In 2013, City Council passed this:
This community plan was a response to objections over the development of a few highrises (particularly the ones at Comox and Broughton, and at Bidwell and Davie) under a rental incentive program. Opponents objected to the spot rezonings without the context of a community plan. So they got one. Read on >>
“Tales From the West End” is an evening of story-telling where we explore and experience our community through stories about our common past.
Tonight’s featured storyteller is educator and historian Isaac Vanderhorst who will intrigue us with his stories about the Industrial area of the West End.
Tuesday, February 20 5:30 to 7 pm, story telling from 5:45-6:45 JJBean Coffee Shop, 1209 Bidwell @ Davie Admission: Free, Complimentary coffee and tea thanks to JJBean
Tales From the West End – February
February’s featured storyteller is educator and historian Isaac Vanderhorst who will intrigue us with his stories about the West End’s former Industrial area in Coal Harbour. Tuesday, February 20 5:30 to 7:00, story telling from 5:45-6:45 JJBean Coffee Shop, Bidwell and Davie Admission: Free, Complimentary coffee and tea thanks to JJBean
Tales From the West End – March
This month writer and artistMichael Kluckner is our featured story teller. Michael has tales to tell from his latest graphic novel, a biography of West End resident Julia Henshaw. Tuesday, March 20 5:30 to 7:00, story telling from 5:45-6:45 JJBean Coffee Shop, Bidwell and Davie Admission: Free, Complimentary coffee and tea thanks to JJBean
Changing Vancouver just posted a particularly graphic example of possibly the worst transition from good to bad architectural and urban design in the city’s history. It happened in the West End after the zoning changes of 1956.
Here’s a house in 1956, the year before it was redeveloped. The building that replaced it is an 80 unit rental building designed by Peter Kaffka, called Barracca Court when it was built in 1957.
The home was the work of Parr and Fee, seemingly the architects to the upper middle class in the city who favoured that Queen Anne elegance in their wooden ‘mansions.’ And then, in the decade after the ’56 rezoning, it and hundreds of others would be bulldozed for the concrete towers, of which Kaffka was the architect of many – essentially simple concrete boxes with punched windows, surrounded by parking lots, a bit of grass and minimal landscaping. Modernism used to justify the least design and the highest return.
The real mansions, of course, would be built in Shaughnessy, to where the rich fled from the West End after 1909, after which their homes would be transformed into boarding houses.
… by 1940 it was listed … as ‘rooms’, a role it retained until it was demolished. … in 1956 it was known as The Pillars, split into 7 apartments.
Here, of course, is the irony. The houses of the rich became the homes of the poor, providing critical accommodation during the Depression and War, after which the concrete highrises provided accommodation for the new class of service and corporate workers in the post-war boom. Today, the West End is still home for lower-middle-class renters, despite the rising pressures of affordability.
That wouldn’t have happened if it had been declared a heritage neighbourhood, its original housing stock preserved and renovated, and its population kept to a fraction of the 40,000 it now accommodates.
My nomination for the most beautifully treed street in Vancouver has always been the 13-1400 blocks of Barclay Street in the West End (I’m biased) – because of those unbroken sequences of cappadocian maples.
Here’s what they’re like in fall:
Brutalist concrete highrises always do well with a few cappadocian maples.
Chain restaurants don’t do that well in the West End. One year, back in the 1980s, about five closed down on Denman alone – from a ‘Famous Amos Cookies’ to a Burger King. (We’ll see if the current iteration in Denman Mall survives.)
Here’s another indication – the closure of a Dairy Queen (in what was once a bank) near the corner of Denman and Robson.
It happened suddenly a few weeks ago, and there has been no ‘for lease’ sign posted. So presumably a ‘higher and better’ use will replace it. And it will be some kind of indicator when we see what that will be.
Rather sadly, across the intersection, another business closed – Punto Pasta. But this was no chain. Operated by some Italian immigrants, they were making pasta on site, providing the real thing with the accents to match.
Most likely, they couldn’t sustain such a small local operation where the property taxes alone are brutal, or more optimistically perhaps they found a more affordable location. (Yeah, right.)
