Description of Historic Place
This four-storey (including 'cheater' storey), brick and timber frame building, located at 525 Carrall Street at the southwestern edge of Vancouver's historic Chinatown district, consists of former mixed-use Chinese Association meeting rooms, retail stores and a rooming house.
The value of the Lim Sai Hor Association Building lies in its association with an early Chinese association, and for the way that changes to the building reflect the evolution of Chinatown and the Chinese-Canadian community. The survival of parts of an early mixed-use Chinese-Canadian organization headquarters in the present structure add to its heritage value.
The building at 525 Carrall Street is of value for its association with leading Chinese scholar Kang You-wei. With the assistance of leading local merchants (including Chang Toy, owner of the Sam Kee Company, who probably donated the land) Kang You-wei set up the Vancouver branch (the other was in Victoria) of the Chinese Empire Reform Association here. The Association itself is important in Chinese-Canadian pre-Revolutionary history for strengthening the connection of Chinese immigrants with their homeland. By the time of its dissolution in the late 1910s, membership had grown to over six thousand in ten branches across Canada.
Constructed in 1903, the building is an excellent example of a once common building type in this part of Chinatown. The original storefront and 'cheater' storey, an important remnant of the original three-storey building facing Shanghai Alley, remind us that the alley was the principal thoroughfare and that Carrall Street was the back street in 1903.
Like many of its neighbours, a succession of Chinese businesses occupied the stores facing Shanghai Alley, including Quan Yee Gee Co. Taylors, Wing Lee, merchant, Joe Ning General Store, and the Yen Hong Low Restaurant.
The move in 1923 of the Lim Sai Hor Kow Mock Benevolent Association (an incorporation of the Lim Sai Hor Tong and the Kow Mock Association), to the upper floors reflects a common pattern of building usage by surname associations. It provided practical services to the local community, such as a meeting place, a Chinese library, rooms for single males, a bath house, and administrative services, such as sending money back to China.
The tall aperture in the north party wall of the building, which admits light to the central rooms on the upper storeys, is of value as a reminder that this part of the building once faced onto a narrow mid-lot alley, a characteristic of the ad-hoc development of early Chinatown, and of the intensity of land usage. The blocked doorway below is a former back entrance to the Association headquarters from the alley.
The bay windows on the third and the added fourth floors are of interest for reflecting alterations made to the entire northern section of this block between 1903 and 1914, perhaps by the architect Samuel Buttrey Birds. Almost identical alterations can be seen in the building at 509 Carrall Street, another formally recognized heritage building.
The alteration of the Carrall Street frontage in 1914 to the designs of prolific Chinese Canadian architect W. H. Chow, from a grandiose colonial style edifice to a stylistically ambiguous, unimposing facade, is representative of changes made to many Chinatown buildings at that time, reflecting the effects of the Revolution on all aspects of daily life, including architecture. The alterations are an important example of Chow's work, which remains largely undocumented and unrecognized.
Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
The character-defining elements of the Lim Sai Hor Association Building include:
- Location in the heart of Vancouver's historic Chinatown district
- Frontages to both Carrall Street and Shanghai Alley
- Use of architectural styles from two different eras on the front and rear elevations
- Storefront and 'cheater' storey surmounted by three double-height bay windows facing onto Shanghai Alley
- Plain stucco front elevation with recessed balconies to Carrall Street
- The materials of construction, including the brick party walls and the stuccoed brick elsewhere
- The layers of paint on the finished woodwork and the glass in the windows
- The finished woodwork including the shop front and cheater storey windows and cornice, and the bay windows and cornice above
- The articulation of the party walls, in particular that of the narrow slot on the north wall and the opening below
- The locations of chimney stacks and the roofscape of stepped party wall parapet and chimney stack terminations
- The iron external fire-escape stair