Expect a little magic at world's narrowest building

Magicians are known for being able to pull rabbits out of a hat so imagine what Rod Chow is going to be able to pull off at the worlds shallowest commercial building.

The six-foot-wide, 100-foot-long Jack Chow Building runs along Pender Street from Carrall towards Columbia. Its now covered by what the Chow family imagines as a very, very large magicians cape so a $1-million renovation project can take place under a cloak of expectation.

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When the big Abracadabra! moment happens next spring and the cape disappears at the flick of a wand, they say that Vancouver is in for an amazing revelation.

Just as the building, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year, is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the shallowest building, Rod Chow might be the only insurance broker who doubles as a magician. (And no, he cant make your premiums disappear.)

When I was a kid my parents took us on family vacations to Las Vegas and Reno, Rod says of his early exposure to magic shows. Back home, my dad hosted office parties and he needed entertainment; my brother Reg was a juggler and I was a magician.

Today Rod will sometimes do a short magic trick for customers but he and his family his wife Sylvia, brother Reg and sisters Barbara and Debra also work in the insurance business say the real magic is in one of the worlds nine most creative buildings.

The original building was built in 1913 on a bet, Rod says. When the City of Vancouver expropriated the land to widen Pender Street, the owner was left with a six-foot wide parcel of property.

Chow says there was a bit of racism at the time and the owner, Chang Toy of the Sam Kee Company, wasnt fairly compensated. Toy had the last laugh, however, when he accepted a business associates $10,000 bet and hired an architect to design the skinny, two-storey Sam Kee Building that at one time housed up to 13 businesses, including a hot bath house in the tunnel that runs under the sidewalk. (Legend has it that the tunnel was an escape route from opium dens but Chow says thats never been proven.)

Jack Chow bought the run-down, worn-out building in 1985 and is using his retirement funds along with a $100,000 Heritage Facade Grant from the City of Vancouver to restore it. (Although another building has been built behind it, that building could be torn down and the Jack Chow Building would happily stand on its own.)

My dad has such a love of the building and were glad to be doing it as a family, says Rod, who used to sleep under his parents desk at the office when he was a baby and is one of the believers in Chinatowns economic future.

During the renovation, Jack Chow Insurance has moved kitty corner to another building the family owns at 1 East Pender. One East Pender is also now home to the other branch of the business that used to be on Main Street. The family has plans to renovate this second heritage building but that will wait until after the magic happens across the street.

Meanwhile, if you want to see one of Rods now you see it, now you dont tricks, go to RodChow.com and click the media button.

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