August 16, 2018

The Changing West End: John Atkin tells the story

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.)

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The City of Vancouver and Province of BC have given indigenous names to two of Vancouver’s more significant open spaces.

The open space on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery is šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square – ‘a place where a cultural gathering occurs.’ The plaza in front of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl’a7shn – ‘the Walks for Reconciliation‘.

The names incorporate languages of all three First Nations people — Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh. And it’s a great idea; anyone who’s been to New Zealand knows what a difference it makes to have Maori being used (‘Kia ora most obviously) by everyone.

Which then raises the question here: are these plaza names meant to be practically applied?

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Regardless of the proposed changes in height and form decided by City of Vancouver council yesterday, or the desires of those who would like to keep Chinatown economically and culturally close to its historic character, the district is going to change — dramatically.

As I said to a few media outlets earlier in the week, change is inevitable, especially in this neighbourhood:

Especially with a new hospital in the works next door.

That’s the new replacement for St. Paul’s. When a hospital goes in, the whole ecology makes it one of the most powerful economic generators in the region. On the other side, there’s going to be whole new neighborhoods. That absolutely guarantees that Chinatown is going to go into a new phase.

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The beginning of the end for the Empire Landmark Hotel on Robson Street in Vancouver. Demolition has started.

It’s hard to tell whether the automated drilling machines are operating and how much noise they will generate. Given the need to contain the debris and to limit the noise, if this method of demolition works well, it may be the preferred way a lot of mid-century towers will be removed from cityscapes.

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Courtesy of Price Tags contributor Tom Durning, a look back to Vancouver’s English Bay, and the summer of 1959.

Notable events in the region that year: Canadian Pacific Airways began flying direct from Vancouver to Montreal, the “Deas” (Massey) Tunnel opened to traffic, and Oakridge Centre at 41st Avenue and Cambie Street welcomed customers as Vancouver’s first shopping mall.


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In less than two hours and at speeds up to 285-km/h, Gordon Price travelled from Kyoto to Hiroshima on Thursday, via Japan’s Shinkansen “bullet train” line.

The destination was the Hiroshima Peace Memorial; the main draw here is the former Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, now commonly called the Genbaku Dome, or Atomic Bomb Dome.

The building was the only structure left standing near the hypocentre of ‘Little Boy’, the first atomic bomb ever used in war, which dropped on August 6th, 1945. It delivered near-instant death to 70,000, with another 70,000 to later die as a result of radiation poisoning. Injuries and related horrors took many more, to say nothing of the tens of thousands to perish three days later in Nagasaki. Today, Genbaku Dome is a UNESCO Heritage site.

From the train, Gordon took many photographs of the urban world that has cropped up along the rail line (including the photograph above of sunset over Kyoto), with his usual engaging commentary.

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Steveston Village in Richmond is a wonderful old fishing village and cannery, so much so that was featured for seven seasons as the fictional seaside town of Storybrooke in ABC’s hit television series Once Upon a Time.

Steveston has its own unique history, and is now offering a unique dramatic experience in the historic village. With talented actors from Hugh McRoberts Secondary School as guides in period costume, Alive! Walking Tour Vignettes takes guests back to 1917 in a one-hour walk around Steveston, revealing the historical fabric of the place and  some of the stories and characters that lived in that period.

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In 2015, Toronto-based developer Cadillac Fairview attempted to get approval for a 26-storey office building at 555 Cordova. Dubbed “The Icepick”, the iconoclastic development would have been shoe-horned up against the east side of Waterfront Station in Vancouver.

Cadillac Fairview owns Waterfront Station, and since it opened in 1914, the proposed remnant building site has been the station’s eastern access and parking lot.

The proposed site is not a separate building lot, and far too small to accommodate a giant office building. The Icepick was turned down by City Hall in 2015, following wide-spread objections from neighbours and the public.

Now Cadillac Fairview is back, this time with Icepick 2, a slightly revised version of the original.

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