Gastown development involves preserving facade of historic McConnell Block

Vancouver Courier

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McConnell Block
A rendering of the proposed development. Human Studio Architecture + Urban Design

development application that would see the two-storey façade of historic McConnell Block at 323 Carrall St. saved and restored, with a seven-storey building constructed behind it, goes before the Development Permit Board Dec. 10.

Human Studio Architecture + Urban Design filed the application with the City of Vancouver. Millennium Development owns the property. Donald Luxton and Associates prepared the conservation plan.

“The [McConnell Block] building is in extremely poor condition and could not be maintained as is. Something had to be done,” Luxton told the Courier. “It’s a good news story in that we’re not losing the whole building.”

Other names associated with the structure include Louvre Saloon and Louvre Hotel.

If approved, the overall development project will create 38 secured market rental units — 15 of which will be micro-suites — and commercial space at grade level.

Aside from the new seven-storey building, plans envision an addition constructed above the McConnell Block.

Built in 1889 and named after Gilbert Smyth McConnell, a prominent Vancouverite of that era who served a two-year term as an alderman, the building originally wrapped around the corner of the CPR right-of-way.

It was first home to the Vancouver Drug Company and the Vancouver Tea and Coffee Company, which were managed by Won Alexander Cumyow, the first person of Chinese descent born in modern day Canada. Other businesses used the space in subsequent years.

Eventually, it became the Louvre Saloon and later the Louvre Hotel.

McConnell Block
Exterior of the Vancouver Drug Company and the Vancouver Tea and Coffee Company on Carrall Street near Hastings Street in 1889. Photo Bailey and Neelands. CVA Str P68

The Bijou Theatre was located next door and took up part of the McConnell Block. When the theatre was torn down in the 1940s, its portion of the McConnell Block was torn down with it, undermining the structural integrity of the rest of the building.

Later, during the restoration of the Bank at 1 West Hastings, cracks were found in the McDonnell Block, which led to the shoring up of the façade.

The Gospel Mission has been occupying the upper level of the building, which sits adjacent to Pigeon Park, since 1941.

According to the Statement of Significance (SOS) for the property, the building is valuable for its connection to the initial development of Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood, its association with early commercial businesses and proprietors, and its late Victorian-era design by architects Mallandaine & Sansom.

The original recommendation was to demolish the building because of its poor condition.

Luxton said almost nothing is holding it up in the interior, it would never survive an earthquake, and it will require extensive restoration work to preserve the parts that are salvageable.

“Amazingly, there’s a certain part of the original fabric of the McConnell Building still intact, including the façade elements,” he said.

McConnell Block
A rendering of the proposed development. Human Studio Architecture + Urban Design
McConnell Block
A rendering of the proposed development. Human Studio Architecture + Urban Design