The small unassuming building at 325 Carrall was built in 1889, three years after the Great Fire and two years after the arrival of the CPR. Its first tenants at street level were the Vancouver Drug Company and the Vancouver Tea and Coffee Company, managed by W.A. Cumyow. Won Alexander Cumyow was the first person of Chinese descent born in present-day Canada (in 1861) and an important leader in early Chinatown. He worked in a variety of businesses including real estate and retail, and became a court interpreter for the Vancouver Police.
After less than a year in operation, Vancouver Tea & Coffee Co. was replaced by a succession of businesses, including the Brown Jug Saloon in 1896 that was renamed the Louvre Saloon in 1897 when Reinhold Minaty moved over from the Old Fountain Saloon on Cordova Street. Minaty advertised the Louvre as having the only circular bar in the province and suggested customers “call in and lubricate”. The rooms above the store fronts appear to have operated as a rooming house until 1898, when they are listed as the Louvre Hotel. This type of hotel was in high demand, providing inexpensive accommodation for workers, travelers and businessmen in what was then the commercial hub of Vancouver. Fire insurance maps of the period show the hotel had six fireplaces when it was built. On the ground floor a variety of businesses including cafes, confectionary stores, barber shops and tailors came and went over the years.
The wall in the lane (once known as Louvre Alley) still features painted signs for the saloon (believed to be the oldest ghost sign in Vancouver) advertising clean beds for 20 cents a night at the Boston Rooms a few doors down the lane.
In 1908, the Bijou Theatre opened next door to the Louvre, and was one of the first purpose-built moving picture houses in the city. The theatre was popular enough that in 1913 it was expanded by cutting off a section of the Louvre Hotel. Lani Russwurm writes that in 1917, the city license inspector tried to refuse granting a business licence to WP Nichols on the grounds that he was an Austrian and therefore an enemy alien. “The theatre survived that hurdle, but not the one that came the following year,” he writes. “To mitigate the Spanish Flu epidemic that was ravaging Vancouver in 1918, large gatherings were temporarily banned, including theatres. The Bijou didn’t survive the closure and the Merchants Bank (located next door in Pigeon Park) took it over.”
Gospel Mission, 333 & 337 Carrall St
Various businesses, including a barber shop, shoemaker, café, and shooting gallery, operated in the theatre space until it was wholly or partially demolished around 1940. This demolition also included a section of the Louvre Hotel that faced onto the CPR right-of-way at Carrall. The Gospel Mission (not to be confused with Union Gospel Mission) which had been in operation since 1929, moved into the building in 1940. It serves residents of the Downtown Eastside by operating the “Lord’s Rain” shower facility, and through providing meals and spiritual guidance at the Carrall Street Church.
Wing’s Cafe, 325 Carrall St
Operating at street level, the narrow diner has been a family run business since the late 1960s. The current owner would work at the cafe after school when he was young, and took the business over from his parents, who had taken it over from the original owner, his uncle. While the menu was bigger when his parents were running Wing’s (with a full Western and Chinese menu), the cafe has remained largely unchanged since the 60s, besides some updated appliances. Johnny is known for his welcoming and friendly personality and Wing’s for its good food and no-nonsense atmosphere. His father’s handwritten menus, photos from customers and hand-carved signs (from a customer while he was incarcerated) are testaments and memories of the many years spent behind the counter and in the kitchen. It has continued to serve the residents and community in the area with hearty affordable meals and respect for over 50 years.
130 years of heritage
In 2016, demolition and construction at the site next door (333 Carrall) damaged the foundation of 325 Carrall and caused a crack running up the façade. The gospel mission and the community shower area they run in the building had to be shut down temporarily, and it took the mission six months to repair the shower area. A developer now owns both 325 and 333 Carall and as of June 2018, two new buildings (one 5 storey and one 7 storey) are planned for the site. The heritage principal façade of 325 will be restored and retained as part of the new development. The brick wall in the lane will be reconstructed with salvaged bricks, while the rest of the building will be demolished. The new development will have commercial spaces on the ground floor with 38 housing units and 12 micro units above.
In April 2019, both the Gospel Mission and Wing’s Cafe will be closing, having been served their notices earlier in the year as the demolition of the building is set for May.
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