The Former Houses of Beach Avenue

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A grassy promenade has replaced these West End houses
1913 photo shows houses that once lined the water side of Beach Avenue

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 Parkbeachdrivehomes 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

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

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18 comments

  1. I think that apartment building on the water side still existed I to the 60’s or 70’s. I know there was a large apartment building that was destroyed by fire on beach around that time.
    Did you know that there were houses on Spanish banks (beach side) that were moved (expropriated) to make way for the road at the bottom of Trimble street. Not sure what year, but it was before 1946. My parents good friends the Hill’s were one of the owner who had their house moved.

    1. Apparently there was a “suspicious” fire in 1981 and it was taken down soon after. I didn’t know about the Spanish Banks houses, I wonder if there are any photos? Eve

    1. Thanks for noticing! It was quickly pointed out to me that the two photos were taken from two quite different locations. The one from 1913 was taken from the Sylvia Hotel (Sylvia Court Apartments) and apparently the other was taken at the foot of Jervis, east of Pacific. So it didn’t seem to give the proper context. I’m intrigued by Englesea Lodge and I’m just doing a bit of research on it now for next week’s blog. I’ve posted another couple of photos on my facebook page that I’ll include in it – if you’re interested stop by http://www.facebook.com/everyplacehasastory. Eve

  2. My grandparents lived in Englsey (sp?) Lodge in the early 50’s and I recall visiting them often. There was still a boat rental and some type of pier or marina in front at that time, and yes, there was a serious fire in the building and it was eventually demolished. I don’t recall houses on the water side of Beach then, but they could have been there.

    1. Hey Mike! It was Englesea Lodge, I’m doing a blog on it for next week, looked like a great old building. The other houses were all torn down by 1950 ish so you wouldn’t remember them, the Englesea was the last hold out.

      1. I’m so glad to have come across this! I have neighbours who lived in Englesea Lodge before it burned down, and have been trying for weeks to find out what it was called, since I couldn’t remember and my neighbours sadly also no longer can… Will look forward to the blog!

  3. Yes the last remaining building on the waterfront was the “Inglesea”. (Spelling as I knew it)

    I remember it well. It was sad when it burnt down. Not sure why. There was lots of controversy about why it should be demolished as it had a several tenants living in it who would not leave.

    The Park Board of the time was advanced in their thinking of taking back the whole seawall for all citizens’s enjoyment. People have forgotten.

    Especially this current Park Board who allowed the restaurant at the foot of Denman on English Bay that now blocks the view as one drives south down Denman Street. Such a terrible shame.

    Great work Eve. Keep it up.

    V Rich

  4. This picture is puzzling, though; the “turrets and bastions” house is clearly on the north side of what appears to be Beach Avenue, ie the non-water side. Although Beach Avenue and its extension Pacific Street currently appear to divide the 1300 and 1400 blocks… Was the house torn down to make room for Tudor Manor? Hope we can get more info on this house sometime…

  5. My great-grand uncle William H. P. Clubb was a businessman with Clubb & Stewart on Hastings Street and had a house built at 1131 Beach in 1913. Unfortunately I do not have a picture.

  6. If anyone turns up more pictures I would love to see them…. My grandparents owned and lived in the house closest to the original Crystal Pool on the waterfront side of Beach Avenue…My dad and his brother lived there too….My grandmother actually had her name on the title since when she and my grandfather got married she had been working as a school teacher for close to 10 years and had the money necessary to do so. When the City of Vancouver expropriated all the houses on the water side in 1929 or 1930, the owners had five years to actually take the city money and leave. As the depression started, and house prices started to fall in Vancouver, my grandmother decided to take the money and move. She received the full value of the house, and started by purchasing a house on Angus Drive for $15, 000. This was an extremely low price, but she had the cash. She then invested in other houses around Vancouver, and simply kept them as rentals until after 1945, when house values were rising, people were getting married, now that the war was over, and she sold them all off. That house was still there when I was a kid and until recently, a fruit tree my dad had planted in the yard of their house was still in place …You could tell exactly where the original house had been until the City Parks folks cut it down. One of the sidebars to all this is that my dad and his brother should have transferred from King George High School in the West End, to the new High School on King Edward, which was built to accommodate those living in Shaugnessy…My grandparents refused to allow this, on the grounds that King George actually had a far better academic reputation than this new school, and since both boys were headed for UBC and then post grad work, going to a school with a lower academic standard was simply not permitted…My grandmother lived in that house until about 1974, when she moved herself into a care facility….Being extremely independent ( to put it mildly) she continued to live in various facilities taking cabs on her own, not using a cane etc until she slipped off her bed one afternoon at age 98 and broke her hip…After some serious fights with the system, she eventually ended up at UBC extended care where she lived until she was 102….continuing to be mentally agile, though physically more frail….But she was certainly well enough to attend the Vancouver City Centennial event…since she had been born here that year herself….

  7. Thank you, most interesting !
    I lived in a heritage home on Comox St. 1977 + for thirteen years Magical to have such an amazing spot within the City which certainly was nothing​ as it is today…

    Eventually bought at 1919 Beach , only a few blocks away but such a difference in lifestyle & quite the adjustment, happily am freinds with the owners that had been keeping the Comox for their retirement and visit frequently…

    Sadly the West End has lost most of its charm, but there’s always the Park & Seawall …

  8. I worked as a switch board operator at the Sylvia Hotel as my first job. There were several older people who lived there including a couple of older movie stars. They loved to chat on the phone with me and it was a challenge to cut them off and work the switch board. It was so full of atmosphere and seemed very classy to me at the time. It was great to work in a hotel that had so much heart and character and it was on the beach.

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