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ADDRESS: 151-155 Water Street HISTORIC NAME: The Harper Warehouses ARCHITECT: A.J. Bird CONSTRUCTION DATE: 1912 ORIGINAL Vancouver Heritage Register “B”; Municipal Heritage Designation; Part of the Gastown National Historic District
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Gastown is the birthplace of Vancouver, and its establishment as the Granville Townsite in 1870 predated the incorporation of the city in 1886. The area thrived through the turn of the twentieth century, serving as the central business district before it migrated west after the end of World War One. The general Edwardian era boom helped fuel the growth of Vancouver, and specifically Gastown, thereby encouraging the development of warehouses between Water Street and the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks along the waterfront. These warehouses were strategically located in the young city’s commercial core and many have been standing for more than a century. Built in 1912, the Harper Warehouse at 151-155 Water Street served the city’s produce trade for the first four decades of its life. First home to a variety of wholesale fruit companies, the warehouse was part of Gastown’s “Wholesale Row,” which denoted the concentration of wholesale dealers located along Water Street. Wholesale companies would have found the location ideal, as the railway tracks at the rear of the warehouse provided efficient trans-shipment abilities for their products. Individual wholesale fruit companies in the Harper Warehouse typically remained for a handful of years before being replaced with businesses in similar and related industries. The cluster of wholesale produce companies lasted in the Harper Warehouse until the1950s, when the industry relocated to Malkin Avenue, which provided better trucking capabilities, reflecting the general transition from railway to road transportation. The Harper Warehouse was designed by architect Arthur J. Bird (1875- 1967), who was responsible for the design of many apartments and commercial buildings throughout Vancouver. Hailed in publications as the “Land of Opportunity” and blessed with a great natural harbour and the terminus for the national railways, Vancouver was a booming and rapidly expanding city and fast becoming a major centre on the Pacific coast, with regular steamship services between Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Arthur .J. Bird was born in the northern industrial town of Bradford, England on July 25, 1875. He was sent south to Rochester, Kent, the ancient English town next to the Royal Dockyards of Chatham, where he was enrolled in the Sir Joseph Williamson Mathematical School. At the age of seventeen he began his long association with London architect Edward Burgess with whom he articled for four years and then spent a further seven years as assistant. During this time Bird was able to take the occasional private commission. In 1908, Bird set up practice in the new Winch Building on Hastings Street, and from this office he designed an array of residential buildings and commercial structures for clients. His first year was busy. There were five apartment buildings on the drawing board along with a number of houses and one store. He designed two houses on the city’s east side for builder A. Mitchell in 1909, and undertook a renovation on Comox Street for the Olmstead family. In 1913, he would design their new North Vancouver home on Keith Road East. The following years proved to be very productive with a similar range of projects. Bird continued to design West End apartment buildings such as the Capitola Apartments on Thurlow Street, 1909; Trafalgar Mansions on Nelson Street, 1910-11; Washington Court on Thurlow Street, 1910; and Blenheim Court on Jervis Street, 1910-11. Other projects during this time were the Lotus Hotel on Pender at Abbott, 1912, the Belvedere Court Apartments on Main Street, 1912, and several apartment buildings on the east side. The apartment buildings were typical Edwardian affairs organized like a small house. Each apartment managed to include a sitting room or parlour, dining room, kitchen with pantry, bedroom(s) and bath. Bird’s buildings were solid, well designed, pleasant looking compositions which did not call attention to themselves. One of the few designs where he seemed to have some fun is a small three-storey building built in 1912, unremarkable except for an oversize cornice and twin pediments over the top windows.
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