Architecture
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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Vancouver continues to repurpose public space for people.

More examples, this time from Davie Street in the city’s West End. One is private, and the others are part of a 3-year pilot study by VIVA Vancouver.

The study will test a number of things, including modular design elements and curbside patios that are away from the building. These measures will test innovative features to support a vibrant patio culture and make better use of public space.

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“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
 
 

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February 5, 2018

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 artist Michael 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
 

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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