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The neon on the Vancouver Block clock — a mystery

Question: A general manager removed the neon from the clock on top of the Vancouver Block in 1998. Who put the neon back on the clock in 2000? — from regular poster Bobbie Bees

Answer: Oh, what a delightful trail of breadcrumbs this set out for me, with a surprise ending. Follow along, dear readers, and you’ll understand by the end why this was so much fun for me.

I started off by phoning one of the city’s handful of crack local historians, John Atkin at city hall,co-author of the blog Changing City, leader of city historical walks and much more. What John told me was that the Vancouver Block, the white building near the southwest corner of Georgia and Granville, had had the neon removed when the property owners decided to take it back to the original look during a refurbishment. But, he said, there were so many complaints from the public that they later decided to put it back on.

Hmm, I thought, seems like a good explanation to me. Okay, my work here is done.

But, said John, you should check with the foundation that owns the building. They would know more.

Google brought me to the Lotte and John Hecht Memorial Foundation. The human who answered the phone there passed me on to the company that actually manages the property, Equitable Real Estate, which has a lovely old picture of the building on its website.

Within a couple of hours, the president, Mark Rahal, had phoned me back to answer my question. The man who was the maintenance engineer at the building in those years, a Robert Gill, had been very interested in the building’s history. He even used to do tours. Mark thought it was Robert had pushed to get the neon back. He had certainly done a lot of research on the building and found out information about the neon that a senior manager had then used.

Mark checked with Robert, no longer at Equitable, who said the only thing that went wrong was that the neon colours got reversed when the neon was restored, with pink where there used to be blue and vice versa.

But Mark said I should check with the guy who had been the vice-president, commercial, at Equitable at the time.

Who would that be? Alex Tsakumis.

So I called my old friend Alex. Yes, he said, he got the neon put back on. The company had had it taken off because it was too expensive, before Alex got there. When he arrived, Equitable was in some kind of deep freeze with the city that Alex wanted to fix. So he looked around for something that would make the city happy and hit upon restoring the neon, since there was a big push on then at the city to restore Granville to its former glory.

“Robert did a super job. He changed the way we dealt with the city.”

And where is Robert now? Well, as it turns out, Robert has changed his name, along with his job. People on this blog know him better as … Bobbie Bees.

And that, my friends, is the end of the story … for now. I’ll be back next Monday with another question and answer.