Vancouver’s Second-Oldest House A Teardown – “Dates to 1888, when Vancouver had 6,000 people.”

– images and excerpts from ‘Vancouver’s second-oldest house to be demolished’, John Mackie, Vancouver Sun, 6 Sep 2011

The small house at 502 Alexander is pretty well hidden. It’s sandwiched between a couple of apartment blocks, and the front is barely visible behind a stand of trees. The address first appears in a Vancouver directory in 1888, only two years after the city was incorporated. It was built by John Baptist Henderson, and a story in the Dec. 31, 1888 Vancouver World newspaper says it cost $1,500 to build. [Inflation adjusted, about $36,000 in 2011 dollars. -ed.] Somehow the house has managed to remain standing through 123 years of Vancouver real estate booms. It may now be the second-oldest house in the city. But not for much longer. An addition at the back of the house was recently taken down during a renovation, which has rendered the house unstable. The owner is now applying for a demolition permit, and it will probably be torn down.

Don Luxton of Heritage Vancouver said it would be a “travesty” if the second oldest house in the city were torn down while the city is celebrating its 125th birthday.
“Our earliest buildings are the story of Vancouver being carved out of the wilderness,” he said. “This house dates from the time when the train was just arriving and the city was growing – there was nothing here when this house was built.
[Several commenters at the Sun site noted that, of course, Salish people had lived there for centuries. -ed.] To look at the history of this building is like going to Rome and seeing a Roman house. This dates back to the establishment of the city, very clearly.”

Modest as it is, the house has an interesting history. After Henderson moved in 1893, it was occupied by John Stitt, the manager of the Hastings Mill store, which is now the Hastings Mill Museum in Kitsilano. (The Hastings Mill store was originally located on the waterfront at the foot of Dunlevy, a block away from 502 Alexander. It dates to 1865, which makes it the oldest structure in Vancouver.
The oldest house is 385 East Cordova.)

Early residents of 502 Alexander included a bookkeeper named Huddart, an accountant named Jackson and a restaurateur named Schuman.

The street would be part of Japantown until Japanese-Canadians were forced to leave their homes during the Second World War. For a brief period prior to the First World War, the 500 and 600 blocks were also a red light district.
In 1911, Ruth Richards took over 502 Alexander, and a year after that, Dollie Darlington is the first listing at 500 Alexander. Which means 500 Alexander was probably built as a brothel.

Vancouver’s planning director Brent Toderian said the city “did investigate some options” to try and save the house, but none worked out. Part of the problem is that Alexander east of Main is outside the officially designated heritage districts of Gastown and Chinatown, “so frankly the amount of [heritage incentive] tools that we had to offer in this particular case were limited.”

8 responses to “Vancouver’s Second-Oldest House A Teardown – “Dates to 1888, when Vancouver had 6,000 people.”

  1. “Handyman special”

  2. “Calling Froogle Scott…”

  3. Here’s a newsflash for you – once the house is demolished, there will be a ‘new’ second oldest house in town! It might be nicer! Level that one, and you’ll have yet another new second oldest! Keep going until you get a second oldest house that actually has some historical value!

  4. I can’t help but make up a listing for this one.

    Welcome to your cosy new home, close to your neighbors, may need some painting or other light renovation, this one is a classic! Second oldest house in Vancouver, free plywood on the windows. Renovations will be a labour of hate. Only 1 billion dollars. Open house on weekend.

    Asians please bring your suitcases of cash and pile them on the front lawn, the biggest pile wins.

  5. I wonder when the “oldest house in Vancouver” will be a pink stucco box built in 1988. Given the on-going tear-down culture in this city, it shouldn’t be too long now.

  6. My guess is that some Vancouver houses built in the 1900s (Edwardian era) will outlast houses built in the 2000s (Boombox era). It’s not so much about quality of materials and construction, as it is about quality of soul. Will vinyl siding ever be considered a heritage material?

    Of course, the longer the bubble runs, the more older housing stock will be torn down. But it’s more the mid-century stuff that’s at risk. Older ‘character’ houses attract buyers who are interested in preservation. Although perhaps not in this case, probably because the DTES location is viewed as ‘challenging’ by would-be preservationists.

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