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niagara hotel

Origional sign designed in 1947 by Laurence Hanson of Neon Products Ltd



2005-present day

Disfigurement is sign of the times

Robin Ward
May 20, 1998.

The Niagara Hotel's sign at 435 West Pender is a classic 1947 design, a neon waterfall cascading down the facade. Well, it was, until Ramada Franchise Canada Inc. got hold of the Edwardian building and remade the sign with its corporate typography.

Ramada kept the neon pine trees, rocks and tumbling waters but ditched the name that gave the imagery its raison d'etre. (Note, neon removed in 2006) The disfigurement, carried out under the guise of restoration, has just been completed by Neon Products, a company that should have known better since it designed the original. Neon Products once employed artists to design its signs, but there is no artistry in the placement or proportion of the Ramada lettering that has replaced "Niagara" vertically down the sign. Each Niagara letter was outlined with neon tubes. The Ramada letters are plastic and are a different typeface.

Toronto-based Ramada claims the name was changed because the hotel's old image -- "Girls, Girls, Girls" in the Falls Pub -- had to be erased. Local manager George Friesen says the hotel will now be aimed at corporate and cruise-ship guests. To attract them, he claims to have made a "silk purse out of a sow's ear" -- apparently ignorant of the fact that the silk purse on the Niagara's architecture was the original shimmering sign.

Few, apart from aficionados of urban grit, will regret the passing a few years ago of the hotel's striptease entertainment. But the Niagara sign was a work of art, the best commercial neon sign in town. According to John Atkin, one of the city's most experienced heritage advocates, Ramada's attitude shows "a lack of respect for an artifact that was loved by many Vancouverites and for local history."

The city's heritage planning department and heritage advisory commission asked Ramada to keep the sign and to place the group's logo elsewhere on the facade (the Ramada name could have been put on the projecting upper part of the sign where the word "Hotel" used to be). But, in a city that has bylaws galore, there is not one to protect historic signs, the owners of which can change names at will...

...Tonight's Heritage Vancouver Speakers' Program (Hastings Mill, 1575 Alma, 7:30 p.m.) looks at landmark hotels from the Hotel Vancouver to the Georgia (soon to be restored) and the Niagara, their histories, changes and what's ahead.

"Gin and Sin is a Lounge Nite hosted by The Society Cocktail Club every Wednesday nite at the Niagara Hotel Pub, 435 W. Pender St., Vancouver Canada. It is a tribute to Space Age Bachelor Pad Music and other lounge favorites. Now live music every other week. The one that started it all in Vancouver. For more info call the Society Cocktail Club and join us for an evening of hi-phonic full color, 360-degree, 3-D sound that will send you straight to moodsville. Cocktail Attire Required of Course." (Email ad-1990s)

Now that the live venus downtown have closed, or changed back again to 'discos', dive bars like the Astoria pub have become popular. See Astoria Hotel Page



Hotel Connaught

435 West Pender Street, Vancouver, British Columbia

Other Name(s)
Niagara Hotel, Ramada Inn

Construction Date(s): 1912 to 1913
Architect / Designer: Otto W. Moberg
Builder : H. Murray

Left: B/W photo dated 1947

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

This building, the former Hotel Connaught, is a six-storey, buff coloured brick structure, identifiable for its restrained and solid appearance. This building is located mid-block on the north side of West Pender Street, within the context of other commercial buildings of a compatible age and scale in downtown Vancouver. It is still in use as a hotel, now part of an international chain.

Heritage Value

Constructed in 1912-13, the Hotel Connaught is valued as a good example of the influence of the Chicago School, with its main facade articulated to emulate the classical column with distinct divisions of base, column, and capital. Its upper and lower storeys are detailed with multi-textured brickwork, such as recessed banding and corbelling, but not the applied carving and ornamentation otherwise common in architecture of this type. The center section remains undecorated with plain brick walls. This modest and straightforward detailing lends the structure a solid, dignified and practical appearance.

Built to cater to the business travellers visiting the city's central business district, and travellers requiring the relative close proximity of the Canadian Pacific Railway station and piers, the hotel is an important component of the development of the Victory Square area as a primary centre of commercial activity in Vancouver during the early twentieth century.

