From the co-op handbook:

"The Manhattan building was saved from demolition by a group of residents who, in 1979, formed the Manhattan Co-operative Housing Association. Under threat of demolition permits and eviction notices, they mounted a "Save the Manhattan" campaign and successfully sought both public and government support. They secured a mortgage through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation - CMHC - and a 31-year lease from the building's owner, Sunco Enterprises. When this lease expires in the year 2011, the Manhattan building will revert to Sunco."


The Manhattan is a class-B heritage building ("buildings of individual heritage importance").

The City of Vancouver has a web page on the history of the West End which mentions the Manhattan.

The 1989 John Travolta / Kirstie Alley movie "Look Who's Talking" was filmed in the Manhattan.

Media articles

The Province, September 4, 1983 - Peter Miller

A posh residential address, a place to be seen dining, a hippie hangout, an anti-demolition protestors' squatting grounds - the Manhattan Building at Robson and Thurlow has been all these things.

Today it has re-emerged as one of the city's fashionable locations. The city's Heritage Advisory Committee recommended the owner and architects for a Certificate of Merit which was presented by Mayor Mike Harcourt earlier this year.

In addition, the project has attracted attention farther afield and has been submitted for the prestigious Credit Foncier, Heritage Canada award, which is worth $20,000.

Although its shops, such as CustomColor, Jerry's Cookies, the Manhattan Bookstore and Binky's Oyster Bar, have become familiar fixtures on Robson, it was not always certain that the Manhattan Apartments would be retained.

When they learned in 1975 that the owner intended to demolish the building, a group of tenants organized a save-the-Manhattan campaign.

Three years later, the owner was refused permission to demolish, and many protesting tenants were able to form a housing co-operative.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) subsidized renovation of the apartments in the upper portion of the building. This lifted an insupportable financial burden from the building's owners, who were then able to concentrate on creating commercial accommodation on the ground floor without detracting from the building's heritage qualities.

But an antagonistic relationship had developed between the building's owner (Sunco Enterprises) and the former tenants, now called the Manhattan Housing Co-operative Association.

When both parties decided to retain their own architects, an unusual situation developed whereby two different firms were commissioned to carry out design and supervision of renovations.

In fact, each was concerned with separate portions of the same building, but the whole process was organized smoothly and amicably and has resulted in a successfully renovated building. The architects for the original building owner were Thompson Berwick-Pratt & Partners. For the co-operative, it was Norman Hotson Architects, of Granville Island fame.

Hotson had the easier job. His responsibility was to bring the suites up to modern standards of comfort and convenience and yet remain within the criteria of reasonable improvements stipulated by CMHC. He managed to retain much of the building's original character and charm. Even the bathtubs and sinks have been left in place.

Thompson Berwick-Pratt & Partners were presented with a more difficult problem by the city's insistence that the owner/developer not demolish the building.

From a strictly commercial point of view the most valuable asset of this site was its location because of the vast numbers of pedestrians passing by. However, with a building of such a deep plan only the shop window frontage on Robson can benefit from this passing trade. Thompson Berwick-Pratt & Partners decided, therefore, that a means would have to be found to persuade the passing trade to detour through the building to the shops behind. They decided to "carve out" the ground floor in the central light wells and create a new thoroughfare through the site, connecting Robson with Thurlow. They formed a patio at the rear when landscaping, a waterfall and people dining alfresco can be glimpsed from both streets.

Another original feature of the building has influenced the design of the canopy structure that covers pedestrians. The large barrel vault frame is intended to echo the semi-circular shape of the extensive stained glass windows which provide so much of the character of the apartment block's hallways.

The Doric columns, stained glass and bevelled glass in the main doors were all installed by the first owner of the building, William Lamont Tait, who decided in 1907 that he wanted to create the best apartment building in Vancouver.

Florence Mercer, 81, saw the Manhattan being built and says, "It was the apartment of its day." Among the innovative design features were light wells, an electric elevator and a rooftop restaurant with full-height windows on all sides for a 360-degree view. To achieve this unobstructed vista, all service rooms for the restaurant were located in the basement and meals were conveyed to the top by a dumb-waiter.

When the present owners purchased the building in 1958 it was in a dilapidated state but it was a promising financial investment because of its location. Their professional advisors recommended total demolition of the old building and erection of a single-storey structure to house stores and other commercial premises.

Much of the credit for saving this fine old building must go to a small group of original tenants and their supporters. By a series of tactics which included squatting in the empty building for eight months without heat or hot water they drew enough public attention to the building's plight to not only prevent its demise but also to establish a housing co-operative with many of its former tenants.

With help from the city and CMHC, a mortgage subsidy was arranged to finance the renovation of 44 suites on the upper floors of the building.

