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Another fire hits Main and Broadway area

December 25th, 2009 · 9 Comments

Well, I was going to do a heart-warming Christmas post first thing, but I just got a call from someone letting me know that another fire has hit at the Main and Broadway area — this time, it’s the little block between Main and Kingsway on the south side. (A pic already in the Vancouver Sun here.)That means no more fabulous prawns and broccoli for us from the New Maple restaurant and a lot of grief for all of those small businesses along there.

This is definitely weird. This makes the third fire in this area in the last couple of years: Habit and the grocery store next door were hit two years ago and Habit had just re-opened in the last few months. Then there was Slickety Jim’s a couple months ago on the west side of Main, south of Broadway, and now this. Very creepy feeling.

(Heart-warming post to come later, after I clear some of the rubble from our Christmas celebrations last night.)

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  • Bill Lee

    What was the story on a previous permit refusal to re-develop that block?
    A west side barista was saying that it was suspicious.
    But then the construction and lack of firebreaks in the walls means that many old blocks are doomed.

    And that block was beside one of those hidden streets of Vancouver, Watson Street, (who was the hidden Carlisle Street named after) where the Jazz Cellar was a cellar at one time in the 60s.
    One of many links to that : and on to

  • gmgw

    I haven’t been by the site since the fire, but I gather from news reports that the entire block of buildings fronting on Broadway was destroyed. Obviously this is a sad loss for the business owners and their employees. I’ve have had some personal connections with that block; for a long time one of our favourite Chinese restaurants– and that of a lot of other people– was located there: the Wing Wah, home of the best orange peel chicken in the city. Several years ago new owners took over, changed the menu (for the worse), and the name, stupidly, to “The King And I”, a sobriquet more appropriate to a Thai restaurant. We stopped going. And way back in 1973 I spent some time working out at the old Broadway Gym that was located in the basement. The famous Canadian powerlifter, Doug Hepburn, was a regular at the gym in those days, making one of several attempts to put his rather sad life back together–see: . It was an awesome sight to watch him benching 400 pounds; especially since he was pushing 50(!) at the time.

    But none of the reportage on the fire that I’ve seen has mentioned the fact that one of the buildings destroyed, 222 Watson Street, once housed one of Vancouver’s most important cultural/historical landmarks. I speak, of course, of the legendary and original Cellar, the most renowned jazz club that this city’s ever had. From 1956 to 1963 the Cellar was known as one of the premier jazz clubs on the West Coast and a good many famous names played there: Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Dexter Gordon, Wes Montgomery, Don Cherry, Art Pepper, Lee Konitz, Harold Land,and many others, including the great poet Kenneth Patchen, who read while accompanied by the Al Neil Trio (Patchen later recorded an album, with the Trio, for Folkways Records). Much more information on the Cellar can be found at:

    and: .
    Regrettably, I was too young to have visited the Cellar in its heyday. However, in the early 70s the space was briefly revived as a different sort of music club, booking a number of middling folk/rock acts. Offhand the only one I can remember seeing there was the astonishing Tim Buckley, who played his final Vancouver gig there in (I think) 1974, the year before his tragic death.

    That was an important piece of Vancouver’s musical history that was lost on Christmas Day. Even though jazzhounds like me may be the only ones who still honour the Cellar’s memory, whatever bland new development arises on that site on that site really ought to include a memorial to one of Vancouver’s seminal music venues.

  • Bill Lee

    And the famous Snow Gardens in the same restaurant, before it go so famous it expanded, down to 50th and Main, and later moved to Fraser.
    It was the first of the northern cuisine restaurants to arise from the glue of Cantonese starch in the old days.

    If only Mr. Rennie would resurrect the old Ho Inn, beloved of the VSA Art School and other bohemians and families alike, with good hours and the old menu, rather than the Irish Heather affiliate that is planned.

  • Bill Lee

    And listen to the performance and reminiscences of Eleanor Collins about the old days of Vancouver Jazz in the hour of the 62 year old CBC jazz show “Hot Air” of 21 November 2009.
    Listen to that episode from that page, or

  • gmgw

    Bill Lee justifiably opined:
    “If only Mr. Rennie would resurrect the old Ho Inn, beloved of the VSA Art School and other bohemians and families alike, with good hours and the old menu, rather than the Irish Heather affiliate that is planned.”

