The Canadian Pacific Railway needed a hotel to serve the passengers arriving on their trains at the station located at the foot of Granville Street. T.C. Sorby had designed the station, and he got the job of designing the hotel too. It was up Granville – not too far, but enough to leave some space for new CPR sponsored commercial buildings, and to pull some activity away from the earlier city centre to the east, where there were already plenty of hotels (none of them on CPR land).
Sorby’s hotel opened in mid 1888 to a design that even he didn’t like – complaining of CPR cutting what they considered to be superfluous details – which in those days were what architecture was often about. The CPR were supposedly equally unimpressed – Sir William Van Horne, the CPR President is reported to have said to Sorby “so you’re the damn fool who spoilt the building with all those little windows”. One local newspaper even likened the building’s design to a workhouse. An 1897 newspaper, ‘The Ledge’ published a story which ran “The Vancouver World publishes a long letter from the executive agent of the CPR to the city council, requesting exemption from taxation for buildings proposed to be erected for a passenger station and warehouses. The World publishes cuts of the proposed structures which are said to be in the Queen Anne style of architecture and are fully in keeping with that monument of external ugliness, the company’s hotel Vancouver. The architectural illustrations in the World resemble a compound of a decayed grist-mill with bits of the bastile and the tower of London added.”
Presumably looking for a better response the CPR hired Francis Rattenbury to design the 1893 addition to the south. Rattenbury had only recently arrived in Canada, but at the age of only 25 he had just won the competition for the new parliament buildings in Victoria. In Yorkshire, where he had arrived from, he had been designing buildings in the ‘model’ mill town of Saltaire – or so he told the Vancouver Sun, although actually he hadn’t even been born when that development had taken place. His design for the hotel extension didn’t really have much to do with the original building. Although Sorby’s hotel was identified for replacement as early as 1900 it was still around for a few more years.
Rattenbury was hired to design a further extension to the original in 1901, which he carried out in an Italienate style that isn’t so very different from his design for the city’s new courthouse five years later. Rattenbury fell out with the CPR, but was busy with other projects including the Empress Hotel in Victoria, so in 1910 architects Painter and Swales were hired to replace a much bigger and more elaborate replacement for both the first hotel and the 1893 addition which was eventually finished in 1916.
These days the site has the Cesar Pelli / McCarter and Nairne designed Pacific Centre Mall which is now anticipated to see a major redesign in the near future with Sears having confirmed their intention of leaving later in 2012.
Source: Changing Vancouver