Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver was a mythical place. Not that it didn’t really exist – it did – but what it signified, where it got the name, and even its precise location are all questions that seem resistant to a simple or definitive answer. I’ll start with the easy one: its location. (For a good concise intro, see “Remembering Hogan’s Alley” by Savannah Walling with Denis Simpson).
Very little of Hogan’s Alley was documented. Most of what we do know comes from oral histories that offer a range of impressions. In his 1970 history Vancouver, Eric Nicol describes it as “a cobbled lane east of Main so infamous that it did not have a signpost.” Similarly, it was not listed in the city directories or marked on any map. In other words, there was nothing to pin it down, making it likely that it shifted over time.
There are two competing claims for the location of Hogan’s Alley. The first is that it was a nickname for Park Lane, the alley running parallel to Main Street on the east side. On a handwritten note accompanying the above photo in the city archives, Major Matthews, Vancouver’s first archivist, wrote that the alley on the left was known as Hogan’s Alley. Taken around 1891, the house is at 209 Harris Street, just east of Westminster Avenue.
Below is the same spot today, now East Georgia Street just east of Main. A parking lot occupies the lot where the house in the photo above was located. (The building next to it is currently being renovated by Emily Carr students for an art gallery/studio, and east of that is the Lore Krill Housing Co-op). The building on the far left in the old photo above was part of the original Woodward’s store, where a parking garage with ground-level retail stores now stands.
When Charles Woodward moved to his new location at Hastings and Abbott in 1904, it’s possible he felt this neighbourhood was already getting too sketchy. In Red Light Neon, historian Daniel Francis notes that Park Lane was proposed as a possible site for a red light district in 1906 after it was decided to displace the sex trade from Dupont (now Pender) Street after the new train station opened on Columbia. Though the brothels were instead moved to Alexander Street, it doesn’t say much for Park Lane that it was even considered. Harris Street (E. Georgia) eventually became an enclave for disorderly houses as well. (An 1898 map can be found here).
Joe Celona was probably one culprit responsible for the bad reputation of Hogan’s Alley. By the 1930s, he was “public enemy number one” in the city, and had owned numerous disorderly houses in the East End. One that was notorious in the mid-1920s was at 210 Keefer at the corner of Park Lane (where an HSBC bank is today). It was run by a Chinese madame until Celona sold the building in 1927.
Celona came from Italy via New York and lived at 272 Union Street, where he ran a store on the ground floor from 1919 until he got “pinched” by the police there in 1922. After his release, he continued to operate in the East End, but lived in Shaughnessy until he was sent to prison during the 1935 “war on crime” and served an 11 year sentence.
Most likely, Hogan’s Alley originally referred to Park Lane, but the name later became more associated with the alley between Union and Prior, from Park Lane to Jackson. This is the stretch remembered by the interview subjects in Opening Doors: Vancouver’s East End (Daphne Marlatt and Carole Itter, eds., 1979) and where gambling dens, booze cans, and juke joints flourished from at least the 1930s. Legitimate black businesses, beginning with Vie’s Steakhouse, began to sprout nearby in the 1940s. Although Italians operated many of the illicit operations there, a black presence was established as early as 1918 when the Fountain Chapel opened at the corner of Jackson and Hogan’s Alley.