Monday, May 20, 2019


CHIEFTAIN HOTEL | 48" X 30" | Oil on canvas | 2019

Available at: KURBATOFF GALLERY, Vancouver
Squamish, B.C.
48" X 30"
Oil on Canvas  

During the railway boom in the early 1900s, Squamish was a bustling and promising place. In fact, two grand hotels were built in those days, the King George Hotel (built in 1910) and the Newport Hotel (built in 1912), which is today the Chieftain Hotel. In the early days, the Newport Hotel was a popular hangout with the loggers, because owner Bob Carson allowed them to wear their caulk boots into the building. During prohibition years, Carson legally served a 2.5% alcoholic beer called “near beer”. The Newport Hotel burned down in 1956 and on the night of the fire, the whole town came out to watch. The hotel’s furniture and contents lined the street, while onlookers could hear the kegs of beer exploding inside. Mark Armstrong’s grandmother, Moonie Hartnell said: “It does my heart good to hear all those barrels of beer blowing up”. The hotel’s regulars didn’t necessarily agree with her sentiment. The Chieftain Hotel was built on the ashes of the Newport Hotel in 1958, its neon sign was made famous by numerous movies and TV series filmed on its location such as TV series ‘Men in Trees”, “Supernatural Season 4”, “Horns ”in 2013, TV series “The Returned” in 2014, “Insomnia” and many other productions.


ASTORIA HOTEL | 36" X 24" | Oil on canvas | 2019

Available at: KURBATOFF GALLERY - Vancouver 
769 E Hastings Street, Vancouver 
 36” x 24” 
Oil on Canvas 

The Astoria started life as an apartment building – initially named for its developer, R A Wallace, and simultaneously as the Toronto House Apartments. The Astoria name was attached to a building on Hastings Street from the 1920s until 1949. Vancouver's most beloved dive bar, located in the heart of Strathcona.


HOTEL EMPRESS | 36" X 24" | Oil on canvas | 2019

36 x 24 
Oil on Canvas 

The Hotel Empress lies in its position in the streetscape of East Hastings Street. Although the seven buildings on the north side of this block - all built between 1901 and 1913 - range in height from one to eight storeys, were designed by seven different architects, and constructed of different materials, they share several features. Together they illustrate the changing use of this area of East Hastings Street from residential to business use and place the district as a shopping and commercial centre for the emerging city of Vancouver in the early twentieth century. The architectural styles speak to the changing public taste from the ornate decoration of the late Victorian era to the more refined ornamentation of the Edwardian age. Built in 1912-1913 for owner L. L. Mills by architect F.N. Bender, the Hotel Empress is significant because of its considerable height and the narrowness of the East Hastings Street facade. It was purported to be the "world’s narrowest tallest hotel" when built, and is still the only building of significant height in the immediate area.

The Only Sea Foods

THE ONLY SEA FOODS | 24" X 30" | Oil on canvas | 2019

24" X 30"
Oil on canvas  

The Only Sea Foods sign is a Vancouver icon, one of the most beloved neon signs in Canada.
The neon sea horse leaping above whitecapped waves is a superb example of the playful, imaginative signs that used to line the city's streets in neon's golden age in the 1940s and '50s.
The sign has been a fixture at 20 East Hastings St. since 1951, one of the last remnants of Hastings' commercial glory days.
No more. Last week a for sale sign went up on the building, and the neon sea horse was taken down with a crane and hauled off on a flatbed to a warehouse.
The Only closed in June 2009, amid allegations of drug trafficking by the proprietors. The sign has sat unlit for almost a year.
Many old neon signs on Hastings that were left on buildings like this slowly deteriorated, to the point where most of them went to the scrapyard. The lucky ones went to the Vancouver Museum's neon collection, the new home of the Blue Eagle restaurant neon.
But The Only sea horse isn't destined for the scrapyard, or a museum. It is being stored by the Portland Hotel Society, which wants to restore it and reopen The Only, perhaps in a new location.
The Only name is owned by Tyke and Peter Thodos, whose father Nick started the restaurant with their uncle, Gus. They took it back when the last operators had their business licence revoked, and have leased it to the Portland for 15 years.
"It's a historic name in this city," said Constantine (Tyke) Thodos, 83. "Let's keep it going, if we can."
Thodos ran The Only from 1950 until "after Expo," and commissioned the sign, which was built by Neon Products, now Pattison Signs.
It's a combination of painted sheet metal and neon tubes. In the daytime, the sea horse is green with blue eyes, "Only" is in white on an amber background and "Sea Foods" is in amber atop blue waves. At night, it's an orange neon sea horse with red neon eyes, and green neon "Only" and "Sea Foods."
In case you don't get the message that it only served seafood, "Fish," "Oysters" and "Clams" are advertised across the bottom. Ironically, one thing that wasn't on the menu was sea horse.
"I've never seen one, to be honest with you," Thodos chuckles. "They just put it up there. My brother says the unique thing about it is the sea horse tail is the wrong way."
The Only was a classic old-style cafe, with 17 stools arranged around curved counters and two booths. It had pressed tin ceilings, an open kitchen where you could watch the cook, and was so cramped they stored the fish on ice in the front window.
"On one side you packed the fish, on the other side you prepared the fish," Thodos said. "I made a deal with the Fisherman's Co-op, so they brought me fresh fish every day. We never had any fish that was older than 24 hours."
This was the secret of The Only's legendary clam chowder.
"To make a good clam chowder you had to have fresh clams," Thodos said.
"Of course in those days we could get it. Today clams are out of sight, $5 a pound or some stupid thing. In the '80s it was 20, 30 cents a pound. It was cheap. There is no way I could produce the clam chowder we did then and charge the prices we did."
Another specialty, cooking fish in lemon butter, came from the Thodos family's Greek heritage. Oddly, though, Thodos thinks the key to The Only's long-term success was its bread and coffee.
"I had a bakery on Robson Street, Golf's; they made the bread the way we wanted it done," he recounts.
"I used to give [customers] lots of bread and lots of butter; that was the key to the whole thing. I had the best coffee you could buy, and good bread. People like good bread; let's not kid ourselves."
After Thodos started leasing the name in the late 1980s, the restaurant fell on hard times, much like the surrounding neighbourhood. But the Portland Hotel's Dan Small thinks it's important to get The Only up and running again, as an enduring (and endearing) symbol of the Downtown Eastside.
"Ideally we'd like to see it as a social enterprise that employs local people," Small said. "You could rebuild some of the community esteem by having tourists come from cruise ships and Gastown to see this historic fish-and-chip place."
Small said the Portland has made an offer to buy the two-storey building where The Only has been located since about 1917. Realtor Norman Fung said the asking price is $2.188 million.
The sale is complicated by the fact that the building's owner, Nissim (Max) Ezerzer, died in August 2008, and the building is being sold by his estate.
The two-storey brick building was built around 1912 and once had another historic business, Don't Argue tobacconists.
Operated by Con Jones, Don't Argue had an amazing logo, a guy in a bowler hat shoving another guy in the face.
Neon expert John Atkin would love to see The Only come back to life in the same location. Something would seem amiss if the neon sea horse went up a block or two away.
"You drive down the street, you see a sea horse and you know where you are," he said.
"They don't serve sea horses at the restaurant, but it's a great icon on the street.
"It has a great familiarity for most Vancouverites. It's like the Woodward's W or the Ovaltine [neon], it symbolizes Hastings Street in the city."

(Excerpt from The Vancouver Sun, 4/8/10)