Architecture
January 21, 2021

Waterfront Station: A Cautionary Tale – Part 2

Yesterday, Michael Alexander told the story of New York City’s fabulous (and fabulously expensive) new Moynihan Train Hall, and the less happy history of Penn Station, which it serves. Today: what are their lessons for Vancouver? And what are Vancouver’s public transit opportunities (and the region’s) for the coming decades? 

Like the glorious original Beaux-Arts Penn Station, historic Waterfront Station is privately owned by a large developer. And as in New York, that private developer wants to maximize its profits. In New York, the result was to bury most of Penn Station in the basement of Madison Square Garden. Here, developer Cadillac Fairview plans a private, ultramodern 26-storey office tower on a wedge of parking lot next to the station. It was quickly nicknamed The Ice Pick.

Nearly 13 million riders pass through Waterfront Station each year, about five million more than users of the next busiest Translink station. As the pandemic wanes, ridership will increase. The historic 1914 building is protected by heritage regulations, and serves as a stunning public entry and meeting hall.

The actual transit facilities are underground, or in a shabby shed attached to the building’s north side, a construction mirroring the tawdry underground Penn Station that New Yorkers and visitors have suffered since 1968.

Connections are so poorly designed that to transfer between Skytrain lines, you go up two flights, through fare gates, down two flights, and through another set of fare gates.

Translink rents this space and office space in the upper floors from the developer, Cadillac Fairview.

That’s not the way it has to be, or the way the city has said it wants it. Since 2009, the city has had preliminary plans which include a great, glassy public hall, a transit and visitor entry to Vancouver, with views of water and mountains, transportation and history, urban commerce and pleasurable public space. Something like this:

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There’s a Vancouver real estate marketing YouTube video making the rounds of social media that describes a “different way of life” that is “elegantly removed from the hectic pace of downtown”.

You can watch the video below with that calm hushed voice describing the Arbutus Greenway as “one of the longest linear parks in the world” (no mention that it is a rail-right-of-way) and compares it with New York City’s Highline, Barcelona’s Las Ramblas, Avenue Montaigne in Paris and Mayfair and Chelsea in London. The whole point is that you  can live in a “stately greenside manor” “poised in the most distinguished part of the Arbutus greenway”.

This is really selling  the redevelopment of the Kerrisdale Lumber and hardware store in the 6100 block of West Boulevard by Gryphon Developments. This is a five storey mixed use building with 64 units with size ranges from around 800 to 1,300 square feet. There are one to three bedroom units as well as 19,000 square feet of retail for shops and services. The architect is Taizo Yamamoto and you can take a look at the submission to the Urban Design Panel here.

You can also take a look at the heritage designation of the eastern side of the facade here.

The elevations for the building appear relatively unremarkable and similar to other  types of residential development in the city.  There is the retention of the 1930’s facade north of the much loved hardware store.

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There is a large flashy ad on twitter. A new development is being announced in Metro Vancouver. It  is at the crossroads of three different rapid transit routes,  a new transportation hub to everywhere in the region and there are only 176 lots available to savvy investors. There’s a great pre-sale, there are real estate agents available at the development site to sign you up, and even better one of the purchasers of the limited number of lots will also win the lot that has an original farmhouse that had been built twenty years earlier.

This is not a current offer for sale, but one from 110 years ago when “Montrelynview, Greater Vancouver’s Tram Car Centre” was created for property sales. In 1911 the large advertisements started to appear in The Vancouver World newspaper~”Montrelynview! Greater Vancouver’s Tram Car Centre Sale Starts with 176 lots only!”


Charles Gordon, a real estate speculator had acquired Wintermute farm which is at 7640 Berkley Street  in Burnaby near Canada Way and Imperial. He then devised a plan to whip up public interest in selling the subdivided lots from the farm property and created a clever marketing campaign.

Mr. Gordon hosted a competition to name his new development and offered a first prize of $50.00 which is worth about $2,800 today for the winning name.  He wanted a moniker that would reference the mountain view, the fact you could see Burnaby Lake from the location, and that also noted the proximity to the three streetcar lines.

There were over 5,000 potential names submitted in the contest, but none satisfied Mr. Gordon. Awkwardly, he devised  his own brand for the development, calling it  “Montrelynview”which he felt recognized the mountain view, the lake view, and the proximity to transit. The prize of $50.00 went to the person that suggested “Tricarlocheights” which meant “mountains and omit(s) view”.

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A few weeks ago, PT ran a post: “The West End The Way it Was.”   Its last line: “One of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.”

Regular commenter Bob took issue:

(The West End) “was” one of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.

The distinctive mix of demographics that made it unique: seniors, young immigrant families, the gay community, all are being driven out by the gentrification unleashed during Vision Vancouver’s and the BC Liberal’s tenure. The removal of St.Pauls to the False Creek Flats will be yet another body blow to the community.

 

There’s been a narrative like that in the West End as long as I’ve lived here.  Since the 70s people have said the unique mix isn’t what it was, or is in danger, or is no longer.

