Description of Historic Place
505-511 Pandora Avenue is a symmetrical, masonry commercial building, two storeys in height, with a full lower level exposed to the rear courtyard. It is part of Market Square, a rehabilitated complex of late nineteenth century buildings that comprise the western half of a full block, with continuous historic streetfronts along three major streets and a central courtyard behind, in Victoria's Old Town.
505-511 Pandora Avenue is a significant contributing resource to a key historic grouping of nineteenth century structures in Victoria's Old Town that marks the southern edge of Victoria's original Chinatown (now a National Historic Site). This block, bounded to the north by Pandora Avenue and to the south by Johnson Street, was once part of the course of the Johnson Street Ravine, a swamp that marked the boundary between the European business area to the south and Chinatown to the north. During the 1880s, the wooden shacks on the north side of the ravine were replaced with utilitarian commercial blocks housing Chinese businesses, spurred by the dramatic increase in the local Chinese population after the Canadian Pacific Railway was completed. The announcement of a land grant to the Esquimalt and Nanaimo Railway in 1883, and its completion in 1888, sparked a construction boom in Victoria around the terminus at the foot of Pandora Avenue. The south side of the block was filled with more elaborate buildings such as hotels and commercial enterprises run by Europeans, illustrating the physical and cultural divide within the early city. Accessed by alleyways cut through the buildings, the large open space in the centre of the block remains as a significant representation of the interconnected network of courtyards and alleyways in Old Town. These alleyways provided service areas and access which were important to the commercial functioning of these buildings.
Constructed in 1883-84, this building is also significant for its late Victorian era architecture. Modestly detailed, it represents utilitarian vernacular commercial design that was common in Victoria during the late nineteenth century. The symmetrical, brick faced structure took advantage of the sloping site to fit in a lower floor accessed from the rear courtyard. The second floor doorways illustrate that this building, similar to others of the same vintage, once had a continuous wooden front arcade and balcony. It was constructed by Maurice Humber (died 1902), a brick-maker and builder who was responsible for the construction of many of Victoria's early downtown buildings, and who served as a city councillor for three terms. The carpenter was W.D. McKillican (died 1919), of the prominent firm of McKillican and Anderson.
505-511 Pandora Avenue is valued for its historical association with original owner, pioneer Carlo Bossi (1826-1895), a well-known landowner in early Victoria. Bossi is representative of the Italian merchants who arrived with the development boom in the late nineteenth century. Upon arriving in Victoria in 1858, Bossi and his brother, Giacomo, opened a number of stores and hotels and also supplied a small network of Italian merchants in the Interior of British Columbia. Bossi built the building as an investment property, but as it faced Pandora Avenue and the southern edge of Chinatown, it was originally rented to Chinese tenants and merchants.
Additionally, this building represents Market Square's role in the modern revitalization of Victoria's historic downtown core. In the 1970s, Sam Bawlf and his brother, architect Nick Bawlf, pioneered private sector revitalization in Victoria by creating Market Square, a half-block of contiguous rehabilitated heritage buildings that framed a partly covered central courtyard, housing a vibrant urban environment with boutiques, restaurants, offices, and performance space. Seeking to reactivate Victoria's depressed downtown core with this massive project, the Bawlfs balanced urban revitalization with heritage conservation. The preservation of the open space in the central courtyard is a key feature that recalls the integral role of these secondary spaces in Victoria's commercial activities.
Source: City of Victoria Planning and Development Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of 505-511 Pandora Avenue include its:
- location within Market Square and the historic streetscape of Pandora Avenue, set flush to the front and side property lines with other contemporaneous buildings, on a south-sloping lot that exposes the lower level at the rear
- continuous commercial and retail use
- commercial form, scale and massing as expressed by its two-storey plus lower level, cubic form, basement areaways and flat roof
- masonry construction, including: structural front, side and rear brick walls; flush-struck mortar joints; timber internal frame; rubble-stone foundations; parged window sills; and granite door thresholds
- multiple red brick chimneys on the rear elevation
- regular, symmetrical front elevation fenestration with: rectangular storefront openings; tall, narrow, double-hung 4-over-4 wooden sash segmental-arched windows on the front facade; and double-hung 6-over-6 wooden sash segmental arched windows on the rear elevation
- two partially-enclosed doorways on the front facade second floor
- elements of the 1970s rehabilitation, such as the rear decks, openings into the rear courtyard from the front street, and stairways to upper floors