Providing an important service to those visiting the offices of the nearby companies, the building was a full service hotel with bar, dining room, drawing room, and equipped with all the most modern comforts and conveniences of the day, including rooms with hot and cold water, telephones, and in many cases, private baths. Notably, the building maintains its original function and continues to serve many business travellers though the central commercial and business district has shifted several blocks westward.

The hotel was built for Walter William Walsh (1875-1947), who also built the adjacent building at the corner of Pender and Richards Street in 1906. This building represented an extension of his holdings during the height of the Edwardian boom. Known as the Hotel Connaught when it opened, its name was later changed to the Niagara Hotel, and featured a prominent neon effigy sign of Niagara Falls.

The Hotel Connaught is significant as an extant example of the work of architect Otto W. Moberg. Little is known about the origins or fate of this architect, likely of Scandinavian extraction, who practiced successfully in Vancouver for just a few years during the pre-First World War boom. Moberg designed some large downtown hotels and a few small apartments and industrial buildings, but he is best remembered for his work in both Hastings and Stanley Parks, most notably the chalet-style 1911 dining pavilion in Stanley Park.

Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements that define the heritage character of the Hotel Connaught include its:
- mid-block location on north sloping lot, built to the property lines
- continuing use as a hotel
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its six-storey height (with above ground basement to the rear) and regular, vertical rectangular plan
- flat roof with raised parapets
- heavy timber, steel, and masonry construction with buff coloured pressed brick cladding
- Chicago School influence, such as its heavy, overhanging sheet metal cornice with block modillions and heavy scrolled brackets with guttae; secondary sheet metal cornice between the first and second-storey; sheet metal roofline cornice on rear elevation; and brick corbelling below the sixth floor
- additional exterior features, such as its receiving doors at the rear
- regular, symmetrical fenestration: window openings of two sizes with larger openings on the second and sixth storeys; smooth finished windowsills on the front facade with continuous sill on sixth-storey; rear windowsills of rough-dressed sandstone, some with segmented arches
- metal effigy sign from the time of its use as the Niagara Hotel

Hotel altering heritage neon:
'Ramada' to replace 'Niagara'
on landmark downtown sign

Derrick Penner. The Vancouver Sun.1998

- One of the city's neon landmarks, the Niagara Hotel's light
waterfall that cascades down the side of 435 West Pender, is undergoing
a major revision at the behest of its owners and to the considerable
concern of Vancouver heritage buffs. "It's being altered," said
Luigi Martini, information coordinator at Pattison Signs, owners
of the old Niagara sign. "Letters are going to be mounted on the
face of it to read Ramada." The old "Niagara Hotel" lettering
had been removed and replaced by a "Ramada Inn" banner when the
chain took over the hotel. The new lettering will be in red neon.
Martini said some of the old neon effects "will be going back
on, but a lot of it will be removed." Martini added that Ramada
Inn managers would have to answer questions about why the decision
was made to alter the sign. Ramada general manager David Wetsch
had earlier referred The Sun's calls to Pattison Signs. What will
remain, however, worries Vancouver neon historian John Atkin.
He, along with city heritage officials, fought to have the sign
restored -- not changed -- when the Niagara was taken over by
the Ramada hotel chain. Atkin said the Niagara's waterfall, an
animated blue and white cascade of light that seemed to flow out
of one of the upper-floor windows through a painted fir-forest
backdrop and onto rocks on the marquee above the street, was one
of the last examples of what neon designers called "the spectaculars."
"In its heyday, it was a spectacular piece of work," Atkin said.
"That water fell nicely down onto the rocks, and the light bulbs
and the tubes bubbled. It was just very striking." The late 1940s
and early 1950s, the era when the Niagara sign went up, Atkin
added, was a time when top neon designers challenged themselves
to create truly original, personal pieces of art. The sign isn't
just important because of its unique design, he said, but also
because it represents something people likely won't see again:
an outsized spectacle at street level. "The main thing is, as
long as the sign is there, I'm always hopeful," said Atkin, a
local graphic designer who curated Vancouver Museum's neon exhibition.

"Because no matter what is done to it, someone can go back and
restore it."

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All photos copyright © Christian Dahlberg except where stated otherwise. All rights reserved.
Vancouver panorama photo © Vancouver Lookout. www.vancouverlookout.com