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A centenarian then and now on West Broadway

January 7, 2015



At 3 p.m. on New Year’s Day I was standing in the 500-block of West Broadway Avenue.

Lucky for me the traffic was light because I was actually standing in the middle of the road trying, one-handed, to take a photo of a building using my little old Samsung Galaxy Tab 2.

I was using the tablet because I thought it could help me take the photo from roughly the same position someone else had photographed the same building from, over a century ago.

Portrait of the Naffzinger Block as a young building


The Naffzinger Block at 566 West Broadway Ave. in 1912 . — Vancouver Archives, AM54-S4-2-: CVA 371-881

The digital collection of the Vancouver Archives includes a tasty-looking photo of the Naffzinger Block at 566 West Broadway Avenue. The photo was taken by Major James Skitt Matthews in 1912.

According to the date shown in the photo on the building’s cornice this was only a year after the Naffzinger was built.

The Vancouver Archive lists the ground floor store fronts as beng occupied (from the viewer’s left) by Melvin H. Clapp, a Shoemaker and Robert G. Woods, offering candies and ice cream.


The building at 566 West Broadway doesn’t look like much 103 years later.

I was quite surprised that I recognized the Naffzinger. The building survives to this day, trimmed of all original character elements save its second storey bay windows.

While the Naffzinger’s gingerbread cornice bore a 1911 date, the city of Vancouver’s VanMap public data portal has the creation date as 1910 and lists it as a building worth only $16,000 sitting on $3,5 million-worth of land.

VanMap is useful in a general way but it’s also full of errors and omissions. It can be no more than a year out on the age of the Naffzinger and it may be right that the building on the west side dates from 1944 but it’s wrong about the building on the east side. The building it lists, which dated from 1969, was torn down and replaced with something new just last year.

My neat little Android tablet can be a bit of a headache

overlay -camera-view

Using Overlay Camera on New Year’s Day to match the position of the 1912 photo.

So there I was, out in the middle of the westbound lane of West Broadway Avenue, trying to take a photo with my Android tablet.

I had put the archival photo of the Naffzinger Block into the Galaxy Tab’s thimble-sized storage space and I was going to use the Overlay Camera Android app to view the photo as a transparency over of the camera view. Then all I had to do was find the position where the current building I was seeing in the camera view matched-up to the old photo and…and…

You might say that I had leapt into traffic before I really looked at the features of the Overlay Camera app.

What ensued was a lot of running into the street, opening the archival photo and dashing back to the sidewalk to avoid oncoming traffic; running into the street, opening the photo and having the app freeze and then dashing back to the sidewalk; running into the street, opening and more-or-less-matching up the photo, only to have the app freeze and then having to dash back to the sidewalk.

Ultimately I was only able use the app to establish where I should take the new photo from but I couldn’t actually take the photo with Overlay Camera because it could only combine the camera view with the existing photo.

So, having determined the best position, I had to hold the tablet as steady as I could with one hand, while I exited the app to the home screen with my other hand and then launched the camera app by itself so I could finally take the photo.

This is the fifth time I’ve endeavoured to do “then and now” photo comparisons. They’ve all involved a lot of fiddling one way or the other. The previous three were so remarkably dull that for this post I returned to my first approach of dressing up the transition with eye-candy animation.

Overlay Camera really did help me — just not as much I had hoped it would. And the other two apps I tried first aren’t worth mentioning.

What I wanted was the feature set of the Overlay Camera app for the Apple iOS, circa 2012. Unfortunately the Android app of the same name isn’t a port of the iOS app and doesn’t have the same features. Click the images to enlarge them.

  1. Slowcrow permalink

    Too cool! Will have to read this post numerous times, and I’m sure that, like your other techie posts, it will gradually start to sink in. The ‘aha!!’ moments are appreciated. It must be much like learning any other second language (i am unilingual 😦 ). Thanks for your traffic-dodging efforts.


    • There’s not much beyond the pictures, except that so much of the city’s infrastructure is really old and the mystery of how that cheap little building has survived for 103 years (look closely at the 1912 photo — it was a bit shoddy to begin with). And then there’s the question of how much longer it can last: a $16,000 wood-frame building tying up over $3.5 million dollars-worth of land! But mostly it’s about the pictures.


  2. adamabrams permalink

    LOVE the Pythonesque hand lifting off the roof.


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