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Vancouver's Lee Building turns 100

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – It has been the focal point of Vancouver’s historic Mount Pleasant neighbourhood for exactly a century, and some have even called it the city’s first skyscraper.

The seven-storey landmark at the corner of Main and Broadway was once the tallest building in the city outside of the downtown core. It’s named for Herbert O. Lee, once a prominent businessman and benefactor about town.

“He was the founder of two lacrosse clubs in 1908 and 1920 I think. [He was] also on the executive and a leading member of the Liberal association,” recalls Lee’s granddaughter, Tracy Forsyth.

Lee’s Hall, once located at 2421 Main Street, was also named for him, while his original grocery store was a couple of doors down at 2425. Forsyth has been piecing together the history of the Lee Building in preparing for this weekend’s centennial celebration.

“It’s always been in the back of my mind to get more involved and then a couple of years ago, I thought it’s coming up on 100 years; why don’t I approach the building and say, ‘Hey, you know, are you interested in doing a centennial?'”

That started a huge research project, the findings of which Forsyth finds fascinating. “I found out that in 1910, the original intention for that building was to make it five storeys, not seven.”

The building fell out of the family’s control around the time of Herbert Lee’s death in 1937, but his wife continued to live there until she died in 1948.

“The pieces that you can put together are pretty amazing, so who knows, I might write a book!” Forsyth tells us.

Sharon Schick sits on the building’s council and tells us over time, the landmark has been modified.

“When the city wanted to widen Broadway, instead of tearing down the Lee Building… on the first floor of the building, they removed the front part of the building, leaving the pillars holding it. So, they put a sidewalk in where the building used to be,” she explains.

Schick points out the building, like the neighbourhood,  saw some tough times between the 60s and 80s. “It got very run-down; it was very neglected.”

“It wasn’t a place that people wanted to live. The Lee Building was bought by a group of people who bought different units, and because they did, they kind of rescued it,” she tells us.

It still has its original marble floors, wooden staircase railing and elevator.

Tomorrow, there will be a centennial celebration a few blocks up Main Street at Heritage Hall. It will include a slide show, speeches by heritage expert Donald Luxton and historian Bruce McDonald, and even a performance by Celtic music group Blackthorn.

A “1912” dress code is also suggested; it turns out 1912 was a big year for construction in the neighbourhood.

According to the Mount Pleasant Business Improvement Area, not only was that the year the Lee Building was built, but also the Ashnola Apartments at 203 East 6th, Quebec Manor at 101 East 7th, the Goh Ballet Theatre at 2349 Main, Belvedere Court at 2549 Main, and  the Wenonah Apartments at 2703 Main.

Sunday’s event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.