The Pennsylvania Hotel at the corner of East Hastings and Carrall streets was indicative of the fledgling importance of Gastown as Vancouver's prime commercial centre. Commissioned by John and Eliza Woods and erected in 1906 as the Woods Hotel, the building became one of the first major hotels along the Hastings Street corridor, solidifying the street as the place to see and be seen.

Pennsylvania Hotel in 1931, image via City of Vancouver Archives

Commercial space on the ground floor would animate the streetscape, while the lodging — typically occupied by affluent travellers and businessmen — occupied the upper floors. The location of the hotel was arguably its strongest asset: the neighbourhood was well served by commuter and streetcar rail, and with the harbour just steps away, a quick ferry trip to North Vancouver was within reach. When the terminus of the British Columbia Electric Railway opened just four years after the hotel's arrival, it bolstered business even further, giving the hotel and the downtown a direct link to the Fraser Valley.

Pennsylvania Hotel in 1986, image via City of Vancouver Archives

The slender footprint of the William Whiteway-designed building materialized a facade reflective of the built form and style of San Francisco mid-rises prior to the devastating 1906 earthquake. Defined by a soaring corner turret and four rows of bay windows, the building adopted elements of the Romanesque Revival style before architectural trends shifted. 

When the business district moved further west, the cultural and social influence of the hotel waned. The east side of the core became economically depressed, and the Pennsylvania Hotel subsequently saw a transition in its clientele, serving as affordable housing for area residents. The building fell into disrepair and its characteristic turret and neon sign were lost.

The Pennsylvania Hotel today, image retrieved from Google Street View

In 2008, the Pennsylvania Hotel went through a $12 million refurbishment that returned the iconic turret to its corner platform, with a new neon sign also installed on the Hastings frontage. Today, the building operates under the PHS Community Services Society and provides 44 units of supportive housing.

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