Heritage Vancouver

Historic Building & Project: 425 Carrall St.

Description of Historic Place:
The BC Electric Railway Company Terminal is a six storey Second Empire Renaissance style industrial/office building with frontages on Carrall and West Hastings Streets, in the historic district of Gastown in Vancouver.

Fusion’s Project:
During the renovation of a project there are always surprises. Peeling the layers of a historic 1910 building is always a challenge, while maintaining the integrity of the original architecture by Somervell and Putnam. For PNI Digital Media we are renovating 14,000 square feet of space to a modern level for today’s office requirements.
Our project manager stated that “It was great when we came across the original fir floors and to have them preserved is such a bonus from a historic point of view and also an aesthetic feel to the new space”.

Heritage Value:
This building is significant because the BC Electric Railway Company once operated the most extensive interurban system in Canada from this location; two of their three interurban tramlines, the Central Park-Fraser Valley line, which provided service from New Westminster (1891) and Chilliwack (1910), and the Burnaby Lake line to New Westminster (1911), terminated there. One track off Hastings Street split into two in the terminal while another track from Hastings, essentially for freight movement, found room between the west side of the new structure and the Canadian Pacific Railway line. Tramlines made travel faster and more convenient, replacing horse and buggy and water transport with direct routes for a reasonable cost. As the population expanded to the outlying areas, the tramlines served two purposes: not only did they bring customers to the downtown area to shop, eat, and socialize but they also made it possible for residents to live at a distance from their place of employment. They were also used to carry freight from the suburbs to the city core. The Chilliwack line was important for bringing milk and other foodstuffs from the Fraser Valley to the city, where it was delivered to retail outlets for sale. The system grew quickly with lines extended and new ones created until Vancouver and the outlying areas were crisscrossed with tracks. The tracks were torn up in the 1950s and the trams replaced with electric trolleys and motor coaches. Public transit has had an enormous influence on the business and social life of the city.

The architects for the terminal were Somervell and Putnam. It was this project in 1912 that firmly established their reputation for excellence in large urban projects. Woodruff Marbery Somervell came to Seattle from New York in 1904 to supervise construction of a cathedral, stayed to build several hospitals and several homes now listed on the U.S. Register of Historic Places, then brought his styles to Vancouver in 1910. John L. Putnam became a full partner in 1911 and together they designed several Vancouver landmarks. Sugar king B.T. Rogers’ mansion, “”Shannon”” (1912-15); the terracotta Birks Building (1912-13, demolished 1974); and the pair of buildings at Abbott and West Hastings – the Merchant’s Bank and the B.C. Electric Railway Company terminal – are their legacy.

The terminal is built in an interpretation of the Second Empire Renaissance style. The original plans for the terminal included a Parisian mansard roof and more decoration than was finally applied. However, the building is a striking example of corporate stability and power. Its construction represented an early use of fire-proofed steel. According to the journal ‘The Architect, Builder and Engineer’, “”The interior fittings of the building are in thorough keeping with the magnificent appearance of the block. The wood finish throughout is oak, and many of the offices are paneled to the picture moldings in mahogany or oak.”” In addition to areas to accommodate the general public, the building housed 300 workers. The BC Electric Railway was the largest employer in the area and service businesses grew up in the adjacent areas to serve the influx of potential customers. The building’s upper area was remodeled in 1945 by Sharp and Thompson to remove the high roof and add a final storey which mirrored the fifth floor; The Bank of Montreal was the next tenant.

Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Planning Street Files