History · Pacific Northwest · urban design · Vancouver · walking tours

Who was Maxine Anyway

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 3.02.04 PM
The original 1936 building which replaced one of the three houses on the site. CVA 99-4477

I recently had the pleasure of leading a walk in the West End for the Vancouver Heritage Foundation as part of their Sunday coffee series at JJ Bean.

Their newest location on Bidwell is behind the preserved facade of Maxine’s Beauty School.

The most oft asked question about that location is the tunnel that supposedly connected the Rogers’ mansion Gabriola on Davie with a bootlegging operation and/or brothel based out of Maxine’s.

Apart from the general absurdity of the idea – the elevation change between Gabriola, and Maxine’s, would have made the proposition an incredibly expensive engineering feat – it’s forgotten that Maxine’s was built in 1936 (with additions in 1940) long after prohibition ended in BC and three years after it was repealed south of the border. So there was no need for any bootlegging operation let alone tunnels in the building. And the idea that the ‘first tunnel was used by sugar magnate B.T. Rogers to access the bordello at his leisure’ is absurd because Rogers died in 1918.

The idea of the brothel probably stems from the name Maxine’s. It sounds sexy. But alas, though sexy, it was just a beauty school. Instead of a silly cliche, what we do have is a story of an enterprising woman who built a successful series of businesses here in Vancouver and Seattle. I think she deserves some recognition.

So Who Was Maxine?

Miss MacGilvray in a 1917 advert from Spencer's department store advertising her beauty lecture
Miss MacGilvray in a 1917 advert from Spencer’s department store advertising her beauty lecture

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 10.02.03 AMThe Maxine in question is Maxine E. MacGilvray from Wisconsin, who came up and operated a beauty parlour and beauty school in Vancouver. Her name first appears here in connection with beauty products sold by Spencer’s department store in 1914. Trained in California, she gave talks on skin care at the store and would later open the first of her parlors in store.

She had a hair salon in the 600 block of Dunsmuir for years and in the 1920s took over the ground floor of a house at 1211 Bidwell Street to open second location. This was followed shortly with the opening of her Maxine College of Beauty Culture next door.

With the opening of her beauty school, MacGilvray began manufacturing her beauty products in Vancouver in a small factory at 999 East Georgia Street near Glen Drive. Shortly after establishing the Max Chemical Company she hired a young Welshman, Ivor Ewan Bebb as an apprentice. Ivor had arrived in Canada in 1924.

Four years later Maxine and Ivor were married in Washington State (he was 26 and she was 36). By 1931, the company was moved to 1223 Bidwell to join her other enterprises and was renamed the Max-Ivor Company.

Ivor Bebb is in the back row and Maxine is in the front row on the left.  CVA 99-4100
Ivor Bebb, back row, Maxine front row on the left. CVA 99-4100

In 1935, the couple hired architect Thomas B. McArravy to design a new building to replace the original school on Bidwell. The design is a cute Mission Revival building which was expanded in 1940 by architect Ross Lort. This is the preserved facade we see today.

Since the 1930s, Maxine and Ivor had maintained a Seattle residence and apart from their cosmetics business they opened the Max-Ivor motel in Seattle. Built in 1943, and located on 4th Avenue South, it originally had 20 rooms, maid service and steam heat.

Back in Vancouver, the beauty school closed in 1942 and they converted it into the Maxine Apartments. By the late 1940s, advertisements show it as an apartment hotel, it would later became a full blown motel.

Screen Shot 2014-08-30 at 2.58.29 PMScreen Shot 2014-08-30 at 3.23.13 PMMaxine died in 1952 and Ivor moved to permanently to Seattle and concentrated on running an expanded Max-Ivor motel.

In 1960, a little bit of excitement as Joseph Corbett, Jr., listed on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list for kidnapping and murdering the heir to the Coors Brewing empire, was captured here at the Maxine Apartments after a Vancouver resident recognizes him from a Reader’s Digest story about the crime.

Sources: 1940 US Census, Skagit County marriage licences, immigration records, Vancouver World newspaper, BC Directories and Chuck Flood’s book, Washington’s Highway 99, Courier newspaper 

8 thoughts on “Who was Maxine Anyway

  1. Great research I had followed stories of Maxine’s for some time One story said Maxine was murdered at that site on Bidwell But could not find out anything else you say she died in 1952 Apparently there was a murder at that address I was told by a ret VPD but nobody knew when and no registration of death under her name in that year. Could you clarify any of this Thanks Ron

    1. Maxine was very much alive and well in Seattle. Nothing untoward happened at 1215 Bidwell during Maxine and Ivor’s ownership. It may have gone down hill afterwards. That will need some research.

  2. I seem to have found Maxine Seattle 1952 which leads me to wonder who died at 1215 Bidwell sometime prior to 1965 Ron

    1. I’ve been looking at newspapers to see what I can find but haven’t found anything yet on deaths at 1215 Bidwell. Maxine and Ivor seemed to live a good but uneventful live in both Vancouver and Seattle.

  3. I don’t think Maxine was murdered there. By all accounts from a June 1976 Vancouver Sun article that I’ve read, she simply passed away peacefully–and perhaps not in Seattle but the home where she lived next door to the Hotel.
    The rumours that there were some naughtiness there go back to as early as the 1960s. VPD officers interviewed after those years do mention that the hotel did have a couple of working girls in it that had rooms, but that it was not ever a “house of prostitution”. I think that–and as you rightly note John, the use of the monicker “Madam” Maxine, began to stoke some wild imaginations that there was some frolicking going on that somehow crossed over between two different eras in that building. But as you’ve laid out very well here, of course the years simply don’t add up that Maxines Beauty School was just a cover for some wildly imaginative cathouse with tunnels connecting to it.
    One thing that seems consistent over the years from people who worked or lived in there, they did say it was haunted, if you believe in that sort thing.

    I’m hard pressed to think of another location that has such wild rumour mythologized about it, that keeps getting repeated–long after the building is gone. I would agree that most of these wildly fanciful ideas only seemed to come to light when the Maxines Hideaway/Balthazar owners ran it, that served as nice steamy backdrop to promote their burlesque shows in there when it became a cabaret! But hey, I get it, anything to sell some tickets!

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