Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Author: John Mackie, Vancouver Sun
Published: Monday, April 26, 2004
Copyright: 2004 Vancouver Sun
Contact: [email protected]
Vancouver's world-renowned "pot block" was engulfed in smoke Sunday morning as fire destroyed a significant piece of the city's heritage.
The three-alarm fire raged through a two-storey building at 311-317 West Hastings, gutting the Blunt Brothers, a marijuana-oriented cafe that billed itself as "a respectable joint." Smoke from the blaze on the edge of Gastown could be seen as far away as White Rock.
Vintage clothing store Cabbages and Kinx was also destroyed, as was Spartacus Books, a long-standing left-wing bookstore.
The B.C. Marijuana Party headquarters and bookstore are located next door at 307 West Hastings, a building that suffered major smoke and water damage. Other pot-oriented businesses were located on the upper floors of the building.
Capt. Rob Jones-Cook of the Vancouver fire department said initial reports were that the fire started about 6:30 a.m. in a dumpster in the back lane behind the buildings. It quickly spread to two more dumpsters and then to the rear of 311 West Hastings.
"I will not say it's arson, but it could be a suspicious fire," said Jones-Cook.
There were 11 fire trucks on the scene and more than 50 firefighters, and the fire was contained well before noon. The firefighters found a small marijuana-growing operation in one of structures.
The 300 block of Hastings has achieved international renown in the past few years because of all the marijuana-oriented businesses there. Pot tourists showed up by the thousands to smoke a joint in North America's only pot cafes, the Blunt Brothers and the New Amsterdam (which recently closed). Even comedian Tommy Chong came to Blunt Brothers to smoke a joint.
"You'd see people from all over the world that would make their way there to check it out and get their pictures taken in front of the signs and stuff," said Steve Lippold, owner of Cabbages and Kinx. "It was on certain people's lists of tourist places to visit."
The future of the pot block depends on the damage to 307 West Hastings. Pot guru Marc Emery hopes the damage to the Marijuana party headquarters and bookstore isn't too severe and that it can reopen quickly. He thinks a logical place for Blunt Brothers to move would be into the New Amsterdam storefront.
Emery didn't hold out much hope for the upstairs businesses, however. He said at the height of the fire, smoke was billowing out the upstairs windows of the three-storey building, which would make for a lot of smoke damage.
Emery said the Marijuana party headquarters/store costs $5,500 a month to rent. He feared damages of $20,000 to $40,000 in merchandise. The store wasn't insured.
"No one insures businesses with the name Marijuana in it, in my experience," said Emery.
Cabbages and Kinx was insured. Lippold feels he may have lost $80,000 to $100,000 in stock, plus store fixtures, computers and the like. Ironically, he had been thinking of selling the business, which he has run for 31 years.
Lippold was alerted at 6:30 a.m. by his alarm company and arrived on the scene just as fire trucks were pulling up.
"I went in the alley and there was a couple of dazed looking people, I guess artists who had been living in garrets above," he said.
"The alley seemed to be on fire, the dumpsters and such. There was fire coming out of the boiler room downstairs, and I went around front and the fire was well in motion at that point."
Jones-Cook said there were no reports of injuries at the scene.
The businesses were located in a pair of 1890s brick buildings that are on Vancouver's heritage register. The structure at 307 West Hastings is known as the Rogers building, and was built in 1898, the time of the Klondike goldrush.
Both buildings are relatively modest, but were in excellent shape and important because they were the first buildings built on their site.
"They are some of the earliest construction on that part of Hastings street," said heritage expert John Atkin.
"When Hastings street was put through, these were the first buildings built there. They're very early.
"The building that has major damage [311-317 West Hastings] is a wonderful building with an amazing sheet metal facade to it, lots of pressed tin. It was very rare in Vancouver because the original overscale pediment that sat on top of the building was still intact. Those are one of the first things to fall down in windstorms or whatever, and here it was intact."
The buildings also had heritage value because they were part of a row of century-old structures that was relatively intact and includes the Dominion Building, one of Vancouver's most beloved structures.
Atkin hopes the facades can be retained in any redevelopment scheme.
"It's like a set of teeth," said Atkin. "Once you start knocking one tooth out, suddenly it's the next tooth and then the next tooth and then your mouth looks like hell. If you do that to that block, which had such heritage integrity, it's going to be so bad."
Related Article & Web Sites:
BC Marijuana Party
Blaze Guts 3-Storey Vancouver Heritage Building
CannabisNews -- Canada Archives