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Catholic Vancouver Oct. 2, 2018

Robson project to transform former archdiocese offices

By Bruce Li

Artistic rendering of the redevelopment of the former offices of the Archdiocese of Vancouver at 150 Robson St. (GBL/Amacon)

Vancouver City Council has approved plans to redevelop the old downtown headquarters of the Archdiocese of Vancouver .

The project will be built on three properties from 118 to 150 Robson Street, between Beatty Street and Cambie Street. Most of the work will be done on the former offices of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, a building once known as the Northern Electric Company building.

The top floor is still the Catholic Charities’ Men’s Hostel homeless shelter. The two other buildings are the Back Forty Pub and a vacant property owned by the City of Vancouver. Local developer Amacon purchased the buildings in 2014 and estimates the project will result in 244,000 square feet of floor space, 10 times the area of the original structures.

Site of redevelopment on 118-150 Robson. (GBL/Amacon)

GBL Architects are responsible for the redevelopment of the buildings. The interiors of the lower levels will be mostly removed due to their little heritage value, but the exterior red bricks will be kept and renovated. A variety of commercial properties, including retail, restaurant, and hotel lounge will replace the interior.

Two new buildings will make up the upper levels. The first is a six-storey , 120-room hotel across from Terry Fox Plaza on Beatty. A hotel operator has yet to be announced.

The other 29-storey building will spring up directly from the old headquarters of the Archdiocese of Vancouver. The 290- ft. (88m) skyscraper will be an apartment complex containing 131 homes: 42 one-bedroom units, 71 two-bedroom units, and 18 three-bedroom units. An indoor activity space of 2,300 square feet will be extended to the outdoors on the fifth floor.

Artistic rendering of the proposed redevelopment (GBL/Amacon)
Outdoor amenities space. (GBL/Amacon)

The style of the new buildings contrasts with the look of the existing heritage building.

Built in 1928 by architectural and engineering firm McCarter Nairne (who also designed the Marine Building), the building served as both offices and storage spaces for the Northern Electric Company of Montreal. The commercial-style building was renovated in 1947 with work mostly done on its outside. In 1957, Northern Electric Company decided to sell the building. Within a matter of hours, the Archdiocese of Vancouver placed a $10,000 deposit on its future headquarters.

Archdiocese of Vancouver purchases the Northern Electric Company Building (B.C. Catholic Archives)

Nearly two years and $600,000 later, the warehouse spaces were converted into offices and a homeless shelter for men. Renamed the “Catholic Charities Building,” the building became the new home for the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

The Catholic Charities Building offered space for various departments. The first and second floor housed the Catholic Children’s Aid Society and eight other charity programs as well as the Chancery Office, Matrimonial Courts, Archbishop’s Offices, Catholic Library and Information Centre, Catholic Immigration Services, and the B.C. Catholic offices. The Men’s Hostel on the top floor continues to accommodate up to 120 homeless men each night. The basement of the building served as the distribution centre for food and clothing of the St. Vincent de Paul Salvage Bureau.  

Floor plans of the Catholic Charities Building (B.C. Catholic Archives)

After 50 years of standing among the bustling city centre, the red-brick building was sold to Amacon in 2014 and in 2015 the Archdiocese of Vancouver offices moved to the John Paul II Pastoral Centre at 4885 Saint John Paul II, at West 33rd and Willow.

Despite the drastic redevelopments, heritage consultants plan to preserve the significance of the heritage.

“This may include use of historic photos and memorabilia as part of a designed installation and may include stories about the history of the building. Options for exploration include panels or installation in metal, glass, set into the floor (or the pavement outside) or a media piece (video info screen),” Amacon said in a statement. A date for starting construction has not been announced.

 The Catholic Charities Men’s Hostel’s homeless shelter will be relocated somewhere in Downtown Vancouver.