Description of Historic Place
The Kelly, Douglas and Co. Warehouse is a seven storey plus two lower levels, massive brick-faced warehouse building, located on the north side of Water Street on the western edge of the historic district of Gastown. This vast structure is the single largest building in Gastown, and visually anchors the west end of the district. The site slopes to the north; Water Street marked the edge of the original waterfront, and the lot was infilled to allow construction.
Gastown is the historic core of Vancouver, and is the city's earliest, most historic area of commercial buildings and warehouses. The Kelly, Douglas and Co. Warehouse 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 early twentieth century. As Vancouver prospered, substantial warehouses were built on piles on infilled water lots between Water Street and the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) trestle. Loading bays at the lower level faced the railway tracks, which allowed goods to be off-loaded directly from trains. The massive cubic form, high density, large clear-span floor-plate and notable height of this structure, built for a wholesale grocery firm, are a clear indication of the extent and prosperity of wholesale trade during this period. Kelly, Douglas and Co., co-founded by Robert Kelly and Frank Douglas in 1896, prospered by outfitting the Klondike gold seekers. Its location on the western edge of Gastown was also advantageous for direct sales to customers, as the central business district was developing to the west of Gastown. The original five storey section to the east was built as the Kelly and Burnett Building in 1905, and Kelly, Douglas moved there from their previous location on Water Street. The company then proceeded in 1907 with a large-scale expansion of the building to the west, which when it was complete was the largest warehouse in Canada devoted exclusively to produce. Gault Brothers moved into the original Kelly and Burnet portion of the building, but that space was again taken over as Kelly, Douglas continued their expansion in stages, eventually building out the entire site to a height of seven stories plus two basement levels. The current structure, the largest in Gastown, was completed by 1913.
The building is also valued for its association with prominent Canadian architect W.T. Whiteway (1856-1940), who also designed the Woodward's Department Store at Hastings and Abbott Streets (1903) and the World (Sun) Tower at Beatty and Pender Streets (1912), once the tallest commercial building in the British Empire. Prominent local contractor J.M. McLuckie built all of the later additions to the building. This warehouse was promoted as Vancouver's first 'skyscraper,' but despite its exterior masonry construction, was built using a massive heavy timber frame internal structure, which by the time the building was completed was an obsolete technology.
The Kelly, Douglas and Co. Warehouse is additionally valued as a representation of the rapid growth of the local food supply network, which developed in response to a booming economy and population. The utilitarian exterior is a clear indication of its original warehouse use. Now rehabilitated for contemporary office and retail uses, it contributes to the ambiance of the Gastown historic district as an illustration of the area's importance as a centre of trade and commerce for the city and the province. Its adaptive reuse within the context of the redevelopment of Gastown as a heritage area represents the changing nature of the local economy from warehousing and manufacturing to commercial, retail and residential uses.
Source: City of Vancouver, Heritage Planning Street Files
The character-defining elements of the Kelly, Douglas and Co. Warehouse include:
- landmark location on the north side of Water Street at the western edge of Gastown, in close proximity to the waterfront of Burrard Inlet and the CPR station and rail yard
- spatial relationship to other Late Victorian and Edwardian era commercial buildings
- siting on the front and side property lines, with no setbacks
- cubic form and massing, evident in its consistent height, flat roof and massive floor-plate
- typical Edwardian era architectural features such as tripartite articulation into a base, shaft and capital, with expressed vertical pilasters, projecting sheet metal cornices at the storefront level (with dentils) and parapet (with block modillions), and a regular grid of structural openings
- masonry construction: brick exterior structural walls; tan pressed brick cladding on the two main facades; interior brick demising walls; rough-dressed sandstone facade elements, such as lintels, ground floor columns and capitals; and granite foundation blocks and bulkheads
- interior heavy timber frame construction, with massive wood posts tapering in size from 45 centimetres square on the lower floors to 20 centimetres square at the top; beams of similar dimensions; and solid wood floors, visible throughout the building
- large rectangular storefront openings on the two main facades, with iron I-beam headers with rosettes; and cast iron columns on the west facade
- irregular fenestration on the rear facade, with mixed segmental-arched and rectangular openings, indicating construction undertaken in stages