Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, June 26, 2017

Eye of the Hurricane

If you were to ask anyone who has experienced the excitement of Vancouver's Granville Island, the first word they think of, it is unlikely to be "brownfield development." Okay, that's two words, but you take my point.

Restaurants and waterfront bars, high end shops, parks, miles of sea wall walks, an art school, a community theatre, house boats and a yacht harbour, museums and marine stores, an incredibly diverse food and craft market, high density waterfront living on its doorstep - and did I mention industry? - all thrive, a short water-taxi hop from the residential west end and commercial downtown of Vancouver.

This fascinating history link tells the whole story. Here's a precis. In the early 1900s, what is today's 38 acres of Granville Island was a mud flat that disappeared at high tide. But a bright light at the Vancouver Harbour Commission saw the potential of creating new land in (even then!) expensive Vancouver. A seawall was built and dredging began after a brief pause for a depression, in 1913. The resulting Mud Island (called Granville Island after 1938, and later joined to the mainland) was divided into 80 lots for factories and mills housed in post and beam structures with corrugated tin siding.

I won't go into the ownership history, but feel free. By the 1960s, industries were closing down and the place was becoming an eyesore. Indeed, it had likely always been a bit seedy, with heavy industry and little environmental awareness. During the 1930s depression a shanty-town was born there.

Townley and Matheson architects, 1938
Saw factory, now community centre
industrial maritime heritage preserved

 Enter CMHC who were developing False Creek housing, and a new generation of environmentally attuned developers, and the shift from industry to people began. Redevelopment started in 1975, with the wonderful Granville Island Public Market opening in 1979. The seawall walk was opened in 1977. Here's a good account of the evolution.

So the development proceeded with buying out some of the industrial leases, others expired. Adaptive reuse of the industrial buildings was the norm.

The False Creek Community Centre is housed in the former Spear and Jackson Saws and Tyee Machinery Company quarters.

Opus Framing and Art Supplies brightens up the 'hood

The soon to be former campus of Emily Carr School of Art and Design pays homage to its industrial past.

Public art project at the cement plant (one of the last remaining working industries on the island.) OSGEMEOS, two artists from Brazil painted this astonishing three-dimensional mural on the silos at Ocean Cement.
There's something sheltering about being under the bridge, with the white noise of traffic rushing overhead, islands of green willows springing up. I love the contrast of boutiques and fine art studios housed in repurposed steel clad factories and warehouses. Grit and glam.

As a student of weather, I am fascinated by the concept of the eye of the hurricane, that region of calm weather in the centre of a tropical storm. In this huge city, which can easily become overwhelming, Granville Island is a place to rediscover the human scale and pace. To sit on the wall and watch a heron fishing in the rock pools, or listen to a fine street musician like Shawn Bullshields, or grab something to eat and sit in the sun and let the world go by. Island life.

Friday, June 9, 2017

City Mouse Country Mouse

Brookfield Place -  Calatrava meets Midland Commercial Bank
I have had two of the loveliest days. The weather's been sunny and hot, the company convivial, and discoveries lurked around every corner. Bright new trees, sun on stone and glass, people shedding layers and squinting into the sun, winter hunched shoulders gradually relaxing.

Yet my photo excursions could not have been more different. On Wednesday I spent eight lovely hours in the company of long-time friend Larry, who loves Toronto. It's catching. He knows Toronto. And is willing to share.
We wandered Front and King Streets and connecting routes, with stops for historical plaques, for food and beverage, for rests, for photos. Lots and lots. Larry's original and beautiful images will appear in due course on his blog Making Eye Statements. Mine will trickle out in dribs and drabs here, along with local lore and some architectural smart remarks. 

Wilton School (1871)
On Thursday, I was invited to the tiny limestone village of Wilton to meet with the new owner of the old schoolhouse. We shared life stories, enjoyed tea overlooking the pond, toured beautiful home and garden. Wilton will appear again soon, also.

This is the time of year where, like a squirrel harvesting for winter, I make photo forays to capture the exquisite built heritage of our province. Later, when grey rain streaks my windows, I will put fingertips to keys. In the meantime, I will savour these two wonderful spots, and invite you to join me.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Brickyard Blues

This is a rainy day photo of Brickyard Beach on Gabriola Island. The reddish hue comes from thousands of broken bits of clay brick. From the 1890s to 1951, the Gabriola Brickyard produced 80,000 handmade bricks a day, the gruelling labour supplied by locals and imported workers.

