Chinatown · History · urban design · Vancouver

105 Keefer Again

Like a Zombie 105 Keefer is back… with luck the developer will be told to go away and create a design that actualy relates to and respects the historic location it is being built on and in.

The project site was referred to by the developer as a derelict parking lot with no significance or history, so as it reappears for one more round of consideration it’s worth remembering that this site has a significant history and maybe showing a little bit of respect for the place you are developing in might just lead to something better and meaningful to the community as a whole.

So here is the Statement of Significance that should have been written for the site. Originally posted in 2017.

Statement of Significance

Lot 23, 105 Keefer Street/544 Columbia Street, Vancouver, BC
District Lot 196, Block 15, Lot 23

Description of Historic Place

Lot 23 is a large vacant lot on the north east corner of Columbia and Keefer Streets in Vancouver’s historic Chinatown. The property sits at the edge of the National Historic District to the north, Chinatown’s Memorial Square to the south and the Chinese Cultural Centre and Dr Sun Yat Sen Park to the west.

Heritage Value

First developed in the late 19th Century as a timber and coal wharf on the edge of False Creek, Lot 23 is significant for the variety of business, social and cultural use that have occupied the site in response to an emerging city and the growth and expansion of Chinatown, and for key location in the context of Chinatown.

Heritage value for the site is found in the variety of business, social and cultural uses that have utilized Lot 23 over time. As a site on the edge of False Creek it was first used by the Palmer Brother’s for their hay, coal and wood business allowing easy water access for bulk deliveries while offering easy distribution to their clientele.

Social and cultural value for the site is found with the development of the Chinese Theatre in 1914 at the northern edge of the site facing Columbia Street. The substantial 3-storey building designed by Chinese-Canadian architect W.H. Chow, reflected the growth and prominence of Chinatown with productions featuring noted Chinese actors and musicians, while serving as an important cross-cultural space hosting everything from revival meetings, local Japanese theatre productions, fund raising events for charity and political meetings. The theatre was active into the early 1960s. The floors above the theatre provided accommodation for Chinatown residents.

Further social and cultural value of the site is found with the construction of the Texaco service station in 1935. Originally operated by Richard Chan the station was purchased by the Lee brothers, Harry, Henry, Horace and Hubie. Hubie Lee served in WW2 with the British Special Operations Executive’s Unit 136 which carried out covert actions in Japanese occupied Southeast Asia. A key result of the unit’s success and the Chinese Canadian involvement was the eventual granting of voting rights, citizenship and the end to the head tax for Chinese Canadians. The Lee brother’s service station service faced on to Chinatown Memorial Square and the monument to the pioneers.

Additionally, the site is valued for its situation at a key juncture between the National Historic Site and the HA-1A zoning boundary and for its position opposite the Dr Sun Yat Sen Park, the Chinese Cultural Centre and Chinatown Plaza parkade and most importantly its relationship to Chinatown Memorial Square which hosts the Chinatown Remembrance Day ceremonies.

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