Navigating Disappearing Main Street

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EAST // Broadway & Main // 2011

Welcome to the Disappearing Main Street documentary photo project!

Here is a little primer on the project, and below, suggestions for how to navigate the site.

Six years ago we began documenting Vancouver’s Main Street, shooting every inch of Main in high-res from 2nd Ave up to 33rd Ave and back down again. Both sides, 62 blocks, hundreds of storefronts, schools, churches, warehouses and a few residential places, too. An honest reflection of Main Street at that time, we simply took visual stock in 2011.

We planned carefully and rose early, finding times in the early hours after sunrise when vehicles aren’t parked along the length of the street. Late afternoon parking restrictions helped sometimes, too, and we did a few blocks one morning after the barriers went up for the annual Car Free Day festival. It worked. Many of our images are car free, too. It really helps to see the actual streetscape when a single, parked SUV can render a storefront invisible from across the street.

We published the images daily for a month – East at Sunrise, West at Sunset. Then we let them sit for a spell. Photo exhibitions happened, ideas exchanged and all the while, Main Street was changing…and fast. Faster than we thought it would, and we write this as a precedent-setting high-rise condo goes up at Main & Broadway.

The effect of looking back at these images now is one of reflection, curiosity and a little bewilderment. A lot has happened in six short years. Businesses came and went, institutions moved or closed and the last house was eventually demolished. A new wave of energy and commerce came to Main Street, local chains and higher-end shops moved in along with thousands of new residents as tower after tower goes up in this region. Small businesses continue to open up, taking a chance on Main, mind the demo clauses of course. Large tech companies now call Mount Pleasant home (some try to call it ‘Mount Pixel’, and don’t get us started on ‘SoMa’ either) and with them, a new threat of gentrification. And yet, the neighbourhood carries on, this is a strong community. It’s a fact of life in a city, the only constant is change itself.

We invite you to engage in this change with us, for better or for worse. Explore the series, help us fill in the gaps in memory and history and please Share Your Main, too.

Here’s a quick guide to navigating this blog:

  • Peruse the EAST or WEST side of the street using the menu buttons above.
  • To see how some of the blocks have changed, head to Revisiting Main for recent images.
  • To read our essay on Main Street, who we are and the genesis of this project, click here.
  • Follow us on Instagram and Twitter at ‘mainstvan’ for selections from the series and stories behind the images and streetscapes. Use the hashtag #mainstvan and let’s chat!
  • We sell prints from this series. We even have some selections framed and ready to go today!
    Please contact us at disappearingmainstreet@gmail.com, through social media, or leave a comment on this blog and you too can hang a piece of Main Street history on your wall.

Thanks for visiting Main Street.

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Revisiting Main Street 2016 WEST: 22ND – 23RD AVENUE

Main Street from 22nd to 23rd Ave on the west was a bit of a different place in 2011. Half the block was fallow field, reclaimed from a car wash and *something* else (but what? can you remember?). The Cooper Tank was still in existence, a couple clothing shops and the Medical Centre had a tree in front of it. In the five years since, a brand new building for the Burn Fund Centre was completed and opened in late 2015. Portland Craft took over from the Tank, and The Fish Counter opened up next door. Both popular spots on this stretch. Take a look at the street as it was in 2011 to today for comparison. Now, we wonder what happened to that poor tree…

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Revisiting Main Street 2016: WEST: 17TH – 18TH AVENUE

Under construction in 2011 when the original series was shot, 3333 Main now occupies an entire city block from 17th – 18th Ave on Main Street’s west side. This is the spot where Main Street “chicanes” to the east, and as such there was ample room for public space as the new condo building recedes from the curb as you head south. The staples, the poodle, a grassy knoll and some bistro chairs. Flanked by corporate outlets and stacked with people above. It’s not exactly brimming with life as a public space should be, but the pocket park has room for trees and greenery, always welcome on our high streets. Take a look back to see how this block fared in 2011 – mostly construction and the promise of pre-sale condos.