The historic plaque shows a photo of the works - the buildings were demolished in the 1950s and the few remaining foundations were quickly overtaken by the undergrowth. Thing grow fast in B.C.

The brickyard history is featured on the Gabriola museum website, and the local Historical and Museum Society offers plenty of photos to help you travel back in BC's built heritage story. The journal of the Society,
Victoria City Hall 1878-91
SHALE, features an in-depth study by Jenni Gehlbach.; yet more info (and some of the same photos) are found in this article

Dave Mason, our guide for a wonderful, if cloudy. walkabout in Victoria mentioned that the Victorian city used brick for many of its civic buildings: Victoria City Hall , the  Royal Theatre , the Board of Trade Building,  the  Law Chambers  and the  Provincial Courthouse. Without doubt, many of these bricks originated in this foggy cove on Gabriola Island.

Board of Trade Building 1892
We glimpsed the Victoria City hall as we trotted across Bastion Square. We were following an experienced guide, who knew and loved his historic city. Looking back, we could have taken four times longer to see, process, photograph (the falling in love part happened quickly) the dozens of neighbourhoods Dave Mason led us through. My photos - captures rather than studies, which I typically aim for, lack the detail and compositional quality I would like.

That being said, just look at the Board of Trade Building, a towering 4 storeys (well it was the 1890s) of red brick, rusticated sandstone, and terra cotta panels.
eclectic Victorian  grandeur

Does this convey the "historic prominence and power of the Victoria Board of Trade, which had administered local and provincial economic and commercial activities since its beginning as the Victoria Chamber of Commerce in 1863" Yes? I think so. (Quote from Link is above)

A bit of Romanesque swagger, some Chicago School verticality. A statement.

Then there is the Provincial Courthouse at the upper end of Bastion Square. Here's another great quote from Historic, to whom I resort when my brain becomes waterlogged after several days of rain and low pressure. Of the 1889/01 Provincial Courthouse, they say: "this castle-like structure remains as an historic embodiment of law, order, stability and justice which have been practiced [sic] at this site since the 1860s."

It's quite extraordinary, really. Rapunzel towers, arched windows, Italianate detailing you'd expect to see in Venice, all on the still pretty rough and tumble west coast.

It's of brick, yes, but covered with stucco imitating stone, the better to intimidate the law-breakers.

rounded corners of  pressed brick
 terra cotta bands and rosettes
And finally, my personal favourite, the Temple Building, yet another brick Victorian, also recorded by the folks at They deem it "one of Victoria's most architecturally significant buildings" with its rusticated sandstone main floor, arched entry with lots of pressed brick and/or terra cotta ornament (too bad about the doors.) Architect Samuel Maclure, who figures in many chapters of the city's architecture story, designed the commercial building.

Temple Building (1893) rusticated sandstone base

The HistoricPlaces description revels in the surface decoration,  inspired by American architects Louis Sullivan and H.H.Richardson. Do follow the link. They do it justice.

The Temple Building was one of our guide Dave Mason's favourites as well. He pulled this photo of Malatesta Temple in Rimini, Italy (Wiki link, thanks Dave) from his knapsack, to illustrate the classical source of Maclure's inspiration.

Magnificent Victorian buildings. These bricks are a long way from the beach.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Binning's BC Hydro

This handsome mid-century modern giant was part of my neighbourhood when I lived in a rooming house on Nelson Street in Vancouver in 1973. The geometry, the use of steel and concrete, its distinctive lozenge shape designed by architect Otto Safir, are so mid-century. The building stands at the corner of Burrard and Nelson Streets, at the top of the climb up the Burrard Street hill from downtown, cooly aloof from the two Victorian stone churches at the same intersection.

triangular paned lantern strips climb the tower

This past April, we were astonished to see that my old building, an Edwardian with Tudor affectations, was still standing. But not for long, as developers were clearly coveting the house, the church coffee house to its left, and the spruce-bordered parking lot to the right, just behind nearby First Baptist Church, off camera, but visible here.

Having grown very fond of mid-century design in recent years, I was longing to have a look at BC Hydro,  firstly to establish that the 21 storey structure still stood at the corner. Indeed, it’s there, but it's no longer a giant in Vancouver's exploding downtown. An obscene 63 storey structure born of a notorious businessman has bullied its way to the top.

But my primary reason for spending time here was to enjoy once again beloved Vancouver artist B.C. Binning's sea blue/ forest green/rock grey mosaic tiles, which create a cool reception in the modernist entry. The reception areas, with low planters and terrazzo inside and out, were still sparkling clean as the lines which distinguish it.