    There used to be a famous anecdote told about the Ho Inn which involved an ex-regular revisiting the place for the first time after living in another city for 20 years. He ordered what used to be his favourite dish, the green peppers in black bean sauce. It was *exactly* as good as he remembered.

    I’ve long missed the Ho Inn; I often ate there in the 70s– good, legendarily consistent Cantonese food– and I well remember its unique ambience; the mini-jukeboxes in every booth were a particularly distinctive touch. For many years the Ho was managed by the father of one of my closest friends, so I always felt a sort of personal connection to the place.

    I cannot believe that Rennie plans to open an “Irish Heather affiliate” on that historic site. If this is true, someone should throw Rennie off the top of his own building. What the hell is this, the opening salvo in some kind of master plan of Rennie’s to take Chinatown back for the white race?!?

  • George

    As a neighborhood resident to both fires in that 2 block area, I was a sad witness to both fires.
    The sirens and our pets alerted us to the smell of smoke and danger.
    Yesterday I walked past both sites and even though my eyes tell the story, my brain will not compute the situation. It has changed the landscape of this area forever. Our neighborhood still smells of the smoke from the debris. A very sad sight indeed. Has anyone heard anything as to how the fire started??? The rumor is that it started in the vitamin shop, but as neighbors we do find it curious, and frightening as there were also dumpster fires in the neighborhood the night before the second fire…

  • MB

    I found the news sad too. This is my old neighbourhood.

    Though I have fond memories of Verdichio’s, which served the finest lasagne in the West (and which perhaps occupied the former Cellar site), I will not miss the buildings which were in rather decrepit and unsafe condition, and which possessed little architectural merit outside of their old and simple timber framing and fragments of facade brick work.

    There is always a certain nostalgia for memorable businesses, and they obviously needn’t occupy finely-crafted buildings and streetscapes. But it would sure be nice if they could. In fact, it would be fantastic.

    There is perhaps a commentary here on the notion of gentrification, an oft overused term. If it was a colour, it would be dull grey. Most of the beloved businesses disappeared before the fire; not many would lament the loss of the majority of the more recent businesses in this block, with one or two exceptions. And not many had anything to do with the neighbourhood outside of occupying older buildings with cheaper rent and of a certain 19th Century density.

    And jazz afficianados shouldn’t bemoan the loss of the old Cellar — it has moved on to another location on West Broadway and features primarily our exemplary local talent including Kate Hammet-Vauhan, Karin Plato, Jennifer Scott, Bill Coon, etc. etc., all for a most reasonable cover charge. And the food isn’t half bad either.

    I for one would love to see what a young and ambitious architectural firm could do with this block as well as the Slickity Jim’s site just 100m away. The value of the land, not necessarily the architecture, will determine the lease rates and therein the type of businesses that will ultimately occupy these sites. Please please please Mr. / Ms. Planner / ADP, let us have decent and unique design on South Main.

    For those who will inevitably gripe about gentrification, tossing the word around without really knowing what it refers to, you should focus on the unsafe conditions that caused the fires in this neighbourhood and drove out the businesses, not on any honest effort to rebuild for the 21st Century while keeping history in mind.

    There will likely be a rapid transit station on Main / Kingsway x Broadway in the not-too-distant future, and that has to be planned for along with preserving neighbourhood character. And not everything has to be faux heritage (buildings), or expressions of engineering simplifications (streetscapes) in Mount Pleasant.

    We can do better.

  • MB

    I make exception for those artists who lost their inexpensive studio spaces. I don’t know if they can be rebuilt for the same lower rent that attracts artists and small antique stores.

    That could be the real tragedy.

  • Barry

    Doesn’t anybody out there remember the tiny (likely illegal) music club in the basement of the Broadway Gym back in the early 70’s. It usually opened after midnight. Best dance club I have been to. It was wild! I heard it shut down after the “bikers” started showing up there, caused trouble; and it was shut down.