The Balmoral features one of Vancouver’s oldest neon signs. The sign was constructed in 1928, and features a blend of traditional light bulbs and neon tubing.
Originally built for tourists, the Balmoral changed with the neighbourhood. By the 1990s, the hotel was notorious for poor management and deplorable living conditions endured only by those who had no other options.
The situation at the hotel was the product of years of decline in the neighbourhood following the anti-neon sign bylaw of 1974. Punk musician Joe Keithley recalls a dangerous Balmoral pub in the late 1970s.
“The Balmoral was totally treacherous to go into. Punks would go in, try and buy beer and half the time they’d get their beer taken away and get beat up before they made it outside.”
-Joe Keithley, lead singer and guitarist, DOA
Today, the Balmoral’s 166 rooms house hundreds of people. Recent security measures have somewhat improved safety for residents.
“People would sit in the bar — and this was decades ago—but it was a very, very rough place then. And people would sit in the bar with their backs against the wall so they could see everything and nobody could get at them from behind.
There was always blood on the sidewalk in front. The fights started in the bar would move out onto the sidewalk for resolution.”
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— Judy Graves, City of Vancouver advocate for the homeless
“Before we ended up getting our security cameras to kick in, quite a few women were getting hurt in there and nobody would be paying attention or they just didn’t want to get involved. I got hurt a couple times in the Balmoral.
Now, nobody can do anything that they shouldn’t be doing, like breaking into someone’s room. The police cameras are in there now, and the police check the videos. It seems like they want to watch over the tenants now.
But why didn’t they do this a long time ago? Why’d they wait 12 years to do something and start paying more attention to the tenants now?
In the Balmoral, it’s so hard, witnessing everybody’s pain that goes on in that building.”
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— DJ Joe, Balmoral Hotel resident