With excellent timing, ChangingVancouver posts an early example of the evolution from house to shop – The Orillia:
In 1903 W L Tait, a prominent industrialist and sometime property investor, hired his favourite architects, Parr and Fee, to design a “frame terrace” of six houses built at a cost of $8,000.
In 1909 he hired them again to spend an additional $7,000 to alter the building to create an unusual early mixed-use project. Once altered The Orillia, on Robson Street at Seymour, consisted of six rowhouses over a row of retail units.
Vancouver, as I’ve described before, was from its origins a suburban city – one house per lot, each separated from the other – jumping over all the traditional forms of urban density that characterized older cities such as row houses and terraces. And here was a example of transition, using the ‘Vancouver Special’ of the late-19th century and organically accommodating changes of use.
The Orillia saw a number of tenants over the 80 years it stood, including ‘Sid Beech’s Tamale Parlour’ (with noted Mexican specialities Ravioli and Spaghetti on the menu!) and a pool hall that also sold cigars. Towards the final years of its existence the Orillia had both the Funland Arcade and Twiggy’s Discotheque where the pool hall had once been located.
And let’s not forget Faces – the gay bar that was home to the best Saturday-afternoon tea dances Vancouver boys have ever experienced, and just one of about a half dozen in the immediate neighbourhood.
I wasn’t around for the demolition of the Birks Building, the loss of which in the early 1970s sparked the heritage movement (and led to legislation) that saved many of our best buildings. For me, The Orillia is our saddest loss – an unnecessary one at that, since it could have been integrated, even in 1985, into the mundane tower on the site, providing an identity worth more than cost of the upgrade, and commanding some of the highest retail rents in the city as Robson’s energy moved eastward.