People love to speculate about the big brown stone building with the clock tower at the corner of Main Street and 15th Avenue.
Some think it was an early city hall, others visualize a church, some think it was a bank. One little boy in the neighbourhood is sure it is a castle. Those in the know call it the old Post Office or the old RCMP building.
When Postal Station “C” was constructed in 1915, Main Street was the major north-south connector between “uptown” at Main and Broadway, and “downtown” at Main and Hastings. There are conflicting theories about why such an ornate building was built in this location, but most agree the building was an attempt to stimulate commercial growth in the Mount Pleasant area. It has also been suggested that the location of the electric street car station across the street at 14th and Main caused the city fathers to locate the imposing building where they did. Unfortunately, the new surge of residents did not arrive and the shopping and business areas of the city shifted west.
The Government of Canada bought the land in 1912 for $40,000. In 1914 a contract was let to T.J. Whiteside and G.E. Williamson to build the Post Office on the corner of Main and Howard Streets in the new suburb of Mount Pleasant. The building was designed by A. Campbell Hope, with David Ewart as chief architect. The building was constructed in 1915 at a cost of $92,000.
Designated a heritage structure by the City of Vancouver in 1974, and by Public Works Canada in 1976, the old Post Office building at Main Street and 15th Avenue is a landmark in the Mount Pleasant community. It is one of the oldest official buildings in Vancouver and over the years it has served the city well.
- 1915-22 Opened/operated as Postal Station C, Mount Pleasant
- 1922-62 Operated as the Dominion Agricultural Building
- 1965-76 Occupied/operated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- 1976-82 Vacant and allowed to fall into disuse
In March 1982, a non-profit charitable organization named the Main Source Management Society was formed to restore the old Post Office and re-open it as a community and cultural resource centre for Vancouver. Funds were raised from many sources and work on the most urgent repairs began in early 1983. The roof and gutters were in a state of great decay and the whole interior needed to be re-designed. Wiring, plumbing, fire escapes, elevators, washrooms, and alarms were all brought up to building code.
The interior, particularly the main floor, offered the most creative possibilities. Originally designed to accommodate the workings of a post office, the room was re-designed to look like an elegant ballroom from an old French chateau. Upper floors were restored as modern offices. The basement was transformed into space for live theatre productions. Vancouver’s oldest theatre organization, the Vancouver Little Theatre had its home in the basement of Heritage Hall for many years.
Much of the impetus for restoring the building came from the four social service agencies who occupied the two upper floors of the building for many years. Along with other dedicated community volunteers, the Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC, Information Services Vancouver, Volunteer Vancouver and the Junior League of Greater Vancouver were involved with the project since almost the beginning. Their aim was to secure decent, affordable, centrally located office space for their agencies while helping to preserve a historic building and create a community cultural centre at the same time. Their efforts succeeded admirably. The Association of Neighbourhood Houses of BC is the only original office tenant. Current tenants are Stage Door, musica intima, BC Health Coalition, New Performance Works Society, Vancouver Bach Choir, and the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Association.
Heritage Hall: The whole story
The 104 page illustrated Heritage Hall, Biography of a Building, traces the history of the building from its early days as a post office through the federal government years and into the exciting period of restoration as a community facility. Recipient of a 2006 City of Vancouver Heritage Award and a 2003 Heritage Society of British Columbia Honour Award, the book consists of selected oral history and researched documentation. Available for sale through the Heritage Hall administration office for $21.95. (See contact info.)
“This well-produced book about Heritage Hall avoids descending into vanity press or promotional fluff and comes up a winner.” – Donald Luxton, heritage consultant and author.
Heritage Hall architecture
Vancouver’s architectural history between 1880 and 1915, shows an amazing increase in building sophistication in architectural design and technical construction capability.
Built in 1915, Postal Station “C” (now Heritage Hall) is the culmination of this period in terms of both craftsmanship and design. The building design is a competent and quite sophisticated exercise in Beaux Arts Classicism and has outstanding architectural value.
The nearly square, three-storey building with its projecting pavilions, clock tower and high-hipped roof shows the typical Edwardian inclination towards the spectacular, adorned as it is in lavish 18th century ornamentation and stonework.
Sculptured columns and pilasters topped in vaguely Corinthian capitals are set into the two Main Street facades. Sandstone festoons decorate the facade, while a series of sculpted, nameless faces above the second storey windows show exceptional skill. (Only the face of King George V that sits above the main hall entrance is identifiable.) The elaborate ornamental scheme constructed from local stone shows that skilled craftsmen were available to the builders.
The ground floor walls are banded with dark-toned Haddington Island stone between layers of lighter Denman Island stone, giving a variegated look to the street level. The floor above is of brick with stone trim. (The Haddington Island stone was also used on the Hotel Vancouver and the Courthouse.)
The roof is red tile, crowned with copper ornamentation and lanterns. The building is dominated by a clock-tower with a mechanical clock and a working bell, built by the Joyce Company of Whitchurch, England, the builders of London’s famous Big Ben.
Inside the building a significant amount of original detail remains on the main floor, including an exceptional carved red marble staircase. The main floor was re-designed as a grand ballroom in 1983. It has a patterned tile floor, embellished columns, a trompe l’oeil mural, stained glass windows and chandeliers. Paint colours were chosen based on the building’s exterior architectural style. A decision was made to play with the 18th century French Provincial style with the use of softer hues like the sky-blue of the ceiling.
The building was designed by Archibald Campbell Hope and completed in 1916. Hope was born in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1870 and had practised in San Francisco before moving to Vancouver in 1908. In Vancouver he also designed the Central Hotel and several apartments in the West End. David Ewart was the building’s chief architect.
Heritage Hall was designated a heritage building by the City of Vancouver in 1974 and was included in the first list of buildings identified by the City as having historical importance.