Sunday, June 8, 2014

History of the Castle Hotel, Vancouver, Part I, 1908-1949.

A History of the Castle Hotel,
(Part I: 1908-1949)

 By Glen A. Mofford

The Windsor Hotel opened in 1908 at 746 Granville Street in Vancouver, BC. The hotel was a modest three story brick building with six bay windows built between the Orchid Coffee Parlour to the north and the Luke & Wheeler Millinery next door to the south at 750 Granville Street. Across the street was the Vancouver Opera House and four blocks to the north were convenient transportation routes of the Canadian Pacific. An early advertisement from Greater Vancouver Illustrated read, “The hotel structure is new and is arranged so that the majority of the rooms are outside rooms. It is heated by steam, has electric lights, telephones, hot & cold water in every room and every other convenience found necessary to the comfort of guests...Allen & McKenzie are the proprietors."

In August, 1909 Mr J.B. Simpson, from Victoria, became the new hotel manager and added a Coffee shop.[1] By the following year the Grill Room, a spacious dining room expanded and proved very popular, especially with the opera crowd after performances.  The hotel boasted 52 rooms on the European plan and featured a well-stocked bar.[2]

Between 1910 and 1912 the 700-block of Granville Street saw its fair share of new buildings and the expansion of existing structures. The landmark Vancouver Block skyscraper was constructed during this time just to the north of the Windsor Hotel. The Windsor Hotel expanded southwards while adding another floor; the address of the hotel was now 748-752 Granville Street. The expansion reflected the success of the hotel and the popularity of its many amenities. By 1913 the opera house across the street had become the New Orpheum Theatre.
By the autumn of 1914 the name of the hotel changed from the Windsor to the Castle Hotel. The new owner, Walter Hepburn, spent $10,000 by adding an additional three floors, from four to seven, and enlarging the lobby, bar and Grill Room.[3]

This 1929 Brochure of the Castle Hotel clearly shows the

  the expansion from the original three-floor building.

Improvements to the hotel were near completion by March 1915 when a campaign was launched to find a new slogan for the Castle Hotel. The public were invited to submit their idea’s to the management team of the hotel.  “We are looking for something catchy and euphonious.”  The winning entry paid a prize of $50, “A Man’s home is his castle, when in Vancouver it’s the Castle Hotel.” 

In 1915, Al Johnson sold the Northern Hotel in Prince George, moved to Vancouver and leased the Castle Hotel. He was the proprietor of the hotel until 1930.
W.S. Dickson and Robert F. Leighton were the managers during the expansion years of 1914-1915. By 1920 Jesse J. Kahn managed the hotel and the beer parlour which opened in 1925. Kahn managed the hotel until 1930 when he accepted the manager’s position at the Lotus Hotel beer parlour.

The Castle Hotel Brochure from the 1920’s describes the lobby of the hotel as, “ spacious and pleasing to the eye. It has that welcome atmosphere of hospitality. Numerous palms lend a graceful effect, and big lounging chairs invite the guests to restful observation of the passing world.” While the Ladies Rest Room, “...on the first floor embodies restful quietude and dainty cosiness. This portion of the hotel is under the personal supervision of MRS KAHN (mother of the manager) who gives special attention to ladies traveling unattached.”[4]

In 1920 the murder of a hotel guest, Alma Sampson occurred. A suspect was found and put on trial the following year but was acquitted.[5] The case was never solved.
By 1921 prohibition had proven a dismal failure and many jurisdictions had voted for government controlled retail liquor outlets and beer by the glass. By the following year private clubs and veterans organizations were granted the right to sell beer by the glass to their members. The Castle Hotel survived the dry years between October 1, 1917 when prohibition became law and 1922 when the old bar in the hotel was renovated in anticipation of being granted a beer parlour license. The first licenses to be issued to hotel-beer parlours did not take place until April 1925. The Castle jumped the gun and “was brazenly selling beer for 20 to 25 cents per bottle” in 1922 under the guise of a private club.[6]

The beer parlour was not granted a beer parlour license until 1925, but when it did, the licensed premises did an excellent business. It wasn’t until 1942 that men and women were forced by law to consume beer in their own designated areas of the hotel but some hotels, like the Castle Hotel, had already built separate parlours for the sexes. Both rooms were quite attractive as can be seen in this postcard of the Ladies beer parlour. One could enjoy a beverage with their friends in such lovely surroundings.

The Castle Hotel continued to enjoy a lucrative business throughout the years from 1939 to 1947 with Frank Read, Manager and A.R. Black Assistant Manager. 

One early morning in August, 1943 two masked bandits held up the night clerk and bell hop of the Castle Hotel. The robbers each carried an automatic pistol and convinced the frightened employees to surrender the contents of the cash drawer, $281. During the daring robbery the night clerk noticed that one of the thieves wore red nail polish.[7] It was revealed later that one of the robbers was Frank Thomas Wood, eighteen years old and captured that same year and convicted of the Castle Hotel holdup as well as two other robberies at local jewellery stores in Greater Vancouver. He was sentenced to six years in the BC Penitentiary. He served eighteen months and eventually was elected the MP for the Skeena District for the NDP.[8]

By the early 1950's the Castle Hotel on Granville Street was known as a gay rendezvous.[9] Part Two of the history of the Castle Hotel will look into the gays and transgender persons as they eventually make the Castle hotel and beer parlour their home from the early 1950’s until the hotel closed in 1990, and will uncover interesting events that took place in the Castle hotel during this time.

[1]Victoria Colonist, August 7, 1909, page 3
[2] BC Saturday Sunset Magazine, July 9, 1910, page 43.
[3] See: 1915, Feb 27: Municipality of Vancouver Permit: 7426, reference VN-9934-9935-9
[4] Castle Hotel Brochure, Gehrke’s Limited, Printer, Vancouver, BC; Glen Alan Mofford Collection.
[5] Vancouver Morning Leader, August 16, 1921, page 2.
[6] Campbell, Robert A., Sit Down and Drink Your Beer, Regulating Vancouver’s Beer Parlours, 1925-1954, University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 2001, page 19.
[7] The Vancouver Sun, “Nail Polish Bandits Rob City Hotel”, April 17, 1967, page 1.
[8]  The Montreal Gazette, April 18, 1967, page 8.
[9] Campbell, Robert A., Sit Down and Drink Your Beer, page 69.