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empress hotel vancouver


The Empress Hotel
235 E Hastings Street
Vancouver BC

Formerly the 'world's narrowest tallest hotel'.

Written by Amanda Ash :
October 6, 2008


Seniors come first at Antonio Ashori’s Downtown Eastside pub

“This is a grandfather’s pub,” Ashori says with a wave of his hand, his graying hair and youthful demeanor reflected in the atmosphere he’s created.

Antonio Ashori reminisces about what Hastings Street must have looked like in 1913

Walking into the Empress is a bit like walking into an episode of Cheers.

The big difference is most of the patrons have white hair.

“These people here, they’re not who you see on the street,” he says.

Two years ago when he bought the hotel and pub, he banned fighting and dealing. The Empress was home to trouble makers.

This safer, cleaner Empress has now attracted many retired and senior clients living in the Downtown Eastside.

They are the people who used to spend their days and nights in single room occupancy hotel rooms alone. They used to “wake up in the morning and have nothing to do”.


When Ashori, 50, immigrated to Canada from Iran in 1995, he left many friends and relatives behind.

He knew what it was like to be alone.

Today, he watches how the aging clients in his pub turn to each other for support in their old age. He recognizes the importance of maintaining a community taproom that is secure and conducive to friendship.

“[These people] don’t deserve to suffer,” Ashori says. “I’m just feeling it myself: I’ll work hard in this country and after that I’ll get old and then be like the leftover food on a plate where I’ll be put in the garbage.”

When other bars in the area became rougher, Terry Hanley and her husband gravitated towards a place where there were “lots of old men sitting around”.
The Empress has become a safe place for seniors to drink and socialize
Hanley is a regular at the Empress. She said old people don’t want to drink in a chaotic environment where they could get injured.

“How you can tell if a bar is safe or not is by how many people walk around,” Hanley says. “If there are people walking around all the time, you know they’re drug dealing. But if most of the people are sitting down drinking, then you know it’s a safe bar.”

Hanley, 61, notes that many seniors don’t have big pensions and have limited mobility.

“It’s the closest bar to home, the toilets are usually clean — I rate every bar on its toilets — and it’s affordable,” Hanley says. “I live next door to [the strip club] Number Five Orange, but I can’t afford seven bucks for a beer and I’m not interested in looking at strippers.”

Ashori takes action day-by-day to keep up a welcoming environment. When he’s not at the pub, he takes trips to the local hardware store to buy supplies to improve the building.

There’s never a wobbly chair or sticky table in the Empress.

“In my country, there is a poem that says: if I die, you bring me 100 flowers to put on my grave. But remember me right now with one single flower. Don’t wait for me to die for you to put flowers on my grave. Remember me right now when I’m alive.”

The City Of Vancouver appears to be taking up Ashori’s lead.
A sidewalk mosaic on the corner of East Hastings and Main recognises the value of the community
The city is monitoring the Downtown Eastside, among other areas, in order to determine seniors’ future needs.

Current senior centers in East Hastings include the Carnegie Community Center and the Vancouver Second Mile Society.

According to Mary Clare Zak, Director of Social Planning, the City of Vancouver will be discussing how to plan for social facilities such as senior centers.

The process involves looking at the needs of demographic populations and determining the infrastructure for social, housing and meeting-place facilities.

“It’s important, as Vancouver citizens, to have a strong not-for-profit sector as a part of our mix in the city, in terms of our being able to support livability,” Zak says. “The other reason for our social infrastructure plan is to ensure that [seniors] have a space in the city as well as social services.”

This is the kind of approach Ashori takes every day at the Empress. He believes that it’s everyone’s job to make sure seniors “always have somewhere to go when they wake up”.

URL to article: http://thethunderbird.ca/2008/10/06/pub-owner-creates-safe-haven-for-seniors/


Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Hotel Empress on East Hastings Street is an eight-storey Edwardian hotel, which commands a prominent place as the tallest building on the north side of the block. The building is also immediately recognizable from a distance by the painted sign on the corner of the west facade.

Heritage Value

The value of 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 building, although new, was considered an addition to the older hotel next door at 237 Hastings Street, and was called the "New Empress Hotel" in the 1913 tax assessment. The still-visible fine interior finishes of the Hotel Empress suggest it catered to tourists and business travellers, who were expected after the completion of the Canadian Northern Railway and the Panama Canal.

There is also value in the architectural styling. The building is an oddity as it is very tall and narrow. The pairs of windows emphasize the symmetry of the original design, while the bands of rusticated stone over each pair of windows add refined ornamentation. The name of the building is noted on three forms of signage, including a 1940s neon sign.

Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Hotel Empress include:
- its considerable scale, and rectangular form and massing
- its functional and physical relationship with the Phoenix Hotel at 237 East Hastings Street
- its similarity in design with other buildings within the Hastings Street strip and adjoining neighbourhoods
- built on a narrow footprint right to the lot line with no setbacks
- characteristics of the Edwardian style including: alternating use of smooth and rusticated stone bands to the entire face of the building from the first floor to the parapet; stone parapet with undecorated spandrel panel and simple moulded coping; pattern of fenestration on the upper storeys; very wide overhanging metal cornice, which wraps around three sides of the building; exterior finishes including imported pressed brick and sandstone lintels and sills.
- interior characteristics, including mosaic tile entry in white, red and shades of green, which extends into the interior lobby, and two-toned Italian marble wainscoting which lines the foyer, stairwell and mezzanine stairs
- remaining three forms of signage

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