Whenever I’m downtown I like to wander past some of the older buildings that have evaded the wrecker’s ball for one reason or another. There aren’t many left. My earliest memory of an old downtown heritage building was the one at 804 Pender Street where my mother began Spectrum Players’ Lunch Hour Theatre in 1969. That spot is now a pizza outlet (Sciué) at the base of an office tower. Across the street once stood the Alhambra Theatre. But generally speaking, outside of Gastown and its periphery, nearly everything made of brick or stone has vanished or been treated to lethal doses of “façadism”.
Once the Expo lands were cleared (and a few old buildings on the periphery suffered convenient blazes), the north shore of False Creek was pretty much Berlin, 1945. Flattened. A blank slate. Now it’s a big, soulless grey slate, albeit with wonderful waterfront access and a single dominant cultural centre in the form of the excellent Roundhouse Community Centre. But our mayor at the time had no real plan and refused to consider one, preferring instead to rely on zoning practices that allowed developers to shape the area into a potential JG Ballard novella. Give it 20 years. You’ll see.
Then there’s the strip along Hastings, the 100 block. During the post-Expo 80s and into the 90s it came to host after hours clubs, micro theatre spaces and galleries. Most were shabby, makeshift affairs that at least afforded creative use while awaiting gentrification. One of those spaces, for a time, was the Or Gallery.
Further west, into the core, the post office remains (likely to serve as pediment for more condos) as does one highly conspicuous, narrow old structure at 555 Hamilton Street better known as the Del Mar Hotel. Since 2008 it’s also been home to the Or Gallery after it was forced from the 100 block of Hastings. 555 has a long gallery affiliation, as the Bau Xi began there in 1965. The CAG also did time beneath the rooms. And in the 90s, the owner resisted development pressure from BC Hydro so that the low income hotel and street front gallery space remains.
The text intervention work “Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide” by Kathryn Walter greets all who enter on the slate above the entrance. And the alley to the north has served me well whenever I’ve had need of a sheltered space to do a portrait or two. I recall shooting George Vergette for the Straight there. In any event, I recently noticed a new text piece on the wall high up on the side of the building. It was difficult to find an angle to view or photograph so I cast down to see this image. I was immediately struck by its resemblance to a whale (I’ve done a series of “Abject Orcas”, photos of awful, painted or sculptural renderings of “the killer whale” in public spaces). It also looked like a painting by Robert Linsley. I’ve no idea whether this is an intentional work. Perhaps it’s simply how a series of graffiti tags were covered over. Or not.
112 West Hastings. Photo by Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun. 1994.