Description of Historic Place
The Grand Pacific Hotel at 530-540 Johnson Street is a three-storey masonry commercial building, located at the corner of Johnson and Store Streets, 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.
The Grand Pacific Hotel is a significant contributing resource to a key historic grouping of nineteenth century structures that marks the northern edge of the expansion of Victoria's original Old Town. 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 (now a National Historic Site) 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 of stores and hotels around the terminus at the west 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, that provided service areas and access which were important to the commercial functions of these buildings.
The original corner section of the Grand Pacific Hotel was built in 1879 as the Bossi Block, and is one of downtown Victoria's oldest masonry buildings and an example of the elaborate Italianate-inspired architecture common during the late Victorian era. The exuberant architecture features ornamental window hoods and an overhanging cornice supported by intricate scroll-cut paired brackets. The ongoing prosperity of the boom period is reflected in the change to hotel use in 1883, and in the additions, to the north in 1883 and to the east in 1887, that extended the building along both Johnson and Store Streets.
The Grand Pacific Hotel is valuable for its association with its original owner, Giacomo Bossi (1831-1893), a prominent landowner in early Victoria. His grocery and liquor store was located on the ground floor of this building until the establishment of the Grand Pacific Hotel. Bossi was representative of the Italian merchants who arrived in Victoria with the development boom in the late nineteenth century. Upon arriving in Victoria, Giacomo Bossi and his brother, Carlo, opened several stores and hotels and also supplied a small network of Italian merchants and shopkeepers in the Interior of British Columbia.
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 the Grand Pacific Hotel include its:
- corner location within Market Square and the historic streetscapes of Johnson and Store Streets, set flush to the front property lines with other contemporaneous buildings and a contiguous rear courtyard space, on a sloping corner lot that exposes the lower level at the rear
- continuous commercial and retail use
- built to the front and side property lines flush to and with similar street profile to other contemporaneous buildings
- commercial form, scale and massing as expressed by its three-storey plus lower level, rectangular form, low profile hipped roof on corner block, basement areaways and flat roofed additions
- masonry construction, including: structural front, side and rear brick walls; timber internal frame; continuous massive granite thresholds at front façade street level; parged window sills; granite door thresholds; and rubble-stone foundations
- Victorian Italianate features such as: ornamental window hoods; overhanging wooden cornice with scroll-cut paired wooden brackets and a dentilled frieze; rusticated, first-storey, stone piers; and cast-iron storefront columns with acanthus capitals, stamped "Atlas Ironworks, V.I."
- additional exterior details include running stringcourses; northern round-headed entry on ground floor west façade; front parapet with sign plate containing the lettering "1883"; roofline chimneys; and a west-facing dormer
- regular fenestration with: rectangular storefront openings; recessed windows in single assembly; segmental arched windows with double-hung 2-over-2 wooden sash windows in the corner section and flat-headed windows on the east addition with double-hung 1-over-1 wooden sashes
- elements of the 1970s rehabilitation, such as the rear decks, openings into the rear courtyard from the front street, and stairways to upper floors