Friday, November 4, 2016

When home isn't home anymore

The old Pacific Press building at 2250 Granville, which John shot as it was being torn down in 1997. It was never pretty, but it was a full community devoted to putting out newspapers. I spent so many odd hours here -- at all times of the day and night -- that it felt like home to me.

This is what it looks like today. There's a Starbucks on the corner, various stores along the street, and behind, a full-scale condo development.

This is the waterfront office tower we moved to in 1997. In my last years at the building, there was a complete renovation of the lobby, which turned it into a marvel of gleaming white marble and water views. Way too chic for a newspaper office!

The most romantic newspaper office ever has to have been in the old Sun Tower building at Beatty and Powell in downtown Vancouver. Its green-domed roof and octagonal tower are distinctive still, but when it was completed in 1912, its 17 storeys made it the tallest building in the British Empire.

Alas, I was nine years too late to have had the thrill of working there. By the time I joined The Vancouver Sun in 1974, the paper had moved to a block-sized concrete box on Granville Street, across the bridge from downtown. But the new building had its pluses. Built at a fat and flourishing time, it was a complete community, with presses thundering in the basement, a 24-hour cafeteria on the top floor, and between them, the Sun and Province newsrooms, a library, the circulation and advertising departments, and Edith Adams Cottage -- yes, a fully equipped test kitchen for the Sun's food pages. A coffee wagon circulated day and night -- its tumbril-like rattle raising calls of, "Bring out your dead!" Delivery trucks picked up the freshly printed papers at the side door at about the time my shift ended at night, and it was a thrill when I knew a story I had just finished was in those stacks. Ugly as it was, we bonded, that building and I, and it was my home away from home for two decades.

Things were tightening up by 1997, when the site was sold (mainly for condos), and we moved to a waterfront office tower downtown. The new office had no cafeteria, no coffee wagon, no printing presses, no delivery trucks, and it was spread out over various floors, so it was no longer a newspaper operation as I knew it. It was bits and pieces of one, and the cruise ships outside the windows didn't make up for the change. Three years before I retired, our big open newsroom moved upstairs to a strange circular space surrounding a bank of elevators. The views were spectacular, but the shrinking newsroom, plunging morale and rounds of buyouts had squeezed any sense of excitement and adventure out of the business. When I left the newsroom for the last time, I cried, but not for the place -- it was for the loss of everything the paper had been and wasn't anymore.

Last month, Postmedia announced its Sun and Province operations will move to 29,000 square feet on the fourth floor of a building in a tech park near Renfrew and Broadway in east Vancouver. That space is down from the 44,000 square feet the papers now occupy, and way down from the 120,000  originally leased for the move downtown.

From the tallest building in the British Empire to a block-sized building on Granville to several floors on the Vancouver waterfront to one floor of a building far away from downtown Vancouver -- my home away from home has changed beyond recognition.

This is the entrance to the condos at the site of the old Pacific Press building on Granville. Right about here was a controversial statue that provided a lot of fun over the years. The statue was of a solemn-looking family group, all fully clothed, except for one young boy. His genitals were a target for everything from doughnuts to condoms to red paint. There was never a good explanation for why only the boy was unclothed.


  1. I love your description of the presses thundering, coffee wagon,....wonderful stuff. You just have to publish some of this stuff and let more readers beyond the blog have the enjoyment of it all. Got busy today so just got to your was a real treat.

  2. There was also a door to the building at the southwest corner of the building and after you entered an internal window through which you could see the presses churning out papers. The building vibrated when the presses were running. I would look through the window hypnotized by the blur of newspapers being printed. To me, because I'm old, a newspaper building without presses--and linotype machines and hot metal and type that was always in danger of jumbling into pie -- is not really a newspaper building. Thanks for your recollections, Carol, which keyed mine.

  3. Nicely written, Carol. Makes me sad, too. Hope all is well.

  4. Good story, Carol. Sums up my feelings, too. Once we moved into the Marathon Tower, we were no longer able to meet the trades people or workers in other departments of the business, by lack of a common cafetaria. The presses used to be the most fascinating part of the operation, and I loved the rhythmic sound, the smell and the ink footprints on the floor. Just returned from the Netherlands with its hugely intelligent newspapers (some of them never became unfaithful to their literate, well-educated readers), I am now contemplating quitting my subscription and thus closing the book forever.

  5. Great writing Carol. Your story really brought back great memories of when I joined the Sun at 2250 Granville - it was so much more of a social environment back then with the press club right across the street and like you said having a cafeteria. I used to really enjoy being invited to the test kitchen too to try out recipes!