NEWS

Historic Japantown building to be demolished in Vancouver

12/05/2013 09:35 EST | Updated 02/04/2014 05:59 EST
A historic building in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside looks set to be torn down, despite being one of the last remnants of what was once Japantown.

The city says the 122-year-old building at 439 Powell St. is structurally unsound, after the neighbouring building underwent emergency demolition when it partially collapsed in July.

But the building's owner, the Ming Sun Benevolent Society, disagrees, saying everything was fine until the city ripped down the building next door, destroying the wall the buildings shared.

David Wong said the demolition weakened the historic structure.

"There was not a single blemish over the history of the building — it was very well maintained," he said.

The building has now been evacuated and its facade stripped ahead of the demolition, but Wong said this has led to multiple break-ins.

Wong said thieves have been stealing copper wire, causing structural damage and making the building unlivable.

"It seems like there's a calculated desire to damage and inflict as much damage as possible," he said.

Vancouver police are investigating the break-ins, but no arrests have been made.

Wong said he is devastated.

"It's a real heartbreak to see that, after all this hard work, all this happens," he said.

Senior's savings stolen

Elderly former tenant Zhen Quang Zhao was allowed into the building to collect her meagre belongings, only to discover her $200 life savings gone.

Another tenant, Jinhan Ko, who is part of the Instant Coffee artists' collective, accuses the city of precipitating a lot of the damage to the building.

"Absolutely we want to save the building and we want to study the further issues and how we can bring it up to code.  We're not against changes," said Ko.

"[The city] acted poorly, they've acted hastily and in my opinion, they've sided with the side of development rather than taking care of the older underprivileged residents and artists."

But Tom Chow, who owns Double Happiness Foods — part of the neighbouring building that partially collapsed in July — wants 439 Powell to come down.

Chow was in the process of buying that building in the summer when he called the city to warn them about the collapse, resulting in the emergency demolition.

Chow admits he wants to develop the block to expand his business and another potential collapse is a safety issue.

"The workers' safety, my own safety, my girls' working in the office safety and my operation … it's safety of my building as well," said Chow.

"If that come down, basically hey, no more business. That would be the major concern I have."

The Ming Sun Benevolent Society and Instant Coffee plan to hold a press conference on Friday in their bid to stop the demolition from happening.

The city says demolition is a last resort, but 439 Powell is a serious safety issue and discussions with the owners have not resulted in those issues being addressed.

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