125 Powell Street
The first permanent city hall was 125 Powell Street, a building erected by the Sentell Brothers soon after the fire of 1886. According to the Sentell family, the city hadn’t paid for the building and the doors were locked and no one allowed in until the accounts were settled. The city’s offices were temporarily located in one of the Oppenheimer Brother’s warehouses on Powell Street while the new offices were under construction.
425 Main Street
When the Powell Street building (which also included the police department) proved inadequate, Council approved a motion in 1898 to convert the upper floors of the City Market building on Westminster Avenue (425 Main Street) to house their offices. The brick building with its twin turrets, was erected in 1889 as a market hall. It was designed by C. O. Wickenden and built of Bowen Island bricks. It served as city hall until 1929, when council moved to the Holden Building. Prior to the building’s demolition in 1958, it was used as an annex for the Carnegie Library.
16 East Hastings
With the amalgamation of the municipalities of South Vancouver and Point Grey into the City of Vancouver new offices were acquired in the Holden Building at 16 East Hastings near Carrall Street. The Holden Block was designed in 1911 by William T. Whiteway, the architect behind the Sun Tower.
12th and Cambie
Never adequate, the search was on for a permanent location for City Hall. Mayor Gerry McGeer convened a panel of experts to review three locations for a new city hall. Choices included the former Central School site at Victory Square, and Strathcona Park at the corner of Cambie Street and West 12th Avenue (no relation to the current park in the neighbourhood of Strathcona). In 1935, the three-man committee decided on the Cambie and 12th location, to strengthen links with the newly annexed South Vancouver and Point Grey. This made Vancouver the first Canadian city to locate its city hall outside of its downtown core.
McGeer personally selected the architect, Fred Townley, to design the new structure and saw it as part of a grand civic gesture centred around a ceremonial boulevard connecting a new sports arena at the base of Little Mountain to downtown and Victory Square. “The massing, setbacks, unadorned classical shafts and grey finish are a touch totalitarian, as was much government architecture of the day,” write Kalman and Ward. Built during the depths of the Depression, this landmark structure was both a make-work project, and a symbol of the newly enlarged city. Vancouver City Hall opened December 4, 1936, and was designated a heritage building in 1976. Charles Marega’s statue of Captain George Vancouver sits at the north end of the site.
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