The Rogers Building
[Photo: Joe Goldberg, Flickr]
The Rogers Building
Picture the corner of Pender and Granville in 1913,
when Vancouver cars and streetcars were still on the wrong
side of the street.
You also have a good view of the Rogers Building
which has been standing at the north-east corner of Pender and Granville
for more than 90 years. (Construction began in 1911, the building
opened in 1912.) It gets its name from Jonathan Rogers, who can
be counted among Vancouver's earliest pioneers. In 1949 Peter Carter-Page
wrote in The Province that Rogers' story is largely Vancouver's.
Rogers, Carter-Page told us, was born in Plas Onn,
Denbighshire, Wales, and until he was 15 spoke not one word of English.
He arrived in Vancouver, a fresh-faced youth of 22, in May of 1887aboard
that famed first CPR train from Montreal. Rogers was the first passenger
to step off the train, and he recalled that the Vancouver City Band
struck up the tune See the Conquering Hero Comes. Rogers
later confessed, with some embarrassment, that he thought the band
was playing it for him, as the first person to emerge from the train.
The city was a simpler place then: Rogers could recall when horse
races were run down Granville Street.
He liked the place so much he stayed for the rest of his life,
nearly 60 years more. Twenty-six of those years were spent on the
city's park board, nine of them as chairman. He also served twice
as an alderman, and twice as president of the board of trade (1914
But he began simply, as a painter, helping to paint the first Hotel
Vancouver. He later became a builder and contractor, and it's said
that more than 300 metres (1,000 feet) of Granville Street footage
was built by him. The building for which he will be best rememberedand
not just because it's named for himis the Rogers Building.
This 10-storey beauty was designed by a Seattle
firm, Gould and Champney. The October 20, 1911 issue of B.C. Saturday
Sunset gave some of the details of what promises to be
one the finest office buildings on the Pacific Coast . . .
The building, said Sunset, is designed along the lines
of the modern French Renaissance (with an) exterior of polished
Glasgow granite, in combination with cream-colored terra cotta facing
. . . All the interior finish woodwork is to be of hardwood with
white Italian marble corridors and stairs throughout . . . . The
building will be a monument to Alderman Rogers, whose faith in the
future of this city is exemplified in the erection of a building
which, when completed, will represent an expenditure of nearly $600,000.
Writing in The Greater Vancouver Book, Sean
Rossiter says: Carl F. Gould was a Seattle architect who had
mastered that city's terra cotta materialglazed tiles formed
into classical details with weather-resistant qualities appropriate
to this climate. When the worldwide collapse of lumber prices in
1910 ended Seattle's boom, Gould and other architects travelled
the short distance north to Vancouver where higher prices persisted
because of B.C.'s access to British markets. Gould's Rogers Building
(1911-12) at 470 Granville is one sumptuous example of what architects
from a more sophisticated city could do in booming Vancouver.
The Rogers Building was a hit. His years of study of office buildings
were rewarded when, after the building had been operating for a
while, builders in other cities began to write and ask for copies
of the plans.
I feel that I am parting with an old friend,
Rogers said in September of 1927 when he sold the building to General
F. A. One Arm Sutton. The old friend went for a sum
exceeding $1 million. It was the largest real estate
transaction in the city to that time.
William Mercer remembers the Rogers Building well.
He worked in it for 25 years, starting in 1938, first as the building
engineer, later as the manager. Oh, I remember all that white
marble, Mercer told us. It was even down in the basement.
They had a huge barbershop down there, it must have been the most
ornate in the city; it opened in 1913. Eighteen chairs, plate-glass
mirrors on every wall, marble pillars. Do you remember McLeod's
Restaurant down there? Fifteen-foot ceilings!
That barbershop was famous. For more than
half a century, Tony Eberts wrote in 1973 in the Province,
it was a meeting place, an exchange for news, gossip and stock
market tips, a basement oasis of relaxation and luxuryand
a good spot to get a haircut.
One of the patrons of the shop back then was the pioneer lawyer
and politician Leon Ladner, who at the time Tony wrote had been
getting his hair cut there for more than 50 years. But his longevity
was exceeded by one of the barbers, Len Percival, who retired in
1962 after more than 60 years as a barber. More than a hundred of
his businessmen customers gathered in the shop to wish Len well.
Mercer had another memory: Mr. Rogers got
the building back from One-Arm Sutton, you know. Oh, yes. One-Arm
had pretty grandiose plans, but they didn't work out. So the old
man got the building back in, oh, about 1940-41.
Rogers' wife, Elizabeth, took over the building when her husband
died in 1945, aged 80. Elizabeth Rogers was a prominent Vancouverite
in her own right. Like her husband, she was long-lived. She died
in 1960 at age 83. (The meeting that resulted in the formation of
the Vancouver Art Gallery was held in the Rogers living room.)
By the time the Koerner Foundation bought the Rogers Building in
1955, its price had increased to $1.25 million. The present owner,
Equitable Real Estate Investment Corp., bought the building from
the foundation in 1976.
Dunn's Tailors, a firm established in 1936, occupies the ground
floor of this handsome old building.
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