Blocks 51-61-71 or The provincial courthouse of Vancouver: a short history part 1
October 24, 2012
Blocks 51-61 and 71 are the ones sitting between Howe and Hornby, and between Georgia and Nelson, numbered from North to South
the early XX centuries
At the turn of the century the court house was located on what is now Victory square. It will be relocated on Georgia in 1912 in the building designed by Francis Mawson Rattenbury. (nowadays house of the VAG). The annex facing Robson will be added in the 30s.
In those days, the building main entrance face a ceremonial square onto Georgia street :.
While the South side seems to use to be a lawn:
City of Vancouver was eyeing the Block 61 (South of the today VAG), to transform the whole area in a civic center, by relocating noticeably the public library and the BC electric building.
- An Auditorium is considered for block 61 in 1949
- After an exhaustive study to select a location for a public space in 1958, block 61 is selected in 1960.
Most of the block 61 is acquired-thru expropriation- by the city by early 1964. At this time Downtown Vancouver is a sea of parking lot:
The Province had expansion plan for its court house since 1955. The original 1955 plan to add a building on Robson having encountered firm opposition, the Province had acquired the land behind Hotel Vancouver and some parcels on block 61… But in 1963 it was considered critical to add a parking structure to the Hotel Vancouver. a deal was stroke:
- The Province sold its land north of Hotel Vancouver to the Hotel, for purpose of building a parkade
- The City sold block 61 to the province, for the court house expansion and other governmental uses, understanding it will also include a civic square
The sale occurred in 1964, and land ownership was then as illustrated below, with Eaton owning block 52 and 71:
In 64, the block 51-61 was envisioned as below by the Vancouver city planning department:
The Province was seeing the things slightly differently, with the adding of building on block 51, and some commercial developments:
Retail corridors like Hasting were already seriously declining and the city was not seeing commercial development on block 61 as desirable. The city strongly opposed to the Province proposal for this reason.
The 1964 Redevelopment plan
The redevelopment plans published by the city in 1964  were already integrating an additional building on block 51
The design then considered by the city didn’t seem to consider a major public square. The development of pedestrian precinct, fully segregated from motorist traffic, was considered along the lines below:
That said, the city will have the Vancouver art council to commission Arthur Erickson Geoffrey Massey and Bruno Freschi to offer a counter proposal for which we have a specific post:
Needless to say the Province was decided to move on with its plan leaving the square question open:
1966-1972 : Where is the square?
The Province design was not considered offering an attractive enough space for a civic square. The city approached the Province to buy back block 61 without success. so the city resolved to consider 
- block 71 as a civic square., a then considered very poor alternative.
- block 42 because it was owned by the city (purchased with the proceed of the block 61 sale).
- a one block in the area bounded by Hasting, Seymour, Georgia and Hamilton street
- have scattered open space in the city
And a last alternative, echoing the Erickson 66 proposal:
- Acquisition of block 51 for a civic space
In the meantime, the city acquired block 71 from Eaton, since the site was considered as suitable for a ‘central’ park, if not a civic square, and could be used to trade with other properties, again echoing the erickson 66 proposal.
The Province, on its side, was busy moving on the new court house:
The Plan in early 1972
The year 1972 starts with the following design, from aprioiri Thompson, Berwick, Pratt and Partners, poised to be built:
The proposed high-rise, beyond its height, 698feet accomodating 55 storeys, was a 200 feet wide slab tower along Smythe, twice bigger than the Electra building (by the same architect). It was obviously against any by-law; the Province is not legally bind by city by-law; but this was not the major contentious point with the city administration. The proposal have its fair share of oddities:
- Block 51 and 61 was needed to be zoned commercial
- No sidewalk was planned on the south side of Robson
- A 14 feet passageway between the old court house and a new building was planned, to connect it to a 25 feet wide interior court yard
- The proposal was assuming that the block 71 should be a park, providing an open setting to the tower
While the city engineering department was considering the provided parking space (630), as noticeably insufficient (they were asking for 1200), the civic design panel had considered that “the tower structure itself, is well designed and in an acceptable location” but that the “most important problem is considered the lack of open space separation between the proposed new building and the [old] court house”.
…Needless to say the resident had a very different opinion on the slab-tower.
August 30, 1972
The W.A.C bennett government is defeated by the NDP, in the Provincial election: The project is stopped, but it is not the end of the story, to be continued here
all source from  unless otherwise noticed
 More informal gathering space was at Larwill park, at Georgia and Beatty.
 Redevelopment in downtown Vancouver : report No 5, City of Vancouver, 1964.
 Block 51 and 61, D.L. 541 City Planning Department, Vancouver BC, June 1965
 Memo to Vancouver City council- “BC Centre and court House additions Block 51 and 61″, May 31, 1972
 Memo to Vancouver City Council- “A civic square for DownTown Vancouver”, September 22, 1969