John Atkin lives in the architectural and heritage weeds. As an historian and city insider, he knows the details on how this city has changed. Here, for instance, is an excerpt by John (with Elana Zysblat, James Burton and Denise Cook) from the West End Heritage Context Statement for the West End plan.
This section provides a summary of zoning changes in the West End as new forms of development emerged, particularly the highrise tower, and how the city planners both encouraged and responded to redevelopment. (I’ve added the illustrations.)
Apartments to Towers (and back again)
The 1927 zoning plan allowed the construction of six storey concrete apartments in the West End but it wasn’t until after WWII that these buildings began to make an appearance. They began replacing the larger homes which, due to economic conditions, were becoming neglected and shabby. While the new buildings displaced rooming house tenants most people seemed happy to see the old houses go.
The first of the new buildings was the Beach Town Home (below) constructed in 1949 on Beach Avenue. In a feature article in March 1953, the Vancouver Sun praised these new and attractive buildings and hoped that they would be “bringing back the dignity” to the area that it had lost during the Great Depression. The writer noted that there were over 20 apartment buildings under construction in the area west of Denman Street alone.
Many of these new buildings were cutting-edge Modernism designed by a number of young architects. Along Chilco Street Semmens and Simpson created a series of striking buildings (below) and one of Arthur Erickson and Geoff Massey’s first projects is an apartment on Chilco at Comox Streets. The neighbourhood was characterized as a place for youth and the swinger – at least by a CBC film entitled “West End 66”.
At the same time, the three- storey wood frame walk up was gradually replacing individual houses throughout the West End. These straight-forward buildings were designed to maximize the available lot and had parking at the rear under an overhang of the second floor. The buildings could be built with a penthouse on the roof as long as it was no more than 20% of the roof area and was occupied by the building manager or the owner. While structurally identical, the buildings were constructed with a variety of colours and facing materials including the distinctive blue Murano tile used by the Wosk family. The Ding Bat is increasingly being recognized as a building type with historical value in some jurisdictions, including the United States, where it is also encountered.
In 1958 the City raised the height limit on buildings with the goal of creating smaller foot prints, so that buildings “would not deprive the area of lawns, trees, greenery, air, light and space”. The resulting buildings were too bulky for the City’s liking so in 1962 adjustments were made to permit small “Juliet” balconies (right below) in return for a taller building and smaller foot print. The policy was adjusted again in 1964, permitting larger balconies for even greater height (left below). The image of the tower in a garden is a combination of the old residential infrastructure of sidewalks, boulevards and mature street trees, with large green spaces or gardens, which are usually the roof of the shallow parking structure.
“To outsiders, the West End is defined by towers. On the ground level, it’s a green, human-scaled, intimate and visually interesting neighborhood that just happens to have a few towers within it.” Steve Boland.