April 19, 2021

Buildings that Changed Vancouver: 2280 Cornwall

Michael Kluckner riffs off the post from Michael Gordon below to recount the story of the building that marked the end of the highrise era in Kitsilano*.

2280 Cornwall

It was the end of ’71 when developer Ben Wosk started work on the apartment building at 2280 Cornwall, following the path set by the St. Roch at 2323 and Century House at 2370 West 2nd in 1966 (left), and Las Salinas at 2310 West 2nd and Seaside Plaza at 2324 West 1st in 1968. The earlier “highrises” are on big pieces of property, like the West End ones of the ’60s, with a lot of open space and low FSR, as were Carriage House and similar buildings erected at that time in South Granville and Kerrisdale. Very different from everything today.

People including some NPA aldermen naively believed that the height limit was three storeys at the beach, although it was actually 120 feet or 12 storeys. Bruce Yorke of the Vancouver Tenants Council led the protests – something people have a problem understanding today, that highrise apartments were equated with higher rents than the lowrise ones, and with displacement and gentrification.

(The blowback was so immediate that Tom Campbell, the NPA mayor at the time, intervened with Wosk to get a stop on the highrise proposal.)  Wosk agreed to build only three storeys “on condition the area is rezoned so that no other highrises can be built,” according to the Sun, February 16, 1972.

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Michael Gordon* explores a misconception about Kitsilano in the Seventies – that, in a reaction to what was felt to be ‘out-of-control overdevelopment’ (see West End), Kits was downzoned.  Not quite.


Many years ago, Vancouver’s Director of Community Planning advised me that the 1975 downzoning in Kitsilano to prevent highrise residential development was not a downzoning. Upon further researching this, I discovered to some extent he had a point.

In July 1964 Kitsilano, Fairview, Kerrisdale, Mt.Pleasant and other neighbourhoods had their apartment RM-3 zoning amended to encourage ‘tower in the park’ residential development up to 120 feet.** Previously, the maximum height was three to four storeys.  Subsequently in Kitsilano, only seven highrise residential buildings were built along with a variety of four-storey wood-frame apartment buildings.

The RM-3 zoning had encouraged large site assemblies because it was the only way to achieve the maximum density and height of 36.6 metres (or about 11 to 13 storeys). Density bonuses were given for large sites, low site coverage and enclosed or underground parking. (This zoning still applies in areas of Fairview and Kerrisdale.)  Small- and medium-sized sites were built to a lower density and three- to four-storey wood-frame construction.

Things started to heat up in Kitsilano in the 1970s when:

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Daily Scot took me to the 1400-block Laburnum Street on Kits Point to see if I noticed anything odd.

I did not.  Until he pointed out that there’s a big hump in the street for no apparent reason, and that the hydro poles are curiously spaced on either side.  (Scot loves this kind of thing.)

The reason: Possibly the least known streetcar line in Vancouver – the Kits spur:

You can see on the Dial Map of Vancouver that one streetcar line, the 12, departs from Granville, crosses the False Creek swing-span bridge (removed in the 1985) and cuts right through the Point mid-block.  The right-of way is still evident in the hump where the tracks used to be and in this aerial from 1945:

Kits Beach (previously known as Greer’s) was kind of a summer resort for the early settlers of the city, and the streetcar provided the access.  There was even camping:

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This image is a who’s who in Vancouver from 1987. It is the result of a “casting call” to politicians, news media, sports figures, rock stars and well known Vancouverites to come together for a photo that was used in AIDS awareness campaigns. This image was photographed by Howard Fry, and was posted on the Sentimental Vancouver Facebook page.

I contacted Dr. John Blatherwick who was the Medical Health Officer of Vancouver in the 1980’s and 1990’s and who was instrumental in co-ordinating services and getting researched information out about AIDS. He was also one of the people  involved in sending out invites to a host of Vancouver personalities to have their photo taken.

The AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) epidemic was raging through Vancouver at this time. Without the development of drugs to treat symptoms and stop the disease’s advance many people got ill. Many died.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s  it was estimated that more than 60,000 people who were HIV positive (human immunodeficiency virus) lived in Canada and  more than 20 percent of those people lived in British Columbia.  AIDS Vancouver was formed in 1983 to support people with HIV diagnoses, and provided free services and education to lower the incidence of the disease.

That did not stop fear and  misinformation about the disease, and photographer Howard Fry captured this image to make talking about AIDs more mainstream.

So who is in the photo?

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The City of Vancouver was wondering what to do with the “hippies” who were concentrated largely in the Kitsilano area. A committee of “aldermen” from Vancouver City Hall called a “three man Council team” in the Vancouver Sun on October 12, 1967 “generally disclaims charges by Kitsilano ratepayers last summer when  the Fourth Avenue population was at its peak that hippies constituted a serious moral, sanitary and legal threat”.

The report concluded  that “more active interest should be taken by assisting hippies to get work and decent places to live, sending them social workers, inviting them to express their views before Council and by re-assessing youth activity programs in schools, churches and community centres”.

Sadly, the report also recommended “the acceleration of urban renewal programs and revitalization of depressed and blighted areas where hippie communities thrive”. These were the programs that would decimate Strathcona and threaten Chinatown in the early 1970’s.

Here’s a really weird clip of a show from 1968 hosted by commentator Bill Good. On a show called “Lets Go” there is a very twisty set of  interviews that are not too focussed, but do give a taste of opposing views at the time.

A youthful but conservative Mr. Good interviews Kitsilano’s ‘Hippies’ but does not really name them except for the late Doug Hawthorne who managed the “Psychedelic Shop” on 4th Avenue.

The show compares the 1960’s 4th Avenue “scene” to that of the great music and drug scene in  San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury, and then does surprising segues talking to people like singer Pat Boone, comedian Richard Pryor, Little Richard and even the Maharishi Yogi. Richard Pryor has the best line, saying that more people smoke pot than eat peanut butter sandwiches.

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