The original fledgling city was centred around what is now Gassy Jack Square but burnt down in the Great Fire of 1886. The Alhambra on Carrall Street is now the oldest building in Vancouver. The area is host to a wide variety of different stratas of society. For many years the area fell into decay and became a ghetto for the homeless and many addicts of various substances. However, with its proximity to the downtown core and its interesting heritage architecture it became a place of choice for many of the City’s artistic community and slowly a renaissance began. Many of the original residents are still living here but in much improved housing thanks to the City.
Most if not all of the seriously bad old rooming houses have been renovated, The Pennsylvania, Ranier and Alhambra Hotels on Carrall Street are probably the most recent renovations and look wonderful. Hopefully, with more funding more of these old buildings can be restored. The area is gradually being gentrified but with sensitivity.
Several pioneers have led the way for the alternative self owned housing that is now flourishing in the neighbourhood. The first self owned building was Mission House at 150 Alexander, this 1911 structure was refitted in the mid ’80’s and soon several other developers at 27 Alexander (The Alexis), 41 Alexander (The Captain French) and 55 Alexander gradually started to build and renovate.
Some of the other notable loft buildings in the area are 28 Powell, its neighbour The Globe, and Abbott Place at 233 Abbott. Then about 14 years ago, Brad Holme, an old high school (Magee) friend of Nicholas Meyer, President of Downtown Suites, started to build some loft buildings on Cordova Street, The Van Horne (171 lofts) and Carrall Station (71 lofts). Nicholas also has been part of the process serving on the City’s Carrall Street Greenway Steering Committee, the Gastown Historic Committee and several strata councils.
Currently, there has been restoration of some wonderful architecture on Water Street, namely The Taylor Building across from the Steam clock at 310 Water, The Terminus, The Garage and The Bowman Block and Paris and the Paris Annex close by.
What were once run down old buildings are now very chic and home to fine restaurants, unique pubs i.e. The Irish Heather, boutiques and city residences; some of which are costing well in excess of a million dollars. Possibly, the most notable contribution is the recent transformation of Woodward’s, an old department store bounded by Hastings, Cordova, Abbott and Cambie Streets. The new version, still has the old original store but there are two towers (42 and 30 stories respectively) which will probably be the catalyst to transform the area forever. It now houses Simon Fraser University (SFU) School for the Contemporary Arts as well as banks and shopping. Also close by with several campuses is the world renowned Vancouver Film School (VFS).