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John Davis Jr. with Pat Davis

It seems only fitting on this civic holiday which is called “British Columbia Day” in this province that we celebrate the remarkable Davis family and Pat Davis who passed away last week.  Over a period of five decades the Davis Family stewarded a group of Edwardian and Victorian  houses on Mount Pleasant’s  100 block of West Tenth Avenue just east of city hall, restoring them. At the time in the late 70’s and early 80’s renovating old houses and fitting them with rental units was not the thing to do. The Davis family fought pressure to turn their houses into a cash crop of three-story walk-ups  on their street, and proudly display a plaque indicating that their restoration work was done with no governmental assistance of any kind.

But more than maintaining a group of heritage houses that described the rhythm and feel of an earlier Vancouver,  the Davis family extended their interest and stewardship to the street. In the summer a painted bicycle leans on a tree near the sidewalk with the bicycle basket full of flowers~in season there is a wheelbarrow to delight passersby full of  blooming plants. An adirondack chair perches near the sidewalk. And every morning, one of the Davis family was out sweeping the sidewalk and ensuring that no garbage was on the boulevards or the street.

As author and artist Michael Kluckner notes the Davis Family’s stewardship profoundly altered the way city planning was managed in Mount Pleasant. As one of the oldest areas of the city with existing Victorian houses, zoning was developed to maintain the exterior form and add rental units within the form. The first laneway houses in the city, called “carriage houses” were designed for laneway access and to increase density on the lots. And when it came time for a transportation management plan, residents threw out the City engineer’s recommendations and designed their own. That plan is still being used today.

John Davis Senior passed away in the 1980’s but his wife Pat and his sons John and Geoff maintained the houses and managed the rentals. Michael Kluckner in an earlier Price Tags post described the Davis Family as being strongly in the tradition of social and community common sense.

They championed street lighting for Tenth Avenue, with the street’s residents  choosing (and partially paying for) a heritage type of lighting standard. The City’s engineer at the time thought that the residents of Tenth Avenue would never pick a light standard that they would have to pay for . The City’s engineer was wrong.

Pat Davis also single handedly changed the way that street trees were trimmed by B.C. Hydro. When I was working in the planning department I received a call from B.C. Hydro indicating that trimming work on the Tenth Avenue large street trees had to be halted due an intervention from Mrs. Pat Davis. Pat was horrified that hydro crews were cutting back street trees down to their joins (called “crotch dropping”) to ensure that hydro wiring was not compromised. A spritely senior, Pat Davis had taken the car keys away from  B.C. Hydro personnel  and refused to give them back until the hydro crew agreed to leave.

A subsequent report to Council led to B.C. Hydro agreeing to raise the electrical wires passing through the street trees, so that the trees could maintain their natural form. That is now city policy.

You can read more about the Davis family and the Tenth Avenue houses in this article by CBC’s Rafferty Baker. You can also read Pat Davis’ obituary here.  The YouTube video below features John Davis junior, Pat’s son talking about the houses and how the family managed to renovate them. The Davis family demonstrates the “varied talent” of good community that Jane Jacobs passionately describes. And if you look closely at the short video, you will see the chosen light standards on the street as well as  that bicycle with the basket of flowers on the city’s boulevard.

And full disclosure~I wrote my planning thesis on the Davis family’s remarkable work. Pat Davis will be deeply missed, but her legacy will live on for future generations of Vancouverites.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Thanks for posting this, Sandy. I hadn’t heard that Pat had died. They were so determined not to live in the generic style prescribed by the apartment zoning of the time and had a huge influence on Mount Pleasant, Kits, Strathcona and (less so) in Grandview. People began to convert and infill good old buildings rather than demolishing them. Population density stayed relatively high. Landscaping was diverse. This was a “green Vancouver” avant la lettre.

  2. We had the privilege of living just down the street from the Davis Block for five years in the mid-80s. I remember when I first saw the houses, and I had to pause for a while to drink them in. I was especially interested in the colours that were so carefully chosen to tastefully emphasize the architectural detailing, and the joined up rear yards and structures, in essence a kind of small enclosed plaza that also happened to be a functional driveway. When residents of our 1913 red brick apartment building designed large planters and got permission from the city to place them the sidewalk, John was immediately there to pay us compliments.

    The Davis’s obviously had a wide influence on heritage in Vancouver and their houses still ring with a well-executed genuineness true to or even better than the original architecture and landscape treatment, and that devotion is not found in too many neighbourhoods in the city, even those with original heritage houses unfortunately too often subjected to inappropriate alterations and a lack of upkeep. It’s hoped that the Davis legacy will live on over the decades with the same degree of care and attention as Pat and John have bestowed.

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