This Day in History, 1931: Park board nix English Bay pleasure pier

Two proposals came out in early 1931 for giant private amusement piers with dance halls on Vancouver’s favourite beach

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The first “promenade pier” on English Bay opened in the summer of 1907. A second pier with a tea room and the Winter Garden dance hall went up in 1923.

But some local promoters wanted something much grander, a “pleasure pier” like the ones popular in Britain and California.

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Two groups approached the city with pleasure pier proposals in 1931. The first would have been built on the site of the Winter Garden across from the Sylvia Hotel, the second would have been built at the foot of Bidwell, across from Alexandra Park.

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The initial proposal was by T.H. Eslick, a silver tongued “amusement architect” who told The Province he’d worked in amusement parks in his native Great Britain, Australia, Africa, India, Russia, France, Germany “and other countries.”

Tollemache Heriot Eslick was such a character he has his own Wikipedia page. It says Eslick was the manager of the Lotus Isle Amusement Park in Portland, Oregon in 1930.

Eslick’s proposal showed up on the front page of both The Vancouver Sun and Province on Jan. 23, 1931 with an illustration of a $500,000 amusement pier.

“Plans call for a pier 950 feet in length with top and lower decks each containing 170,000 square feet,” the Province reported. “The top deck (would be) used for the entertainment of the public, and the other for parking automobiles, with a capacity equal to 3.5 miles of street curb space.”

The Sun said “from the main entrance hall to the main pier, provision is made for a magnificent palm court, then a tropical cafe (and) a ballroom and auditorium capable of accommodating 4,500 people. The ballroom will have a spring floor, the only one of its kind in Canada.”

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That would be a “sprung” dance floor, like the one in the Commodore Ballroom.

The showstopper was a building with an amber-coloured glass dome. “which will give a sunburst effect.” It was to be used as a “band room and promenade” with seating for 2,500.

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Illustration of a proposed “amusement pier” on English Bay in the Jan. 23, 1931 Vancouver Sun. It was one of two pier proposals that were rejected by the Vancouver park board that year. sun

A second domed structure was to be a “social room,” and there was an 80,000-sq.-ft. space for “open air recreation.” But enough of the structure would be glassed-in to make it usable year-round.

Eslick proposed to buy out the Winter Garden waterfront lease for $100,000 and transfer it to the park board or the City of Vancouver. In return, Eslick’s company would get a 21-year lease, pay one per cent of the amusement pier’s gross revenue in lieu of taxes, and build the structure.

But the Eslick proposal didn’t catch on with the public, which feared the affect on the beach and view at English Bay.

On Feb. 27, William Lyon MacKenzie submitted a second proposal for a pleasure pier at the east end of English Bay beach, at the foot of Bidwell.

“The pier will have a frontage of 120 feet, extending out 600 feet in a T shape, running from the street line for 250 feet at 120 feet frontage and widening out to 400 feet,” said the Province.

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“Further details of the plan include a ballroom, with a movable false floor which is stepped up when the room is to be used as an auditorium. (The) capacity is between 5,000 and 6,000 persons.”

The MacKenzie proposal would also cost $500,000, and his group wanted a 21-year lease option.

Park commissioners had doubts about MacKenzie’s plan as well.

E.G. Baynes thought it was too big to be a financial success, and declared promises to have it ready by next July “all piffle.”

The park board commissioned a report which “reported unfavourably” on the project April 11.

MacKenzie’s plan had morphed in the interim, adding a “scenic railway” which was five storeys above the sidewalk. The overall plan had also expanded between Bidwell and Nicola on the waterfront.

“We are, therefore, of opinion, that such a scheme as proposed by W.L. MacKenzie and associates should not be entertained,” the report concluded.

The Province was happy it was rejected. In an editorial it argued a pleasure pier at English Bay “would seem not quite the thing for the environs of a park largely used for the recreation of children and known all over the continent for its scenic beauty, its sylvan loveliness, and its quality of peace.”

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Illustration of a proposed “pleasure pier” on English Bay in the Jan. 23, 1931 Vancouver Province. sun
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Phillip Timms photo of English Bay showing the promenade pier which was built in 1907. The pier was built in 1907 and the concrete bathhouse in 1909. There was a slide on the end where you could plunge into the sea. Popular place to watch regattas and spend summer days. It was demolished in 1939. Vancouver Public Library collection VPL 7514 Vancouver Public Library
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Postcard of English Bay in Vancouver, showing the old English Bay pier, Englesea Lodge and the Sylvia Hotel when it was an apartment block known as Sylvia Court. Undated, probably 1920s. Vancouver Sun
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Early 1900s postcard of a boaters in English Bay, Vancouver. Note the pavilion at the end of the English Bay pier. Vancouver Sun
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A postcard of an the beach scene at English Bay in Vancouver, early 1900s. The English Bay pier is in the distance, in front of a string of houses that originally occupied Beach avenue. Postcard by Stedman Brothers, made iin Germany. Vancouver Sun

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