Hotel angels get face lift in Downtown Eastside

$500,000 renovation paid mainly by Crown corporation

The owners of a single-room occupancy hotel in the Downtown Eastside are combining their own money with funding from a federal government program to restore the building's historic façade.

At the top of the 101-year-old Holborn Hotel located on East Hastings Street is a uniquely crafted cement façade, which includes four angels holding up a the words "Hankey Block," the name attributed to the original owners of the hotel.

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The current owners, the Woo family, are one of the last recipients of funding from a renovation program launched by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The Woos saw the value in the distinct design and went out of their way to ensure it would stay intact, said David Mah, a Vancouver architect hired to help restore the building. "It's a part of our heritage and a good example of the Edwardian style that they had back then, whether it was a hotel or a warehouse," Mah said. "When the guys went up and touched it, the arm of one of the angels fell off, so it was quite brittle."

Mah said the craftsman who originally designed the façade put extra time and care into their work in comparison to some of the other original buildings in the area. "It terms of cultural heritage and the amount of detail and work that has been put in it originally it is really different and special. It seems this piece is a little more ornate than the other [facades] that you see in the area," he said.

Preserving the city's history in the Downtown Eastside is difficult, Mah said. Most of the buildings are affordable housing units and the owners either have no budget or lack the desire to fix them.

But with the Holborn Hotel owners restoring the façade, which cost the owners only several thousand of the total $500,000 renovation budget, Mah said he hopes to see other owners follow suit because historic restoration adds life to the community. "I believe it gives encouragement to the other building owners in the area to take the opportunity to improve the community, and it gives back to the people, whoever is walking by or driving by."

The project also involves the replacement of all the windows and the unit doors on top of the restoration of the shared bathrooms on each of the three residential floors.

For consultant Douglas Leung, who first arranged the project with the Woo family, taxpayers are getting the best "bang for the buck" so far with the economic approach taken by the renovation team. "We could never make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but what we're trying to do is ensure we get the maximum benefit out of the dollar so we're going in with things that will add to the longevity of the building," he said. Twitter: @JaredGnam

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