It’s one of Vancouver’s lost landmarks and all that remains are pieces of its opulent interior, which can be found in antique shops or repurposed home decor, occasionally unbeknownst to the homeowner. From 1916 to 1949, the Second Hotel Vancouver stood on West Georgia Street between Howe and Granville. Built in a grand Italianate revival style, it was considered one of the great hotels of the British Empire.
The First Hotel Vancouver
The first Hotel Vancouver, that opened in 1888, was rather utilitarian at first. It was also on the corner of Granville and Georgia. According to Fairmont, it was “a five-story, brick structure that looked and functioned much like a farmhouse.” In 1893, new Van Horne Wing on Granville was built, and another wing was added in 1904.
In 1910 the CPR excavated on Howe Street and in early 1911 built Honeyman and Curtis’s Annex. Meanwhile, at the end of 1910 the new CPR architect W S Painter obtained a building permit for $2,000,000 for an ‘Addition to hotel’. In January 1912 it was reported that a $1,000,000 14-storey replacement hotel would be built for the CPR. It wouldn’t just fill the Granville and Georgia corner, it filled the block all the way back to Robson and Howe. [Source: Changing Vancouver]
The Second Hotel Vancouver
The Canadian Pacific Railway built the hotel, with tiers that stepped up to a central section, from 7 to 10 and finally 16 storeys, with architect Francis S. Swales between 1912 and 1916. It was the most remarkable and expensive building that the city had seen, according to Changing Vancouver. “When completed the hotel, it is said, will have the largest ground floor corridors of any hotel in existence.”
Features included arched windows, castle-like turrets and a 14th floor that was adorned with eight-foot tall terra cotta moose and buffalo head sculptures. Gargoyles, Canadian-style. The hotel was big, with 700 rooms, several dining rooms, two ballrooms, a billiard room, shops and offices. And it was a study in elegance, from its three-storey entrance portico to its renowned rooftop garden. [Source: Vancouver Sun]
It was where dignitaries and stars of the silver screen stayed in Vancouver, and where locals enjoyed rooftop dining and dancing.
Just imagine Georgia and Granville back then: The Hudson’s Bay Building, Birks Building, Vancouver Block, and the Hotel Vancouver. Attached to the hotel was the Vancouver Opera House, later the Lyric Theatre, and the Orpheum down the block.
“It was beautiful and grand,” Dal Richards, Vancouver’s late, great, King of Swing, once told the Vancouver Sun: “They had a Crystal Ballroom, adjoined by what they called Peacock Alley, which was a broad entrance hall that went down the full length of the ballroom. It had antique furniture, oriental rugs and all that sort of thing, brass railings. Below that, in the lower level, dancing all year was done in what was called the Spanish Grill. That was the nightclub of the hotel, that’s where the orchestras played.”
If it had survived, this Hotel Vancouver would now be the place to stay in town, a heritage hotel to rank with The Empress in Victoria or The Palace in San Francisco. But it was killed by the falling fortunes of its owner, the Canadian Pacific Railway. [Source: Vancouver Sun]
On May 24th, 1939 the second Hotel Vancouver closed, turned into a government administration building during World War II, while the third was opened.
Architectural historian Harold Kalman says in the The History of Metropolitan Vancouver: “Delayed by the Depression, it was rushed to completion in 1939 for the Royal Visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The rival CPR co-operatively closed its own, earlier, Hotel Vancouver (two blocks east), lent the name, and entered into a joint management contract.”
In 1949, the Second Hotel Vancouver was torn down. Nothing, except for a parking lot, would occupy that valuable piece of prime Vancouver real estate until the TD Tower and Eaton’s Centre were built in the 1972.