After the Christ Church Cathedral, we headed south to Burrard and Robson. Burrard and Robson is the busiest retail intersection in the city. It’s the start of the Robson Street shopping area with all the big name retail chains. It’s also where playoff hockey celebrations tend to happen as cars with crazy Canuck fans honk their way up and down the road (but not this year with the NHL lockout).
750 Burrard Street anchors the intersection. This building was originally built as the Central Branch of the Vancouver Public Library back in 1957. As time went on, the collection outgrew the library and the Central Library moved east in 1995 down Robson to Homer Street into it’s new Roman colosseum inspired digs. 750 Burrard Street eventually was occupied the first, and only ever, Virgin Megastore in Canada. The top floor was taken over by Vancouver Television or VTV at the time. As with all things, change happened and Virgin Megastore became an oversized HMV and VTV became CTV 9 Vancouver. Now, even HMV could not survive and the location is currently empty on the main floor. The next occupant on the corner of Robson and Burrard – Victoria’s Secret.
The next major stop along Burrard Street on our walk was The Electra, formerly known as the BC Electric Building. The BC Electric Building was also built in 1957 and was the headquarters of, who else, the BC Electric Company. For years, the lights of building were left on throughout the night. A statement by an electric company that they had energy to burn? There were also the famed O Canada Horns that used to sit atop the building. It would play the first four notes of “O Canada” every day at noon. Since the building became a residential tower, the horns were moved to Canada Place.
Then we looked at a little known building behind The Electra. It sits as an non-descript building with a bland glass facade. This is the Dal Grauer Substation. It doesn’t really look like a building worthy of heritage protection, but it is on the Vancouver Heritage Society’s Top 10 Endangered Sites of 2010. When it was initially built, you could see straight through the glass and see all the inner workings of the substation. Light shone brightly from within the substation and splashed colour onto Burrard Street. However, due to several explosions, the glass was replaced with shatterproof Plexiglass in 1977. So in it’s current form, it looks like a drab box. If it were to be restored to it’s former glory, it would add some colour to the street and better complement the surrounding buildings.
Across the street from the Electra and the Dal Grauer Substation is the newly renovated YMCA. Maurice pointed out how this was a good renovation of an old building. The part of the Y that fronts Burrard Street retained most of its original features and look. However, when you go inside, it is all modern and updated to serve the growing needs of the West End community. It was a good example of good heritage preservation and re-use.