For more B.C.Binning, here's a link.

For more architecture, it is a delight to be able to direct you to the Historic Places description of the 1955-7 B.C.Hydro Building.

fan palm, of course. Very Sunset magazine

too bad about the plastic cone - staging fail

Friday, June 2, 2017

Lower Town

 A reflection on the class system as it existed in the 1800s when Ontario towns and villages were developing popped into my head as I took photos in Picton yesterday. Of course, we know the class system no longer exists, but it's a useful way to talk about c19 Ontario towns. The vision of the nation builders was of a society structured like England's, with a privileged class of colonial bureaucrats and retired military officers holding most of the land and power (the Family Compact as they came to be known,) society cascading down in a tidy feudal manner through the orders to merchants and labourers, obladi oblada.

It hasn't escaped my attention over the years, in many posts, that the finer homes of these same towns and cities were usually established on heights of land, above the waterways which were essential to industries, for power, for waste disposal, for shipping. On a town's lower slopes were found the homes of working folk, in close proximity to these manufactories. A wander along East Mary Street yesterday got me thinking about this idea.

Picton's East Main Street and the streets running back from it, and parallel to it, boast the town's finer homes. They get lots of attention. Many are evolving into inns and guest homes, and establish the much-celebrated character of the town.

As I ventured along East Mary Street (a street I have driven countless times in my life) I became aware for the first time, in that way that only walking a neighbourhood can reveal, that this street with its workmanlike homes, a few extant businesses and the echoes of many others, is a considerable distance downhill from the town's business and well-to-do residential centre, on a slope that leads even further down to the creek flowing through a marsh into the harbour. 
the Armoury c1913 (from the south)
looking uphill to Main Street

The scale of the houses on the eastern stretch of Mary Street is modest in most cases, and I love the old-timey feel of the streetscape (but for the proliferation of beige and brown vinyl siding, attesting to a persuasive salesman of the product a few decades ago?) From here we look up to the backs of structures central to the town's identity - the back of the Armoury, the rear of the iconic Regent theatre. We are lower town, here.

This year, the back yards of the south side houses facing the marsh (now a lovely park, which dad took great delight in showing me one time, on a rare visit from the west) are looking at fenced in floods.
north side, built into the bank

#33 - stone foundation accommodating to the slope
I am fond of terrain that features changes in elevation, trees, slopes, turns and hidden places, so I especially love this bit of the town. Underhill.

33 Mary seen from the marsh creek below
 Peter Stokes and Tom Cruickshank describe the  neighbourhood this way:

"One of the earliest [streets] surveyed was Mary Street, running parallel to Main beside the marsh...In its undulating hills and sharp bends, Mary Street shows the influence of the natural topography of the land. The eastern leg, at Bridge Street, sometimes referred to as 'short Mary' is particularly picturesque; houses on the north side are built into the side of a steep bank, looming over the narrow roadway and their neighbours to the south."
(From The Settler's Dream, page 169-171.)

This was written in 1984. There have been changes for better, and for worse.

One thing I know for sure. Mary Street is appreciated; several regular readers drop by the blog occasionally.

If you'd like to join our walk, here's a Streetview link.

pedimented window trim

well-tended  brick Victorian with bay window
38 Mary Street East, stone lintels painted red

nice old transom and sidelights

The bottom of the ravine has stories to tell. I imagine lumberyards and such, and know there were forges and a carriage works. Further up the ravine, on 150 acres of picturesque dell which now shelters Glenwood cemetery, there was once a tannery. The c1835 Mullett's Tannery tanned goat and sheep skin using sumac. For a perspecitve on the operation of a c19 tannery, here is a link. In today's peaceful garden cemetery it's almost impossible to imagine this scene: "The work was hard manual labour. Living next to a tannery meant the constant stench of curing leather and stagnant pools of waste material. Streams became heavily polluted as tanning liquors, lime solutions, flesh and hair were discharged into them." (Northern Woodlands website, Summer 2011.)
the marsh - redux
I walked down a path from the street to the park along the creek, willing myself to time travel to the earlier days of this place. I ended up chatting with a passerby also enjoying the spring sun. She recalls sitting in Mary Street School (photo here) as a girl, as the smoke from the dump which occupied the ravine at that time, curled up and through the classroom windows. Men and boys kept the inevitable rat population discouraged, with nightly .22 rifle operations. Hmmm. Dangers of time travel.