When the Georgia Viaduct plowed through Vancouver in 1972 it knocked out Hogan’s Alley, and with it a lot of black history. At one time Hogan’s Alley was a hang-out and home for Vancouver’s black community and filled with after-hours clubs, gambling and bootlegging. Just eight feet wide and a few blocks long, the Alley was really just a collection of horse stables, small cottages and shacks—a place where the west side crowd came to take a walk on the wild side.
I wrote about some of the history of Hogan’s Alley in At Home with History. The Alley was most likely named for Harry Hogan, a black singer who lived at 406 Union Street in 1921. And, while Hogan’s Alley is long gone, the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project is actively dedicated to keeping that era of black history alive. They argue that Hogan’s Alley was once the location of a vibrant black community and that the city council of the time ran roughshod over the residents, ignoring their desire for improvement and displacing them instead. They want a Memorial at the site of the Georgia Viaduct.
From 1938 to 1952, Nora Hendrix, the grandmother of rock legend Jimi Hendrix, lived a few blocks from Hogan’s Alley. Nora, a feisty old lady who turned 100 in Vancouver, was born in Tennessee. She was a dancer in a vaudeville troupe, married Ross Hendrix and settled in Vancouver in 1911, raising three children. Al, the youngest moved to Seattle at 22, met 16-year-old Lucille, and their son Jimi was born in 1942.
Nora was also one of the driving forces behind the purchase of the Fountain Chapel, a church on Jackson Avenue. She co-founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a gathering place and centre for gospel singing, and the only physical reminder left of the black community in this part of Vancouver.
The Jimi Hendrix Connection
Jimi was a frequent visitor to his grandmother’s house. After he left the army in 1962 he hitchhiked 2,000 miles to Vancouver and stayed several weeks. He picked up some cash sitting in with a group at a club known as Dante’s Inferno. Six years later when the Jimi Hendrix Experience played the Pacific Coliseum, Nora was in the audience. There’s a CBC interview with Jimi and a very young Terry David Mulligan from 1968 and an interview with Nora and Jack Webster in 1970, posted on Past Tense Vancouver shortly after Jimi’s death.
The Hendrix Shrine on Union Street
A couple of years ago, Hendrix fans converted a small red brick building at 207 Union Street into a shrine for the singer. Folk lore had it that from about 1948 to 1979 the building housed Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, where Nora worked and Jimi possibly played. It was apparently a Hogan’s Alley fixture and a favourite for visiting black performers such as Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole. Unfortunately, James Johnstone spoiled the myth by discovering it was the building next door, long gone and now a parking lot.
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