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Maxine’s was built in 1936 (with additions in 1940) long after prohibition ended in BC and three years after it was repealed south of the border.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?
The 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.
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.
Maxine 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