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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Tales From the West End
“Tales From the West End” is an evening to explore and experience our community through stories about our common past.
This month writer, artist and tour guide Michael Kluckner is back as our featured story teller. Michael has more tales to tell from his research on West End resident Mrs. Henshaw.
JJBean Coffee Shop, 1209 Bidwell St., (Bidwell & Davie)
Tuesday, September 20
5:45-7:30, story telling from 6:00-7:00
Admission: Free, Complimentary coffee and tea thanks to JJBean

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Michael Kluckner, author of Vanishing Vancouver: The Last 25 Years, spoke to a full house at the Vancouver Historical Society last night.

Some insights:

Before Michael left for Australia a decade ago, he would often jump in the car and race to a site where an old building was scheduled for demolition in order to capture it in watercolour.  “I’m drawn to derelict buildings like a moth to a flame.”

He was in his car a lot.

On his return,  there were hardly any old boarded up houses waiting for demolition. In districts like Downtown South, it had all been done.  As a consequence, he noted, we’re losing the texture of light falling on old painted wood.  Modern manufactured products get old by getting moldy, not by weathering.

And that’s not the only change.

The neighbourhood movie house.

The Ridge, the Dunbar, the Hollywood – they’re the last of a form that was so impacted by the rise of television that, in 1955, 14 movie theatres closed in a week. (He hinted that their might be a reprieve for the Hollywood on Broadway.) Given that TV reception really only became possible in 1953, when CBC and KVOS began to broadcast, the uptake of the technology and its impact on the Vancouver landscape were way faster than, say, the Internet.

The Toll Bridge

After showing a bucolic shot of the new Port Mann Bridge (of 1964) set in a still-sylvan landscape, he noted that it was the first major bridge not to have toll booths installed.  But in the 1963 election, all the tolls were taken off bridges in the lower mainland, notably the Second Narrows, by the W.A.C. Bennett government.  Now tolls are going on to the new Port Mann Bridge 50 years later, ending exactly a half-century in which vehicle bridges were free and the motoring commuter could live where he wanted.

The Corner Grocery

Michael showed an ad promoting the  84 Chinese groceries that serviced neighbourhoods throughout the city.  Perhaps a half dozen are left. The traditional Vancouver corner store was much more significant than just a cute, nostalgic piece of architecture; it provided an opportunity for immigrants, mainly Chinese and Japanese who were banned from other professions and industries, to have a business that also houses their families and gave them an opportunity to establish themselves in Canada. The contrast with modern convenience stores, staffed by low-paid workers and presenting a unified corporate brand, indicates a profound social change in the city.

 The buried house.

Single-family houses were extended to accommodate suites and storefronts in 1920s and 30s to generate cash in hard times.  There are maybe a dozen of them left, all on streets that have become completely commercial in the past half-century or so.

Church Volunteers

The sort of people who volunteer for churches can’t afford to live in Vancouver anymore.


But Michael wasn’t there just to bemoan the losses.  Indeed he reflected on the yin and yang of Vancouver: the city of concrete and glass juxtaposed with neighbourhoods of medium-density apartments and restored homes, given that the quality of the old-growth wood allows these places to come back, often as condos. It’s that magical combination of different types of housing, working for different people at different periods of their lives, that makes Vancouver such a successful city.

Yes, affordability has been an issue going back to the 1910s, but so long as the city has continues to retain this mix as it evolves, then there’s hope that the essential character of this place will be retained and that Vancouver will continue to mature into the world-city status it so desperately craves.

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