Description of Historic Place
The May Wah Hotel, located at 258 East Pender Street, is a four-storey brick hotel, with stores at street level, designed in the Neo-Classical architectural style, occupying three adjacent lots, at the eastern extent of Vancouver's historic Chinatown.
The May Wah Hotel is of value as an enduring work of Vancouver architect William Frederick Gardiner, as an example of a Vancouver hotel designed after the introduction of the City's 1910 Lodging House By-Law, for the way its subsequent use typifies Vancouver's Chinatown buildings associated with Tongs, and for its association with the important entrepreneurial Chinese-Canadian Louie family.
Despite the replacement of its original fenestration with modern units, this imposing hotel, built in 1913 to the designs of Vancouver architect William Frederick Gardiner for the business partnership of Barrett and Deane, retains much of its original character and makes a significant contribution to the Chinatown streetscape and skyline. Gardiner's adept use of Neo-Classical elements, including monumental pilasters and cornice, speaks to his versatility and confidence with many architectural styles, including Tudor Revival, and, after the First World War, with Streamline Art-Deco.
The surviving layout of the hotel plan speaks to its target clientele - immigrant single males working in the commercial district. The composition of the plan, including the provision of natural light and operable windows for each room by three lightwells running perpendicular to the street, and the inclusion of fire escapes and use of a concrete frame, are illustrative of the effect of Vancouver's Lodging House By-Law. Passed in 1910, the By-Law responded to the squalid living and sanitary conditions of rooming houses and shanties, in Chinatown and elsewhere in the commercial district, considered to be centres of disease and potential death traps in the event of a fire. The creation of hotels such as this in the district in the eight years leading up to the First World War also illustrates the shortage of accommodation, created in part by the construction boom in Vancouver and by the demolition by the Canadian Pacific Railway, at the behest of the City Health Department, of much of the existing unsuitable accommodation.
The use of the hotel by various Tongs (surname associations), first by the Chau Luen Society (representing the surnames Dan, Tan, Xu, Xie and Ruan) between its formation in 1943 and 1945, and more recently by the Shon Yee Benevolent Association, is common for such buildings in Chinatown. The long-standing presence of a printing office, the Ho Sun Hing Company, there from 1925 to 1950, is another common associated use, often initially related to the furtherance of the aims of the Tong.
The purchase of the hotel by Le-Kiu Trading in 1950, the presence of the Le Kiu store, and more recently the Le-Kiu Importing Company Ltd., amplify the significance of the May Wah Hotel by its association with Le-Kiu owners Alex and Victor Louie - the HY Louie Group, grandsons of the important early Chinese-Canadian businessman HY (Hok Yat) Louie.
Source:City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
The character-defining elements of the May Wah Hotel include:
- Location at the eastern edge of Vancouver's historic Chinatown district
- Occupation of three lots in their entirety and construction up to the street boundary
- Monumental architectural treatment achieved by elements including the classical galvanized iron cornice, frieze and pilasters
- The brick walls and the contrasting material of the applied decoration
- Arrangement of fenestration and light-wells
- Subdivision of retail stores at street level
- Remains of original hotel internal room subdivision and communal facilities, including the entrance hall, stairs and corridors
- Displays of Chinese goods on the street in front of the stores