While housing affordability and taxation continue to be very much in the news, this week I would like to explore another important issue facing our city: how best to preserve heritage structures and character homes.
My column is inspired by last Sunday’s Heritage House Tour, organized by the Vancouver Heritage Foundation. On one of the most beautiful days of the year, I was fortunate to join hundreds of Vancouverites touring nine heritage properties scattered around the city.
In the interest of full disclosure, I had a particular interest in this year’s tour since along with a business partner, I recently purchased the Vinson House, one of West Vancouver’s oldest houses. Our goal is to save it from demolition through a Heritage Revitalization Agreement. I was therefore especially interested in learning more about Vancouver’s plans to protect heritage properties.
For those not familiar with the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, it is a registered charity that supports the conservation of heritage buildings and structures given their potential contribution to the city’s economy, sustainability and culture.
Although it is confusing, the foundation is not to be confused with the Heritage Vancouver Society, another independent non-profit entity that encourages the community to preserve, restore, and appreciate Vancouver’s heritage.
This year’s tour included the Queen Charlotte Apartments — an impressive 1920’s structure built by Charles Bentall at 1101 Nicola St. in the West End. It was developed at a time when wealthy Vancouverites were moving out of the city to the new suburbs, particularly Shaughnessy.
Once a high-end apartment-hotel, it was converted to condominiums in the 1970s, and is now a much appreciated and cared for property.
As I left the building I walked by a couple of somewhat dilapidated older rental apartment buildings.
Looking at their crumbling cornices and walls, I could not help but wonder what it will take to encourage their owners to restore them to their once former glory. Although they no doubt provide affordable accommodation, they did not appear long for this world, especially if there is ever a fire or earthquake.
Next on our itinerary was one of the oldest surviving houses in the West End. Built at 995 Bute near the end of the 19th century, it has gone through numerous iterations as a single family house, rooming house, multi-suite structure and now back to a single-family house. In recent years, the structure has been raised, original materials were carefully removed, then reinstated, allowing for some modern features including a geothermal and in-floor radiant heat system.
Sadly, another of the tour’s houses is not likely to enjoy such an illustrious future.
Located at 6385 Marguerite St., this elegant Georgian Revival home was built in 1930 and is a good example of a style popular in Vancouver during the 1920s and 1930s.
However, the house was recently sold, and given its large lot and location, like many nearby houses, it is likely to be demolished and replaced by a much larger and more expensive dwelling.
Although some new neighbourhood houses are designed to look like they are from another era or place, they do not have the heritage significance of the original houses. City officials are well aware of this and are now reviewing their heritage conservation program.
I personally believe one solution to preserving significant character houses outside of Shaughnessy is to allow one or more infill houses to be constructed in return for heritage conservation and designation.
Not only will this help retain these character homes, it will result in new housing choices for those wanting to remain in these neighbourhoods, but in smaller, more suitably designed housing.
It will be like killing two birds with one stone.
One of the side benefits of this year’s Heritage House Tour was discovering many delightful streets around the city. Too often I drive by these neighbourhoods, but rarely get out of my car and explore on foot. I was especially impressed with the leafy streets of the West End, but also charming streets off Commercial and Victoria Drives.
I plan to explore more of these neighbourhoods before next year’s tour. You might want to do the same.
- See more at: http://www.vancourier.com/opinion/lessons-from-the-vancouver-heritage-foundation-house-tour-1.1963372#sthash.ph6HIGC8.dpuf