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Nelson restaurant’s building dates back 114 years

Second of two parts

The building at 652 Baker Street, presently home to King’s, has been a restaurant for nearly 50 years, but was originally a grocery store in the Tremont block.

Over several stages in 1899, John J. Malone and partner Alfred Tregillus put up three adjacent brick buildings that expanded and improved upon their existing Tremont Hotel, a frame building erected eight years earlier on the same site.

According to Nelson: A Proposal for Urban Heritage Conservation, the Tremont block “added substantially to the character of the Baker Street frontage.” Common decorative elements tied the overall facade together.

In addition to the hotel in the middle section — which boasted Turkish baths and a bowling alley — the block contained several storefronts, including a barber shop and T.H. Roberts’ Nelson Bazar, a second-hand store.

The western-most portion, which survives today as King’s Restaurant, was designed by local architectural firm Ewart and Carrie and built in pressed white brick. Even before its completion in late 1899, it was rented to grocers Christopher Morrison and William J. Caldwell, who apparently did business in an existing building on the site.

At the same time, Dr. G.A.B. Hall erected a very similar-looking block immediately adjacent on the west with the same materials and labour. (It burned in 1976 while occupied by Nelson Home Furniture. Now known as the Keenan Block, it was rebuilt incorporating the scorched but still-standing brick walls.)

Morrison and Caldwell were only in business until about 1903, after which it becomes difficult to track changes in their part of the Tremont block. By 1910, it was home to the People’s Store, a haberdashery run by T.H. Newitt & Co. In 1913, D.W. Hutchinson had a similar business, and then it was vacant for two years.

In 1911, Malone and Tregillus sold the Tremont Hotel to F.E. Ransome and Alex Campbell. Later owners and managers included Fred Nilson, Gus Johnson, Vic Melin, Albert Gibbon, P. Grove and S.O. Sorenson, who renamed it the Noble Hotel around 1939.

Frank Eberle took over the hotel around 1944 and started a popular children’s wear and toy store there known as the Children’s Shop and later Eberle’s Junior Shop. By 1951, the hotel’s middle and east sections were demolished to make way for a parking lot for the new Greyhound depot next door. (The exact date is elusive.)

Eberle continued to run his clothing business and rent upstairs rooms in the remaining section until about 1965, when it became home to the Purple Lantern, a Chinese-Canadian restaurant managed by Joseph Hingwing. However, the building was still known as the Eberle Block long afterward.

Around 1975, Don Chow, Ken Chan, Don Der, and Dean Louie became partners in the restaurant but within a couple of years it was renamed the Bossy Place under the ownership of Anne Kwan’s brother, Tim Jay. In 1980, it was known as the China Village, and the following year it became King’s in a partnership between Terry Kwan and Lawrence and Fay Mar. The Mars sold to the Kwans in 2001 and recently moved to Vancouver.

Former parliamentary poet laureate Fred Wah worked with Lawrence Mar in their youth and mentioned him in a prose poem entitled I Hardly Ever Go Into King’s Family Restaurant, in which Wah expressed ambivalence about his own cultural identity.

As for the building itself, although the ground floor has been extensively renovated, it’s believed to have a hidden tin ceiling while the upper story facade still boasts some Queen Anne brickwork.

It also has a few quirks: there’s a peculiar addition on the building’s east side which encases the second floor staircase. It was probably built in the 1940s when the rest of the block was demolished.

There’s also a curious two-storey brick structure in the back with a pointed roof that is used for storage. Its front is not visible from Baker Street. Possibly this was the old location of grocers Morrison and Caldwell. When their new building was under construction in 1899, the Nelson Daily Miner reported: “Their old store building will be moved to the back part of the lot.” It’s unclear what the old store looked like, but a fire insurance map indicates it was of frame construction, so the brick veneer may have been added later.

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