Chang Toy, owner of the Sam Kee company, which was a very successful import and export business, (making between $150,000 and $180,000 in 1907) sold most of his corner property at Carrall and Pender to the city of Vancouver (he received 40,000 dollars), for the construction and widening of the western stretch of Pender Street.
With such a small piece of property left no one expected anything to really happen there. But Chang was a determined fellow. During the anti-Asian riots in 1907 Chang used his wealth to buy out the local gun-shop and distribute the pistols among the Asian merchants in Chinatown to help quell the disturbance..
In 1912, Chang hired architects Brown and Gillam, who designed a rivited steel framed structure topped off with a second storey of bay windows. Though slim the building was busy, with the basement originally housing both public baths and a barber shop, the top story for offices and the main floor used for shops.
There are a number of silly rumours about a tunnel that runs underneath the basement of the building from nearby Opium dens in “Shanghai Alley”, used as an escape route when they were raided by the police. Not true.
The building’s basment is lit with a modern interpretation of vault lights, prisms set in the sidewalk used to illuminate basements through out the city. They replaced the originals during the building’s 1980s restoration.
Though it claims the Guinness world record for narrowest commercial building, there have been challenges from both the Pittsburgh’s Skinny Building and the William G. Singer building at 15th Street in South Penn Square in Philadelphia which claims to be only 4 feet thick and while they maybe smaller they are not freestanding and depend on other buildings for support.
Update 2018: The Sam Kee Building is now home to Jack Chow insurance.
Know Before You Go
Sits on the south side of Pender between Shanghai Alley and Carrall Street.