Imagine the corner of Carrall and Hastings in the 1920s.
At the B.C. Electric Railway headquarters (foreground on right), interurban trains were arriving from places as far away as Chilliwack and Steveston. From here, passengers could immediately transfer to a streetcar on Hastings that would connect them to any part of the city.
Down the street was City Hall, located in the Holden Building (centre left), one of the tallest towers in Vancouver.
Across the street: the Beaux-Arts Merchant’s Bank building. Up the street: the city’s premier department store, Woodward’s.
At the centre: the Hotel Pennsylvania.
Previously known as The Woods, the hotel must have been a place to meet, for business and pleasure.
And none who passed through this intersection could ever imagine how dramatically it would decline in the later decades of their century. Just as we today are sceptical of the possibilities of change for the better in the Downtown East Side.
In fact many are fearful of any sign of improvement, concerned that gentrification will displace the most vulnerable. In the stratified politics of Vancouver, that’s often why change is only embraced when the Left sees benefit. So it was that COPE (later Vision) councillor Jim Green, who justifiably deserves the credit for the Woodward’s project, provided the catalyst for change that will transform this neighbourhood in the next few years.
And yesterday, another sign of that change was lit.
The opening of 44 units for the homeless or at risk marked the end of a long journey for those in the Portland Hotel Society who struggled to transform a dismal, dangerous SRO into something of pride and hope for the Downtown East Side. (That’s Tom Laviolet of the Portland Hotel Society at the window. The “Portland Hotel” was another name this building has known, preceded by “The Rainbow”.) More here.
The hotel has been wonderfully restored, including the turret at top and a replica for the sign that punctuates the corner with a touch of neon:
But credit also to the City for extending the corner sidewalk and adding a gentle curve to Hastings where it bends:
And for allowing a replacement of the areaways underneath the Carrall Street sidewalk, including the glass tiles lit from below:
And to those who doubt this intersection will regain its vitality, just wait. As the Carrall Street greenway is completed, as the streetcar is extended through the neighbourhood, as social housing projects replace the SROs, as more residents and businesses are welcome, the Pennsylvania will once again become the place to meet. Read more »