Portion of a rendering of Hotel Vancouver (1916) by H.C. Wilkinson, retouched by architect Francis S. Swales. From an article in Pencil Points magazine, September, 1930.
In this landmark post, my 42nd volume here at Vancouver is Awesome, I present to you the grandest hotel, Francis Swales’s Hotel Vancouver (1916). To me, this image epitomizes one of the things I wanted to explore in my Illustrated Vancouver series years ago. I wanted to gather a series of images artfully rendered, sometimes known, other times lost or forgotten, which above all, tell a very local story.
The story of this hotel is well known; built during a recession, it saw the rise and fall of prohibition, made it through the great depression, survived two world wars, housed returning war vets, and all the while entertained the likes of Winston Churchill, Sarah Bernhardt, Babe Ruth, Ethel Barrymore, and Anna Pavlova (HT wikipedia). Then it was turned into a parking lot. I don’t want to dwell on that last part, so instead I’ll focus on the glory days of this hotel. I believe the above drawing would have been used by the architect as the primary presentation drawing, and perhaps this very rendering helped to give the project its approval. Designed in 1911-12, Pencil Points magazine describes the ground breaking qualities of the building:
The Vancouver Hotel is notable as the first modern ‘set-back’ design to be constructed and for the definite way it was designed. The scheme of grouping geometrical solids to obtain effective form is similar to Swales’ design in 1903 for an Automobile Club, but, apart from that, it had no precedent in architecture. Containing the same ideas, the Hotel Vancouver was designed in 1911, five years before the Zoning Law was passed in New York which now requires new buildings of similar size to adapt the same general plan with all the courts turned towards the streets and the higher parts of the buildings set back in planes from the street lines.
The Great War caused Francis Swales to pack up his Vancouver office and move to New York, where he lived to his death in 1962. I dream of one day, uncovering the original drawing in its entirety. I have not been able to determine if any of Francis Swales’s work was formally preserved or acquired by anyone, but given the prominent positions he held in New York, it would not surprise me if bits and pieces his life’s work turned up in the collection of the New York Public Library, or maybe the Museum of the City of New York.
For now, I will be donating a copy of this issue of Pencil Points to the Vancouver Archives, which will go along nicely with their 1916 copy of The Architect. And finally, a reminder; you have one week remaining to soak in the glorious Vancouver Art Gallery exhibition, Grand Hotel! It closes on September 15th, 2013.