The tenants' tenacity has paid off. Today the members of the Manhattan Housing Cooperative enjoy spacious homes in the centre of downtown Vancouver for $250 to $500 per month, and a vital part of the city's history has been preserved.

A note from the co-op's housing handbook: "P.S.: Housing charges were not $250 at move-in."

by Almeva Stiles -- SCOOP, July/August, 1987

Can it really be five years? The Manhattan Co-operating Housing Association opened its doors in August 1982. You may remember the story, a ramshackle old building downtown on Robson and Thurlow Streets was doomed to become a parking lot or a one-storey commercial development. The tenants in the building banded together and formed the Manhattan Cooperative Housing Association. The original tenants refused to leave the building (under legal counsel) and remained for eight months with no heat or water. The original members endured this hardship in order to save the building. It was definitely worth it. The Manhattan is a jewel on Robson Street.

I would like to mention here one of the original members who worked so hard at saving the building. Diane Kilpatrick was a young lawyer who had lived in the building a number of years. She, with others, organized the Co-op and worked for years on the execution of the building, often using her law office as a space for Co-op meetings. Diane passed away after only three months back in the building after the construction. Without the time and effort she contributed, our building might well have been lost. As with most co-ops we had construction problems. A serious delay caused us to lose approximately one-quarter of our membership prior to move-in. However, we had a strong membership committee and when actual move-in happened all suites were filled.

A fond memory for some of the older members of the Co-op was all the problems we had anticipated with suite allocation. How do you allocate suites to 44 families and have them all happy? We spent hours coming up with procedures and when allocation day finally happened it was a joy. People running into all the different suites (although we had all toured the building previously), making notes on which suite had what attributes. Finally, we went to a large board with floor plans of the suites and marked preferred suites with a flag. Lo and behold -- virtually no problems. Everyone had a different idea of the "ideal" suite. The two or three contentious suites drew straws or flipped coins. Everyone came away happy.

We are an entirely self-run Coop, performing all our own management and maintenance functions. The Board of Directors is elected annually with Directors encouraged to serve for two terms. From the Board a President, Vice-President, Treasurer and Secretary are elected. The committees presently existing in our Co-op are finance, membership, maintenance, newsletter and roof garden. Other committees are struck on an ad hoc basis as required.

We strive to have all our members involved in some way with the Co-op. Naturally, not all people are willing and we have to push. Little by little the "slugs" are weeded out and if they are not willing to join a committee we have an "odd job" list that is kept and added to periodically. One of our delights in the past few years has been our roof deck. When we renovated our building there was no money for any kind of a community space where we could have our meetings, let the children play, etc. During our first couple of years members contributed time, lumber, building skills and built the first section of our roof deck.

Over the past years the deck has expanded and now covers most of the roof. We have areas for gardening, barbecuing, plain old relaxing and, soon to come, a children's play area. It really is wonderful to have a space we can all come to. Prior to our roof garden we really envied other Coops with some kind of communal space.

Twice a year we have a flea market and bake sale. Part of the proceeds go to the food bank. It is a very social occasion with everyone from the building contributing in some way, either buying, selling or bringing friends. And every Christmas we have an old-fashioned carol sing in front of the building. It really is amazing how the same people keep coming around year after year to hear us sing.

Another funny memory of our earlier years was our faulty fire alarm system. It would go off at all times of the day (usually after 2:00in the morning). Everyone would come running down with children, cats, dogs, etc. As there was never a fire it became quite a funny thing to meet all your neighbours in the middle of the night downtown. The firemen, however, did not find it funny and eventually we had to have the entire system replaced. I miss those middle-of-the-night rendezvous.

We had a number of our earlier families move out of our Co-op several years ago and we were down to one pre-school age child and one teenager. There was a growing concern in the Co-op about attracting new families because of the location of our building and the size and layouts of the suites. But, I am pleased to report that Co-op members did their best and we now have three families with five pre-school children, one family with a school age child, three families with teenagers, and one family expecting.

We are proud of our mix of people in the Manhattan: families, seniors, singles. We have every profession imaginable and strive to find interesting and committed members whenever a vacancy exists.

A newsletter started prior to our moving into the building - The Madhatter. It continues to publish and every few months we can catch up on all the gossip about our members. As we only have official meetings once or twice a year it is a good way for new members to find out a little about the Co-op.

After five years it seems as though things are running fairly smoothly. The various committees have worked out their kinks and now meet only about once a month. The Board meets every two weeks unless some emergency crops up. Thank goodness, the emergencies are getting further and further apart and easier to deal with from the experience gained.

People really can co-operate! I wouldn't live anywhere else.

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