Links and documents
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Robinson Block is a two-storey commercial building with exterior brick walls, located on the south side of Water Street in the historic district of Gastown.
Gastown is the historic core of Vancouver, and is the city's earliest, most historic area of commercial buildings and warehouses. The Gastown historic district retains a consistent and distinctive built form that is a manifestation of successive economic waves that followed the devastation of the Great Fire in 1886, the arrival of the CPR railway in 1887, the Klondike Gold Rush and the western Canadian boom that occurred prior to the First World War. The area is recognized as the birthplace of Vancouver, and was pivotal in the first twenty-five years of the city's history and represents a formative period in Canada's economic development.
The Robinson Block is representative of the importance of Gastown as the trans-shipment point between the terminus of the railway and Pacific shipping routes, and the consequent expansion of Vancouver into western Canada's predominant commercial centre in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This, like many other buildings in Gastown, served a combined function of providing commercial space on the ground floor, and a meeting hall on the second. The rear half of the building was constructed c. 1905-1909, when Vancouver underwent tremendous growth and there was a record-breaking level of new construction.
The building is also valued for its associations with early pioneer and merchant Zebulon Franks, a Jewish immigrant from Russia who arrived in Vancouver in 1887. Franks was a founder and early leader of the Jewish community in the city, and the earliest local Orthodox services were held in his home. Franks originally located his business on Carrall Street, then moved to this building in the early 1890s. His store was typical of the general supply stores that catered directly to the needs of resource industry workers, including loggers, fishers, miners and trappers. After Franks' death, the business was continued by his family as Y. Franks Appliances, and remains today as one of the longest operating businesses in Vancouver.
A historic photo shows the Robinson Block was originally designed as a Victorian Italianate building. A 1960s renovation obscured the original appearance of the front facade, including stucco applied over the stonework, and replacement of the front facade brickwork and the original windows.
Source: City of Vancouver, Planning Department files
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Robinson Block include its:
- low scale massing within the two and three-storey context of the surrounding buildings on the south side of the unit block of Water Street
- siting on the property line, with no setbacks
- masonry construction, including the use of stone foundations, brick exterior walls and sandstone facing on the columns that bracket the front facade
- unknown surviving elements of the original Victorian Italianate stonework on the front facade columns
- surviving interior features such as ground floor fenestration on the original exterior 1889 wall, post-and-beam framing on the first and second floors and the three original light-wells, lined with tongue-and-grooved paneling, on the second floor
Local Governments (BC)
Local Government Act, s.967
1905/01/01 to 1905/01/01
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Trade and Commerce
Function - Category and Type
- Commerce / Commercial Services
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Vancouver, Planning Department files
Cross-Reference to Collection