Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ted Harris Paints: An Icon Closes on Hastings Street

PAINT  |  30 x 30  |  Oil on canvas

Photograph: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

Bob Harris, son of local landmark paint retailer Ted Harris outside the landmark East Hastings store on the last day of business, Wednesday Sept. 30, 2009, in Vancouver, B.C.

By John Mackie, VANCOUVER SUN October 2, 2009
The Harris family has run a store at 757 East Hastings for nine decades.
No more. Bob Harris closed Ted Harris Paints Wednesday, 62 years after his father Ted made the switch from selling bicycles to paint. The younger Harris - also 62 - has decided to retire, and his sons David, Michael and Richard don't want to take over the business.
Which is sad, because Ted Harris Paints was one of Vancouver's last classic independent retailers, a throwback to the glory days of Hastings in the 1940s and 50s.
Harris picks up an old colour chart.
"Retro is in," he notes with a smile. "People look at this colour card and say - 'Wow! You're really on top of things to have a retro colour card!' What they don't know is that it's the colour card we used in the 1950s. We just brought it out and now we're using it again.
"People don't know what retro is until they come here," he laughs. "This is the real thing."
Indeed. Ted Harris Paints has been selling tints like Yukon Gold, Pearl Frost and Green Whisper since 1947. Even if they have never been inside the store, most Vancouverites remember the business for its giant neon sign, a landmark that blazes "paint" in multi-coloured letters - cream, teal, burnt orange, royal blue, and rusty red.
'Neath the neon is another sign that boasts "10 to 50 percent off!," with "comparative prices" in small print. To hammer the message home, the front of the building is a glorious hodge-podge of hand-written lettering reading "Ted Harris, Paints & Wallpaper, Wholesale and Retail." There's even a painting of a giant paintbrush.
The interior is just as cool, with an old-style high ceiling, banks of paint cans and a battery of paint mixers and shakers that look like they've been around since the industrial revolution.
The building dates to about 1910, a decade before Bob¹s grandfather Joseph Harris showed up from Montreal and opened up the East End Excellent Service Second Hand Store. (He's listed in an old city directory as a "junk pedlar," which was a common vocation for Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s - Joseph's birth name was Moishe Rosen.)
Joseph Harris died in 1926 and his wife Fannie married a man named Kaufman.
But the family fell on hard times during the depression, and Ted Harris and his two brothers were sent to an orphanage in Winnipeg.
Ted eventually came back to Vancouver, and by 1938 had taken over 757 East Hastings for a bicycle store. Legend has it you could rent one of his bikes for 15 cents an hour.
"They would rent them here because we were so close to Stanley Park," relates Bob Harris. "People would bring them back late sometimes, and would hammer on the door, because they didn¹t want to pay the rent the following morning."
This would work, because Ted Harris lived in the back of the store in an apartment he tacked on to the original building. There were another three apartments for rent upstairs. None of the apartments have been occupied for decades, but their tile kitchens and bathrooms with clawfoot tubs are intact.
Bob Harris lived in the back of the store until he was 10. The Strathcona neighbourhood - or the East End, to someone of Bob's vintage - was a far different place in those days.
"We used to go down down to the docks and get the turnips and potatoes when they fell off the conveyer belts transferring the food from the trains to the trucks," he recalls.
"We got a chicken once, a chicken got loose. We kept it in [my friend's] basement as a pet, until one day when they invited me over for chicken dinner. I had no idea I was eating my pet."
Ted Harris thrived in the paint business, even starting up his own line of Harritite and Ted Harris paints. Harris didn¹t actually make the paint - it came from a large manufacturer which allowed Harris to put his imprint on its product.
"They might make 2,000 gallons," says Bob Harris.
"The first 1,500 with their label, the last 500 gallons with our label. It's exactly the same product, we just sell it at a cheaper price."
Walking through the building with Bob is like taking a heritage tour. Up on a shelf in his office are some old bicycle tools from the 40s. Below them is an antique "partner's desk," which had two sides - the partners would face each other.
This one has been modified, however.
"When they became out of fashion 40 years ago, my dad took a chainsaw and sawed it in half," Bob says. "We still have the other half in another office."
He points out another ancient artifact, a five-foot-tall safe made by the Hall Safe Company of Cincinnati. The patent is from 1906, and the safe is used to this day.
"It can still hold money, so why not use it?" laughs Bob.
The basement is where he cut his teeth in the paint business, at the age of six.
"I used to sit down here and package dry colours," he says. "I used to get a 50 pound bag of raw sienna or whatever and repackage it in five pound bags. For a month after that I'd sneeze raw sienna or burnt umber or whatever I was packaging."
Hard work ran in the family. Ted Harris worked in the store until he died at the age of 88.
"He worked all his life here, pretty well," says Bob, who was an only child.
"One Friday while he was working in the store and he didn't feel very well. I took him to the hospital and he passed away two weeks later."
Bob has decided to take another path, retiring while he's still relatively young.
"We put a notice in the Vancouver Sun that we were retiring, and people came rushing in to buy [the remaining paint stock]," he says.
"Now it's almost all gone. A friend of mine phoned up today and said he wanted two quarts of paint, but I didn't have it. So I offered to give him a gallon for nothing. He said okay" - he pauses - "but he wanted me to deliver it to him."
What will happen to the landmark neon sign? Good question. Bob offered it to the Vancouver Museum, which has a neon sign collection, but it turned him down.
"They said it was too big, they just couldn't store it," he says.
"It would have been nice if it had went to the museum; it would have been something you could take your grandchildren to show them. But they're not interested."


