Once a thriving village of 40 stores and a school prior to World War I, it became a quiet backwater within a decade – and still is.
This is 3500 – 3600 Commercial Street – not Drive – and was originally developed as a result of the 18th Avenue tram stop for the B.C. Electric Interurban Railway between New Westminster and Vancouver. (Map here.) As the railway pushed out into what had once been farmland in Cedar Cottage, small independent villages like this one at sprung up. Its vibrancy was short lived, as the advent of the automobile in 1910-20 led to Kingsway’s commercial dominance.
From the Vancouver Heritage Foundation:
The Gow Block, the building on the left with the bay windows on the second floor, was originally home to the Bank of Hamilton between 1910 and 1924, and until 1934 to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce which had merged with the Bank of Hamilton. Once the bank closed, the corner location was taken over for the next 60 years by a corner grocery store, the linchpin in many neighbourhoods in the city. Ernie’s Grocery was there for almost 40 years between 1960 – 1996.
Gow Block – Construction date: 1910 (estimated, no building permit). Original owner: Bank of Hamilton. Photo by Martin Knowles.
The current owners of the Gow Block, a mixed commercial/residential Edwardian building, call their heritage project ‘Little Did We Know’ because they had absolutely no idea how much work and expense would be involved when they impulsively decided to save the building from demolition.
Naively thinking they could slowly start to fix up the building, they were startled to find out the city had other plans: either do it as one big project or no permits. Ripe for a new project, they pitched themselves into rehabilitating the building by removing the stucco, restoring the original siding, using archival images to restore the storefronts and replicating the original windows.* Using a Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA)** with the City of Vancouver, they developed the back parking lot into five new construction strata units to help finance the restoration of the heritage building.
Want to see the inside? You’re in luck: it’s on the Vancouver Heritage Foundation’s 2012 Heritage House Tour:
Sunday, June 3rd
10am – 5pm
Note: One upper residential unit and a rear strata unit will open on the tour.
* Painted in the historic True Colour palette through the VHF Grant Program – Body: Kitsilano Gold VC-11 (Low Luster); Trim: Comox Green VC-19 (Soft Gloss); Sash: Comox Green VC-19 (High Gloss Oil)
** An HRA is an agreement negotiated by the City of Vancouver and owner of a heritage property, which enables the preservation of a heritage building by providing flexibility of planning by-laws to offset the additional cost of restoration.