When I first started researching Alvo von Alvensleben some years ago I made several road trips to see how many of the buildings associated with him had withstood the bulldozer. Happily many did. His private home (1910-1913) at the time a 20-acre estate in Kerrisdale, is now the “old residence” at the Crofton Girl’s School, the Wigwam Inn is owned by the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, the Dominion Building still dominates the corner at West Hastings and Cambie, his hunting lodge in North Vancouver is a private residence, and houses that he built for employees in Pitt Meadows, Port Mann and Issaquah, Washington still exist.
But I was intrigued by one that didn’t.
In 1909 the city directory lists Alvensleben’s home as 1409 Nicola Street, but when I went to track down the address, I landed on the grassy promenade of Beach Avenue with nary a house in sight.
It turns out that the water side of Beach Avenue was lined with houses right up to the 1950s. A newspaper article from 1950, reports that the City expropriated 14 sea-side houses in 1929 with the intention of creating our current scenic drive from English Bay to the Burrard Street Bridge.
“Depression, war and housing shortages have since thwarted the Park Board’s scheme to tear down the houses and landscape the property into a seashore drive which would give motorists a panoramic view of English Bay and West End residents several blocks of new ornamental parkland.”
It looks like 1409 Nicola may have been one of these houses situated between Bidwell and Nicola, at least there was still a listing for it in 1950—the only house over Beach Drive.
Then I read a memoir by Martin Nordegg called “The Possibilities of Canada are Truly Great,” written about the period from 1906 to 1924. Nordegg writes that he was sent to British Columbia in 1909 to check up on Alvensleben on behalf of a German Bank. “This German” he calls him, “had induced German aristocrats to entrust him with large amounts of capital for investment. His name was Alvo von Alvensleben. His residence looked like a castle on the Rhine with turrets and bastions.”
I went to the Vancouver Archives to look for pictures of these houses. Couldn’t find one. And then a few weeks back I saw a picture of Carol Haber in the Vancouver Sun holding a 1913 photograph recently donated to the Archives. Heather Gordon, Archives Manager, was kind enough to send me this photo—and for a while I thought I had Alvo’s house–the one at the foot of Nicola as described by Nordegg. Unfortunately the photo was taken at the top of what’s now the Sylvia Hotel, so it couldn’t be Nicola, but it’s a great photo and maybe some more will start to emerge.
Heather says that the Archives are posting a blog about the area in the next little while. Can’t wait to learn more about that area. Does anyone remember these houses or have any photos of them?
For more on the Englesea Lodge which is the apartment block on the top left of the photo see: The Life and Death of the Englesea Lodge
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