Courtesy of: © Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Monday, May 27, 2013

Last call at Vancouver's Yale Hotel…for now

Yale Hotel  |  30 x 36  | Oil on canvas  |  2013

After 123 years, the Yale Hotel is closing for a year and a half for renovations
By John Mackie, Vancouver Sun November 11, 2011
The late Robbie King was the master of the Hammond B-3 organ; he played it on countless recordings and live gigs with acts like Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, The Poppy Family and Diana Ross and the Supremes.
It didn’t make him a lot of dough, though. For the last few years of his life, he lived in a small room directly above the stage at the Yale Hotel at Granville and Drake.
But that was his choice. The Yale bills itself as “Vancouver’s home of rhythm and blues,” and King loved being upstairs, listening to the music of legends such as Charles Brown, James Cotton and Charlie Musselwhite through the floor.
King had no patience for bad performances, though. “He’d hear something not being played correctly, and he’d storm downstairs in his house robe, bump the guy to the side and start playing,” Yale owner Waide Luciak says with a laugh.
That’s the kind of effect the Yale has on people. It’s a true blues palace, a beautiful old brick building that has thrived by eschewing the latest musical and cultural trends to concentrate on what it does best.
That is what bassist Jack Lavin envisioned when he established the blues format in 1985.
“[Then owner] Sam Sorich was looking for somebody to host a jam there,” Lavin says. “I had just left Powder Blues, so I was somewhat high profile. We hit it off pretty good. I said, ‘I’m from Chicago. I love blues, and I think this should be a blues club. If you serve the same plate every time, you’ll have a guaranteed crowd.’ ”
Lavin used his contacts to bring in legends like Otis Rush, Lowell Fulson and Joe Duskin for weeklong gigs. “Since we began it as a blues club, it was inarguably Canada’s best blues bar,” Lavin says.
Lavin left the Yale in 1993, but the blues played on. Over the years a who’s who of blues musicians have played there, from Pinetop Perkins, Johnny Winter and John Hammond to Jeff Healey, Jim Byrnes and Long John Baldry.
But the landmark bar is about to go silent. The Yale will be closing Nov. 20 so it can undergo a heritage renovation. It will be closed for about a year and a half, but will still feature the blues when it reopens, although not exclusively. “It’s going to be the old Yale, but a modernized old Yale,” says Luciak, who has co-owned the bar since 1987. “We found that the people that really enjoy the blues are getting old, [and] we can’t survive off what those people are drinking. So our target over the last year or so has been, as the night goes on, to put on a band that gets a little bit younger [audience]. We think we can survive into the future if we make some subtle changes.”
The Yale will be marking its exit with a week of multi-act gigs featuring headliners such as Chilliwack (Nov. 17), David Gogo (Nov. 18) and Dal Richards (Nov. 20). Luciak also has also a new space at 1050 Granville, which he hopes to open in the new year to accommodate many of the Yale’s acts. But it’s a new building, which just won’t be the same. Part of the Yale’s aura is its age, which gives it soul.