I understand what Bob bemoans: the perceived loss of diversity as the West End becomes upscaled and out of reach of the residents who gave it real character.  It seems they are being unfairly squeezed out by a rate of change – whether demographic, physical or economic – that’s too fast.

No arguing with what people perceive; that’s their reality.  But I learned as a councillor that people’s perception of the rate of change in their community is paradoxical.  As the rate of change slows down, in fact, people’s perception of change increases.  What was once unnoticed in a neighbourhood swept by turbulent change – like the West End in the 1960s – becomes the focus of attention when things slow down enough to notice.

But eventually facts have to match up with perceptions.  Change must be reflected in the measures of that change.   And thanks to the great work by the City’s Social Policy department, we have those measures in one place and can graphically see them illustrated.  Lots of charts.*

No amount of data from yesterday will necessarily convince those persuaded by the anecdotal changes of today.  However, these community profiles derived from the census do provide a base of comparison over decades. Are seniors, families, immigrants and gays being driven out.  And who has replaced them?

We can find out in this Profile of the West End**:

 

Big takeaway: the astonishing thing about the West End is its stability.  Even physically, the district west of Burrard and south of Robson is remarkable for how little it has changed from the 1980s on.

Chilco Street in 2009:

In 2019:

Not even the trees have changed.

Is this Denman Street in 2005 or 2019?

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April 1966 was a heady time in Vancouver~it was the year before Canada’s centennial year, and was the City of Vancouver’s 80th birthday. Oddly it was also the  80th anniversary of the so called “colonial” union between Vancouver Island and the mainland, and that’s what the  Provincial government wanted to celebrate.

At the time, Premier Bennett  of the Social Credit party had planned to create a “legacy public work” by building in secret a large water fountain on the north side of  what is now the Vancouver Art Gallery. It was still functioning in 1966 as the Court House. (The building became the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1983.)

The fountain with its very mod mosaic patterned floor and large spouts of water was truly an expression of the 1960’s. The fountain was supposed to be never turned off, and was designed by Alex von Svoboda who was an Austrian count that immigrated to Canada after World War Two.

Twenty years later, visiting  Architect Michael Turner, the  UNESCO Chairholder in Urban Design and Conservation Studies pondered at the UBC architecture school why a city in a pretty damp rainforest climate needed to have a large fountain continually spewing water. The fountain was plonked directly in what had formerly been a large gathering place for Vancouver citizens. The students in his class had no answers.

During the secretive construction of the fountain, the public space in front of the Court House was cordoned off by large wooden hoarding painted green and white, which just happened to be the colours of the Provincial party in power. The Berlin Wall had been constructed commencing in 1961 and the Mayor of Vancouver Bill Rathie wanted to ensure that everyone knew he was not responsible for the usurping of  this much used public space.

There was no love lost between the Premier and the Mayor.

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A shot posted by West End Journal, I presume from the Vancouver Archives:

At a glance you’d think – San Francisco.  But no, that little hill is on Chilco Street, up from Alberni.  Cars are backed up on Robson at the top of the hill.  The traffic cop is on Georgia, and a trolley is pulling out from the bus loop at the end of Alberni.

That’s the way it looked in the 1960s, when downtown office workers were heading home to the North Shore, trying to avoid the back-ups on Georgia.  The traffic was probably worse then, given how relatively little transit there was – and remember, the West End was still in a building boom.  This is why the West End had such a bad reputation in that era.  Concrete jungle.

In response to community concern, the NPA Council at the time approved a West End planning process, and by 1970s, the idea of traffic calming was born – possibly the first of its kind in North America.  Diverters, barriers and miniparks went in West of Denman in the early 70s, followed by a similar intervention East of Denman in the early ’80s.  (The myth is that the traffic barriers and parks were put in to discourage street prostitution.  But no, it had always been intended, depending on community approval for a local area improvement charge.)

Of course there were objections.  This was a War on the Car!  Traffic calming and parking fees and restricted parking – and not enough of it to begin with.  Not to mention the NIMBYism of West Enders cutting off through traffic on streets paid for by everyone (sort of).

Stupid councils went ahead and did it anyway.  Plus bike lanes.  And look what they ended up with.

One of the best urban neighbourhoods in the world.

 

This is what Chilco looks like now. (It’s where I live).

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Did you know the concept of Santa was really something that was designed and developed in New York City in the early 1800’s? Did you know that the date for Christmas was moved, that it originally was planned to be in early December?

New York City Tour Guide Jared Goldstein describes the history, politics and place of how Santa became Santa. This is a fundraiser for the New York Adventure Club which offers historic and cultural tours on the city. Jared

‘Twas a cold, winter eve on December 6th, 1810, when a group of New York City’s business and cultural leaders — including a young Washington Irving and Clement Clark Moore, and New York Historical Society founder John Pintard — gathered to celebrate the birthday of 4th century Christian bishop and miracle worker St. Nicholas. While a toast was in order, the meeting had another goal: to create a symbol of peace in a New York City rocked by social unrest around Christmas time. A consensus was reached and St. Nicholas’ Dutch name, SinterKlaas, was adapted to the American-sounding one of Santa Claus. This is the true, magical story of the world’s most legendary New Yorker.

