Vancouver’s landmark Lee Building at Main and Broadway marks its 100th birthday July 15 with a celebration at Heritage Hall.
The building was the tallest structure south of False Creek when businessman H.O. (Herbert) Lee opened it in 1912. He lost ownership to the Royal Bank of Canada in 1937 during the Depression, according to his granddaughter Tracy Forsyth, who has two older brothers. “Our grandparents, father and my oldest brother were allowed to remain living on the top floor throughout the ’30s and ’40s. Our grandparents and other family members are buried at Mountainview Cemetery,” she explained in a history of the building posted on her website.
More than 30 people now own the property, said Forsyth, a Surrey resident who’s organizing the centennial celebration as a tribute to her family. “This will be an opportunity in which to honour [my grandfather]. I know the building was important in its time of 1912 and throughout the community,” she said. “It just seemed to be my job, it seemed to be my place to say, ‘Should we put together some kind of celebration?’ and the guy on the [Lee Building] board said, yeah, let’s do something.”
The board that manages the historic building contributed money towards the event and the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Area has helped promote it, including posting information on its blog. There will be music by Celtic band Blackthorn, refreshments and a slideshow. Special guest speakers include historian Bruce Macdonald and heritage expert Donald Luxton.
Luxton was out of the province on Thursday, but in an email he told the Courier it’s an important building in the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood.
“It has marked a major intersection for a century and is the visual heart of the community,” he wrote. “It was built at the height of the Edwardian era boom years—when growth and prosperity was at its peak in Western Canada. This was a time of mammoth speculation, when fortunes were being made by entrepreneurs in the booming west—with rampant speculation about the opening of the Panama Canal. The original early small buildings that were built in Vancouver’s first decades were being swept away and being replaced by grand, more extravagant structures such as the Lee Building.”Luxton noted the Lee Building is typical of the architecture of the Edwardian era—inspired by classical architecture and divided, like a classical column, into a base, shaft and capital.
“This style of architecture had become popular at the beginning of the 20th century and typifies the commercial development of the time,” he continued, adding, “It is part of a most fascinating collection of buildings from this time period on Main Street—one of the better preserved and earliest collections of early commercial buildings outside of downtown.”
In recent years, the building’s owners fought the city unsuccessfully to keep an advertising sign atop the building, whose revenue they used to improve the property.
Forsyth said she’s grateful to owners for both helping with the event and maintaining the building. “It takes a lot of care to let a building be still standing here 100 years later,” she said.
The celebration, which is open to the public, runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., July 15.