Squeezing Strathcona: Chinatown development and endangered neighbourhoods

Houses, high-rises, and Hendrix: the changing faces of Chinatown and Strathcona. This is the war for the Eastern Core.

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 Peking Lounge East of Main Cafe

Bob Rennie did a remarkably good job with the Wing Sang Building, which headquarters his marketing firm and art collection. The block is punctuated with bright red doors, harking back to the early street life of Chinatown, when racist curfew laws prevented locals from moving freely in the open street.

Wing Sang Building: Built in 1889

Look at yuppie cookware mecca Ming Wo... actually, no, Ming Wo is nearly 100 years old.

Ming Wo is an OG (Original Gentrifier).

Scroll back up the image at the top of this page. Can you spot the newer buildings? That's what responsible development looks like.

I'm not alone in yearning for more imaginative urban development: a Reddit thread on what Vancouver needs more (and less) of touches time and again on the idea of developing a city that behaves like a city, and not like a 1-bedroom apartment incubator.

Not all development is bad: the SRA would just rather City Hall play chess instead of checkers, and think about the Eastern Core's future.

One way to protect Chinatown from becoming the next Yaletown would be to designate it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. That's not a new idea, though: the application has been gathering dust, sitting on the desks of 11 consecutive Environment Ministers.

Besides the obvious pushback from real estate development interests, I'm told that there is also resistance within the Chinatown community to getting listed with UNESCO. Beyond that, there are obviously quite a few property-owners in the Eastern Core who are happy to sell.

What would you do if someone offered you $18 million dollars for your corner of the world? For Eastern Core property-owners, this is not a rhetorical question: that's the rumoured price paid by Solterra for the nearby Waldorf Hotel. You actually can put a price tag on civic pride, particularly when development is happening anyway.

It's one thing to hold out if everyone else is, and quite another if your neighbours are getting rich while you continue to defend your neighbourhood.

Hogan's Alley and Jimi Hendrix

Yes, it's true that Jimi Hendrix once lived in Strathcona. However, you can't see the house in which he stayed.

Young Jimi Hendrix stayed in Hogan's Alley (officially called Park Lane), which ran along the southwest corner of Strathcona between Union and Prior. It was the city's only black neighbourhood.

Hogan's Alley was destroyed in 1972 in order to expand the Georgia Viaduct and build the Dunsmuir Viaduct. Its residents were evicted, scattered across the city. This was part of the ill-fated plan to run a freeway along Vancouver's waterfront, which would have turned the area into a mini-Toronto.

You can see another eviction-and-demolition site nearby: Gore between Keefer and Union. That off-ramp-shaped patch of grass was meant to be an off-ramp. I just learned that for the first time, because I'm not a native Vancouverite.

All that remains of Hogan's Alley is the shrine, located in what remains of Vie's Chicken and Steak House. That's where Jimi's grandmother worked.

Jimi Hendrix shrine in Strathcona

This is Hogan's Alley today:

This was Hogan's Alley

An entire community, gone. Hogan's Alley photos can be found online in the City of Vancouver archives.  The online exhibit about Hogan's Alley can be found here.  Several community-action groups are working to prevent Chinatown from becoming the next Hogan's Alley.

My friend gives me a lift into Gastown, where I'm meeting up with my pub trivia team at the Lamplighter. Yeah, a Donnelly pub, the epitome of generic redevelopment. Having just seen Strathcona's past and glimpsed its future, the irony is certainly not lost on me.

This article was corrected on Saturday, March 30th at 2:20 p.m.  The article mistakenly stated that:  "Even the City of Vancouver Archives no longer has its Hogan's Alley photos online."  It was corrected to reflect that fact that the photos are still online.

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