This almost-completed Harwood-Street highrise hasn’t received much profile yet, even though it is one the last buildings designed under Bing Thom, whose voice will be missed as much as his architectural skill.
The development was controversial, with conflicting goals of heritage versus tree versus view preservation. But the result is an elegant addition to a neighbourhood otherwise characterized, with few exceptions, by the blandness of its architecture.
The image does not do justice to the way the perforated panels capture and reflect light. Slick without being garish.
We never used to have a term called ‘affordable housing.’ If housing was produced by the market, it was affordable to local buyers or it didn’t sell. Speculators could only function when scarcity existed, and there was always the risk that lower-cost housing could come on stream and drive down the price.
If government built the housing for those not served by the market, it was ‘social’ or ‘non-market’ housing.
But there was a problem. Affordable housing tended to look like this:
Or, in multiple-family form, like this:
Both versions are Vancouver Specials from the 1960s: the least amount of architectural design, the most amount of density – where the land was a relatively small component of the final price, not the determining factor.
Imperial Towers, at 1255 Bidwell, is perhaps one of the most egregious examples. According to Emporis, it is the 26th tallest building in the city, the first to have 30 storeys, the tallest apartment building in western Canada at the time.
Designed by architect Peter Kaffka, completed in 1962, it was developed by former Vancouver mayor Tom Campbell (he became alderman in late 1962, mayor from 1966-72). Talk about developers controlling City Hall.
When completed, this was the last wide-slab tower permitted in Vancouver. After that, the floorplates were smaller, the towers thinner, the heights shorter.
The public backlash was understandable. If growth was ever said to be ‘out of control,’ this was the time when public amenity and urban design were less used if not unknown terms in the approval process.
But here’s the irony: with increasing design control, slower approvals, more downzonings and constraints, both quality and price went up. In other words, we induced scarcity by stopping growth from being ‘out of control’ and getting much better quality in amenity and design.
Today, the Imperial is still targeted to middle-income renters (one-bedrooms under $1,500), even though it sits on one of the more attractive sites with dynamite views in a very convenient neighbourhood, half a block from English Bay, next to Alexandra Park.
Yes, land cost is the most excruciating factor today – but it too is a function of scarcity that could be alleviated by significantly increasing density in return for negotiated affordability. If we really wanted that.
There will be a host of new towers emerging on lower Davie Street in the next few years (already word among neighbours unaware of the 2015 West End Community Plan is that growth is out of control.) While there is provision for more rental and some affordable housing, most of the new housing will not be considered by most to be ‘affordable.’
But would anyone really advocate we return to the era of the Vancouver Special and Imperial Towers?
After living now for a year in the West End of Vancouver, I have moved from liking it (a lot) to loving it. Things are close — we can walk in minutes to groceries, veg stores, Post Office, UPS office, opticians, shoe repair, Nordstrom, the Dollar Store, a gelato place, bakery, bank, hardware store, parks, beaches, malls.
We keep bumping into friends.
And, oh my, restaurants. We half-jokingly say that we could eat out every night for a year at a different one by going west on Davie, down Denman, then Robson then back home along Davie. By the time we got all the way around, half the restaurants would have changed, so we could pretty much start over again.
But there’s a human dimension to the West End. People — every shade of every variety of every demographic. Age, size, hipster quotient, language, local, tourist: any dimension you can think of. And it’s a lively and welcome contrast to the human emptiness of our old ‘hood near UBC.
But sometimes it’s just a small thing that is unique and touching. Funny and sad at the same time.
Here’s the “Wish Tree”. It’s a California Lilac, located on Jervis, between Harwood and Burnaby. People write a wish on a tag, and hang it on the tree. There are hundreds, some so faded they can’t be read. Some silly, some wild, and one that brought me to a standstill, and left me close to tears with the simplicity and power of the wish.
I pray that my family would accept me soon
I wish that forever is as good as this far has been with her. And that some day she says yes. To the love of my life.
And I wish that if the guy who wished to find a bag full of money finds it, he will share it with me!