Back in 1972 when the Georgia Viaduct was built in Vancouver’s East End, it cut right through what had been one of the city’s vibrant neighbourhoods known as Hogan’s Alley. This area was home to Vancouver’s black community and it was filled with after-hours clubs, gambling and bootlegging joints. It was most likely named for Harry Hogan, a black singer who lived at 406 Union Street back in 1921. At that time it not much more than a lane, just eight feet wide and a few blocks long, mainly a collection of horse stables, small cottages and shacks.
One of the landmarks there that I still remember was Vie’s Chicken and Steak House. Vie and her husband ran the restaurant for three decades. It was Hogan’s Alley’s most prominent black-owned business. I might have even gone there during the 50’s or 60’s because it was a popular funky old eatery on what is now Union Street, just off Main. The woman who worked as a cook there was Nora Hendrix, the grandmother of a young man who was to become a rock-and-roll legend, Jimi Hendrix. Nora was born in Tennessee and danced in a vaudeville troupe. She eventually settled in Vancouver in 1911 and married Ross Hendrix. From 1938 to 1952 the Hendrix family lived in Vancouver and raised three children. The youngest son, Al, moved to Seattle and married a girl named Lucille. Their son Jimi was born in 1942.
View of Vie's Chicken & Steak House
Jimi often spent time in Vancouver with his grandparents and spent time practising after hours at Vie’s. His grandmother, Nora, was co-founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, a gathering place for gospel singing in this part of Vancouver. Vie’s Chicken and Steak House where she worked was a favourite hang-out for visiting black performers such as Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole. Perhaps Jimi might have remained in Vancouver after he’d served his time in the US army. He tried living here for awhile and played nightclubs in Hogan’s Alley. But he was discouraged by his father who told him “Vancouver people don’t like the Blues.” So he returned to the States and the rest is musical history. Most of us probably didn’t even realize that Jimi Hendrix had spent so much time early in his music career in Vancouver.
That is, until 2009 when Vincent Fodera, who now owned the property at 207 Union Street, converted a small building that was once associated with Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, into a memorial shrine to the musician. Where the steak house was is now a parking lot, and the tiny building that houses the Jimi Hendrix Memorial Museum was likely just an attached shed. It’s located at the back of the Creekside Student Residence at 796 Main Street. Fodera got the idea of the museum after visiting an exhibit at Seattle’s Experience Music Project in 2003. He has collected Hendrix memorabilia including an outdoor ‘shrine’ where there are memorials to each person involved with Jimi.
Main at Union corner
Jimi Hendrix Memorial Museum
The museum was closed the day I went by. (It opens again in June), but I had an interesting chat with the gardener who was working in the yard. During opening hours there are a number of volunteers acting as docents in the museum including local musicians and Hendrix buffs.
The Memorial Garden
Here are three you-tube videos about the Jimi Hendrix memorial including an interview in Vancouver with Hendrix.
Photos by W. Ruth Kozak, Vancouver City Archives and various sources.