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Byrnes Block

2 Water Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6B, Canada

Formally Recognized: 2003/01/14

Exterior view of the Byrnes Block; City of Vancouver, 2004
Oblique view
Exterior view of the Byrnes Block; City of Vancouver, 2004
East elevation
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Other Name(s)

Herman Block
Byrnes Block
Alhambra Hotel

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1886/01/01 to 1887/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2005/03/15

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Byrnes Block is a two storey, Victorian Italianate commercial brick building, with a later addition to the south located across a narrow passageway. It is situated on Maple Tree Square at the irregular intersection of Alexander, Powell, Water and Carrall Streets in the historic district of Gastown. The Byrnes Block is one of the oldest buildings in Vancouver located on its original site.

Heritage Value

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 Canadian Pacific Railway in 1887, the Klondike Gold Rush and the western Canadian boom that occurred prior to the First World War. The Byrnes Block embodies the sudden influx in investment capital that flowed into Gastown based on the certainty of growth promised by the arrival of the transcontinental railway. This building, and the Ferguson Block located across the street, are among the oldest extant buildings in Vancouver that are still standing at their original location; only the relocated Hastings Mill Museum building is known to predate them.

The Byrnes Block is valued as the site of the Alhambra Hotel, located on the upper floor, a representation of the area's seasonal population in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Hotels such as this provided both short and long-term lodging, serving primarily those who worked in the seasonal resource trades such as fishing and logging. Many of these hotels had combined functions of commercial services on the ground floor and lodging rooms on the upper floors, which contributed to the lively street life in Gastown. The Alhambra Hotel was opulent in its time, contrasted with the numerous cheap wooden hotels built in the area before and after the 1886 fire. As the city grew and building materials became more readily available after the arrival of the railway, it was quickly expanded in a series of additions until it reached its present form.

Additionally, the Byrnes Block is valued for its architecture as a fine example of the Victorian Italianate style from the late nineteenth century. It was designed by architect Elmer H. Fisher (c.1844-c.1905), who followed development booms westward across the frontier, and in early 1886 was the first architect to advertise his services in Vancouver newspapers. This commission for George Byrnes demonstrates Fisher's mastery of the Victorian Italianate style. He was soon lured south to Seattle where he was instrumental in that city's post-fire rebuilding, and many of his buildings survive in Seattle's Pioneer Square area.

One of the first rehabilitation projects to be undertaken as part of the renewal of Gastown as an historic district, today the Byrnes Block stands as one of the cornerstones of Maple Tree Square, the city's birthplace and first public urban space.

Source: City of Vancouver, Heritage Planning Street Files

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Byrnes Block include:
- spatial relationship to other late Victorian and Edwardian era commercial buildings
- location, adjacent to Maple Tree Square, in close proximity to the waterfront of Burrard Inlet and the Canadian Pacific Railway yard, with Trounce Alley to the south side
- siting on the property lines, with no setbacks
- form, scale and massing as exemplified in its trapezoidal floor plan, flat roof and two-storey height
- grouping of separate structures, with the original block at the corner, the later addition in a separate block to the south across a narrow passageway, and an ancillary structure at the rear, with an open space between
- distinctive roofline, with chimneys at regular intervals reflecting the individual fireplaces originally in each hotel room
- elements of the Victorian Italianate style, such as the elaborate pedimented window hoods and surrounds on the second floor, projecting cornice with alternating large and small eave brackets, and an elaborate arched corner pediment
- masonry construction, including painted brick cladding with flush-struck mortar joints on two main facades and common red brick cladding on rear facades
- fenestration, including: large rectangular storefront windows on the ground floor enabled by the use of cast iron columns; elongated double-hung 1-over-1 wood-sash windows on the second floor of the two main facades; and double-hung 2-over-2 wood-sash windows on the rear facades set in segmental arched openings
- early use of prefabricated building elements, such as cast iron columns and pressed metal cornices
- chamfered corner with corner entry
- granite threshold slabs at ground floor door sills



British Columbia

Recognition Authority

City of Vancouver

Recognition Statute

Vancouver Charter, s.593

Recognition Type

Heritage Designation

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Developing Economies
Trade and Commerce

Function - Category and Type



Commerce / Commercial Services
Hotel, Motel or Inn

Architect / Designer

Elmer Fisher



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

City of Vancouver, Heritage Planning Street Files

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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