is sign of the times
May 20, 1998.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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)
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
West Pender Street, Vancouver, British Columbia
Niagara Hotel, Ramada Inn
Date(s): 1912 to 1913
Architect / Designer: Otto W. Moberg
Builder : H. Murray
Left: B/W photo dated 1947
of Historic Place
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.
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
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
Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
elements that define the heritage character of the Hotel Connaught
- mid-block location on north sloping lot, built to the property
- 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
- 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
- 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
- metal effigy sign from the time of its use as the Niagara Hotel
altering heritage neon:
'Ramada' to replace 'Niagara'
on landmark downtown sign
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,"
Luigi Martini, information coordinator at Pattison Signs, owners
of the old Niagara sign. "Letters are going to be mounted
face of it to read Ramada." The old "Niagara Hotel"
had been removed and replaced by a "Ramada Inn" banner
chain took over the hotel. The new lettering will be in red neon.
Martini said some of the old neon effects "will be going
on, but a lot of it will be removed." Martini added that
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,"
"That water fell nicely down onto the rocks, and the light
and the tubes bubbled. It was just very striking." The late
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,
long as the sign is there, I'm always hopeful," said Atkin,
local graphic designer who curated Vancouver Museum's neon exhibition.
"Because no matter what is done to it, someone can go back
All photos copyright ©
Christian Dahlberg except where stated otherwise. All rights
Vancouver panorama photo © Vancouver Lookout. www.vancouverlookout.com