It was built in 1888 — when Vancouver was only two years old — and cost $9,000. It was originally called The Colonial, and was designed by Noble Stonestreet Hoffar (yes, that’s his real name), a prominent architect who also designed the Cordova Street side of the Army and Navy department store.
When it was built, The Colonial was out in the sticks: Vancouver was centred in Gastown. The Canadian Pacific Railway was developing rail yards nearby in Yaletown, and The Colonial catered to CPR workers. Some lived there; many more drank there. “This was out at the end of Granville Street, and law and order was a little bit iffy,” says heritage expert Don Luxton. “When it was raining and the streets were muddy, [the clientele] loved to party it up, because they knew the police couldn’t make it.”
In 1907, new owners changed the name to The Yale, and two years later tacked on an addition at the back. The addition gave it 44 rooms upstairs for rent, while the bar was extended over both buildings.
You can tell where the buildings meet because there’s a slight dip in the floor.
The building is so old Luciak says they found some horseshoes in the basement, a remnant of a stable in the early days. The basement features one of Vancouver’s nicest mosaic tile floors, and retains vintage equipment like an old wooden “keg lift” they still use to roll down kegs of beer.
A more recent addition is the stripper poles from the Cecil, the hotel next door that was recently torn down as part of the Rolston condo development.
The Yale is being refurbished as part of the Rolston, a $75-million project by Rize Atlantis. The 23-storey, 186-unit condo tower may turn out to be Vancouver’s most startling new building — the design by Busby Perkins + Will architects features a series of “ribbons” that jut out of the building.
Rize Alliance will spend about $5 million fixing up the Yale as part of the development. It will restore The Yale’s Granville Street facade to a glass storefront, fix up the hotel rooms upstairs, and do some seismic upgrading. “It’s a wood-frame building, with what they call a single-lace brick veneer,” explains Luke Harrison of Rize Alliance. “We’re restoring all the brick, making sure it’s attached to the building in a good manner, and repointing it and cleaning it up. The seismic upgrading we’re doing is to the wood frame — you’re basically tying in the vertical and horizontal elements of the building.”
It’s a complicated deal. Luciak says he sold the Yale to Rize Alliance on the condition they will sell the bar back to him. But he won’t own the upstairs; Rize Alliance is handing that over to the city, which will be renting the rooms to low-income earners.
Luciak’s son Joe has run the bar for several years, and promises the new Yale will be like the old one, only better.
The ugly dropped ceiling panels will be removed, restoring the bar to its full 14-foot height (albeit with some special drywall that will dampen the sound that travels upstairs to the residents). There will be a new, longer bar, and a larger wooden dance floor. The basement will feature spiffy new dressing rooms for the bands, and there will be a kitchen to serve food.

But it will still retain the brick walls, the neon signs and the Hammond B-3 organ that Robbie King insisted the club had to buy if it was to be a proper blues bar. “We’re going to spend a lot of money to make it look and feel the same,” says Joe Luciak. “I’ve been here since I was six years old, and there’s no way I’d let the city down [and change it]. The Yale is its own cultural landmark and entity; it means a lot to people.”