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Revisiting Main Street 2016 WEST: 9TH (BROADWAY) – 10TH AVENUE

The heart of Mount Pleasant is arguably the Main / Broadway / Kingsway nexus. A transportation hub, chock full of shops, cafés, really a little bit of everything with a strong network of community services. From Broadway (9th Ave), we are heading up to the 10th Avenue bikeway for this set. In our original series, this block had some major gaps…literally. A few of the businesses here were hit by fire and in 2011, those buildings had been torn down. A far cry from where we are at today with the new brick and glass addition, some changed tenants, the closing of Archetype and yet, the Sunny Spot Café remains. Look back at the street as it was in 2011 for comparison.

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Revisiting Main Street 2016 WEST: 20TH – 21ST AVENUE

Five years on from our original photo session, Vancouver’s Main Street has changed significantly. As expected, Vancouver is a fast-evolving city. This was the impetus for our documentation after all. The neighbourhood has seen entire blocks changed over from old businesses to new, and buildings reborn from vacant land or past structures. We’re taking a look at a few of the blocks with interesting changes and wondering what’s next for this street? Starting with 20th – 21st Ave West, the images below were taken summer of 2016. Compare that to the street as it was in 2011 – new paint, renos, new tenants and a building seemingly forever under construction hoarding.

Main Street…forever changing.

 

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2016 Update: Prints, New Images & Revisiting Main

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2016 – it’s time for an update! It’s been five years since we photographed Main Street from 2nd all the way to 33rd. That’s 62 complete blocks of Main Street frontage – a moment in time from the summer of 2011 as the neighbourhood was bracing for a future that included condo towers on Main and Broadway, increased gentrification and a community in flux.

In 2012 we launched our project website and posted one block a day in the spring – East in the morning, West in the evening. We held a photo show at Bean Around the World on Main/20th in November 2014 with the assistance of Rita and Len at Vernissage Photography & Exhibitions and Amanda, the proprietor at Bean Around the World who has been incredibly supportive of this project (and whose café is celebrating 15 years on Main this year!). You can see some prints on permanent display at the Bean while you wish them a happy birthday.

On that note, did you know archival prints are available for any of the images on this site? If you have a favourite place or memory of Main Street and one of our shots captured this, contact us for pricing options and hang an image of Main Street in your own home or business.

Main Street in 2011 was a little different than it is today. In some places, it hasn’t changed at all. Some sections of Main remain mostly as they did five years ago, and for many years before that. But some blocks have seen incredible change in this short period. Old buildings torn down, new structures in their place and changes in tenancy as new businesses, living spaces and people come to call Main Street home while others bid farewell.

We’re preparing to revisit some of these significantly changed blocks in the coming months, photographing them as we did before with an honest, straight portrayal of the street as it exists in a time and place. This time it’s Summer, 2016. We’ve also gone back into our archive and selected additional shots for each block – you’ll find those updates mixed in on their respective block posts throughout this site.

Thank you for viewing our project and connecting with us on social media (instagram + twitter), commenting on our blog images, and Sharing Your Main. We appreciate it! Now, let’s continue this dialogue as the great communities of Mount Pleasant, Riley Park and Little Mountain move forward into the future.

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Photo Exhibition at Bean on 20th – Oct/Nov 2014

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Thank you for visiting the Disappearing Main Street photography project.

We’re having our first public exhibition of photos from this project right in the heart of the Main Street community at Bean Around the World Coffee at Main & 20th. We have 10 prints on display and the space is open to the public during café hours. If you are in the area, we are having a gathering on Saturday, October 25th from 6-8pm at the Bean on 20th. Hope to see you there!

As always we welcome your feedback! Please share your Main Street stories by commenting on a relevant block on this blog or on our Share Your Main page.

Prints are available for purchase by contacting disappearingmainstreet@gmail.com or @MainStVan

Pictured above:

‘Last House’
Main Street / 20th – 21st Ave / East
18×24″ digital archival print.

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