property, to see if it was still okay to salvage some bricks. This afternoon, when I went to the site, the workmen had already left, but stacked neatly behind a piece of plywood off the back alley were about 30 bricks of various types and sizes. I braved the much and found about 10 more through the site.

Now there are two piles of bricks on my front patio. Very soon, some of those bricks will be part of my patio, and the larger pile will be somewhere in Lorraine's back yard,thelast tangible memory of her dear aunt and uncle's house.

Thanks again to Mr. Krishan Anand for hiring me to research 828 Royal Avenue. It is sad that the house had to go, but I am so glad that its history has not been lost. I would like to thank the management and staff at the New Westminster Museum & Archives, especially Colin Stevens, for remembering about Mr. Nishi's jacket, and introducing me to Lorraine Elliott. As always, a big thank you goes to the staff of the New Westminster Public Library for all their patient help with this and other projects. And a special thanks to Mr. Lawrence Chong who very generously shared the Chong family's photos, which formed such a large part of the original blog posting on 828 Royal Avenue.  Finally, I would like to thank my good friend and neighbour Graham Elvidge of Allan Diamond Architects who did such an amazing job measuring and drawing the house, both inside and out, and who saved me from breaking my neck when we were walking around in inside the house in the dark. Next time we'll take two flashlights, eh?!?

Graham and his measuring tape