AKA: Herman Block, Gastown, Vancouver, BC, Canada; Alhambra Hotel, Gastown, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings; built works - commercial buildings - stores

Designers: Fisher, Elmer, H., Architect (firm); Elmer Horace Fisher (architect)

Dates: constructed 1886-1887

2 stories

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2 Water Street
Gastown, Vancouver, BC Canada V6B

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The peripatetic Fisher was the first architect in 1886 to advertise his services in the City of Vancouver, BC. (See Canada's Historic Places, "Byrnes Block,"Accessed 04/11/2013.) He began this commission for real estate developers but completed it for George Byrnes, an equally-well travelled auctioneer. Italianate in style, it was sited for a prominent corner location--Water Street and Carrall Street-- in Gastown, Vancouver's central business district of the time. The "Changing Vancouver" web site said: "The Byrnes Block, as the Alhambra is also known, was built by Victoria based auctioneer George Byrnes, an Australian who had survived a shipwreck coming from Sydney to San Francisco and then not long afterwards become Sherriff in Barkerville [BC]. The hotel was one of the first fireproof buildings to be completed after the 1886 fire destroyed the city. It appears that the intial building commission came from Rand Brothers, real estate promoters, who handed the development to George Byrnes while it was under construction." (See Changing Vancouver, Then and Now Images, "The Alhambra Hotel – Water and Carrall,"Accessed 04/11/2013.) Fires were commonplace events in 19th century settlements, and architects often gained prime commissions due to them. Fisher did in Vancouver after its blaze in 1886 and Seattle in 1889.

Architect Elmer Fisher (c. 1844-c. 1905) designed the Byrnes Block to contain revenue-generating retail stores on the first floor and a hotel on the second. The Alhambra Hotel operated as a higher-caliber, fireproof hotel housing seasonal workers in Vancouver, BC. The Canadian historic preservation web site, Canada's Historic Places, said of the Alhambra: "Hotels such as this provided both short and long-term lodging, serving primarily those who worked in the seasonal resource trades such as fishing and logging." (See Canada's Historic Places, "Byrnes Block,"Accessed 04/11/2013.) It featured masonry construction which was fire-resistant, (but performed poorly in earthquakes), in contrast to the cheaper, easier to build, wood-frame commercial buildings erected previously. Each room in the Alhambra had its own fireplace, actually a new hazard for hotel ownership. Mass-produced metal parts were also incorporated into the design, such as cast-iron columns and pressed-metal cornices. Cast-iron performed better than wood in fires, but it, too, would melt when temperatures became hot enough.

The Byrnes Block underwent multiple additions to increase store-front rental income and to add hotel rooms. The building later became known as the "Alhambra Hotel at Maple Tree Square." Acton Ostry Architects performed renovations and seismic improvements c. 2010 for its owner, Salient Developments.

Vancouver Landmark (2003-01-14): DhRs-220

PCAD id: 12620