Join our special guest hosts as we journey back in time to uncover the origins of Santa Claus, who became a symbol of generosity, joy, peace, prosperity, patriotism, and politics since his modern adaptation took New York City by storm over 200 years ago.
Led by NYC tour guide Jared Goldstein, our exploration of the untold story of Santa Claus and his New York roots will include:
~The evolution of Santa Claus into the one we know and love today, and why New York can take most of the credit
~The darker side of Christmas in New York, including the Christmas Riot of 1806, and how Santa domesticated the holiday
~Santa’s adoption in political, social, and commercial campaigns, from Union Propaganda during the Civil War, to gracing stamps used to raise money for charity, to being the official Coca-Cola holiday mascot
~A virtual trip to the Clement Clark Moore residence in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood to unwrap some Christmas surprises, including where ‘A Visit From St Nicholas’ was rumored to be penned, and why Santa’s big day moved from December 6th to the 24th
~ Little known NYC connections with Santa, such as how Macy’s supports Santa, a famous newspaper editorial titled “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and how the creator of Uncle Sam helped changed the image of Santa Claus to a man from originally an elf

Afterward, we’ll have a Q&A with Jared — any and all questions about Santa Claus are welcomed and encouraged!

Date: Tuesday December 22, 2020

Time: 2:30-4:00 Pacific Time

Cost: This is a fundraiser, and it’s $10.00 U.S.

You can register at this link.

 

 

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Regular commenter Alex Botta responded extensively to the Return of the Icepick in a post below.  But his remarks deserve this separate treatment, with updated illustrations:

This thing keeps popping up like Dracula’s curse, first on hand then a body emerging from the ground. Cue the night moon, mist and pipe organ. A stake needs to be driven into its heart once and for all. I’m not convinced the Heritage Commission has enough sway to do that, though the majority certainly drove home the message that the Icepick will destroy any sense of heritage preservation with its gross intrusion.

This project cannot be compared to other singular buildings (e.g. The Exchange) because the context is completely different. The proposal is also too clumsy and inelegant by comparison to other stand-alone heritage conversions. The old CPR Station, which will be pierced by the Icepick, resides at the terminus of a preserved low-rise 19th Century streetscape. The closest high rises are separated from the Station by the 26 metre-wide Cordova Street. Moreover, it overlooks the low-rise waterfront (with the exception of the intrusive Granville Square tower). Context is everything.

There is also the conflict between public use (transit) and private use (the Icepick is a private office development as part of Cadillac Fairview / Ontario Teacher’s Pension Fund). The Station is a privately-owned public use space, which seems superficially contradictory, but a dominant public use relationship that could be protected with strong long-term leases. The Icepick will be 100% private space. This is symptomatic of the confusion between public and private, and a diminishment of the role public space has in our economy. Public uses are stabilizing forces while the private economy chugs up and down the market’s peaks and valleys, occasionally getting knocked to its knees by tectonic occurrences, like pandemics that put the question to the need for so much enclosed office space. My view is that good science will win the day and allow indoor social gatherings again, but that still doesn’t justify the Icepick from a design and use perspective.

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At its meeting on December 7, 2020 the Vancouver Heritage Commission strongly rejected the Cadillac Fairview development next to Waterfront Station.*

The vote was 2 in favour, and 8 against. The two members in support did not speak during the meeting so we do not know their reasons.

The Commission sent strong signals that the most appropriate use of the space is a public “Station Square” and asked City staff to explore density transfers to relieve any future development pressure.

Michael Kluckner explained that there are good juxtapositions of old and new, but not all juxtapositions are good. He gave three examples of  downtown projects (Stock Exchange, Royal Bank, and Post Office) to indicate that their evaluation was not a simple “anti-change” perspective.

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* Draft resolutions from the Heritage Commission meeting of December 7. 2020

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If you have not been on a walking tour or an event and met Vancouver historian John Atkin, now is your chance to hear him moderate a fascinating panel on the impact and outcomes of the 1918 Spanish Flu and the 2020 Covid-19 Pandemic.

The 1918-19 influenza outbreak and our current CoViD-19 pandemic have many parallels in government action, public reaction, and a concern for the economy.

Join our panelists Dr Margaret Andrews, Professor of History at Washington State University  and  Simon Fraser University’s Duke of Data Andy Yan for an enlightening discussion on pandemics then and now.

Funds raised for the Friends of the Vancouver City Archives, whose contributions support the work of the City of Vancouver Archives, including making materials from its holdings available online.

This event is sure to be oversubscribed so get your reservation in. The suggested cost is $15.00 CAD plus tax, and if you wish to provide a donation over $25.00, you will get a tax receipt.

Date: Thursday December 3, 2020

Time: 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time

You can reserve your space by clicking on this link.

Image: VIA

 

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