Any day now, a bulldozer will tear through the century-old timber of another Shaughnessy mansion, sending its arts and crafts splendor to the landfill.
The best parts of the house’s interior will be salvaged, but most of it will go into the dump. From a heritage point of view, it’s a tragedy, because even if the coffered ceilings, fireplaces, ceremonial staircase, built-in buffet, and all the old-growth fir were painstakingly saved, the 1910 house is still lost.
For a city so smug about its natural scenery, there’s shocking little incentive to protect its past. The house at 3738 Hudson St. will bring the death toll to 51 houses down since the Overall Development Plan by-law was enacted in 1982 to protect them, according to the Heritage Vancouver Society.
There are 359 character houses in Shaughnessy that pre-date 1940, says board member Richard Keate, so losing 51 of them is something of a major hit. Aside from the Hudson Street house, there are several other development permits approved for new homes in Shaughnessy.
The house at 3738 Hudson St. is not on the city’s heritage register, which was created in 1986, and is not by any stretch a comprehensive list of Vancouver’s heritage homes. The First Shaughnessy Advisory Design Panel, which advises city council, however, has been through the house twice over the years and made the claim for its retention.
As far as the city is concerned, the Hudson house, built for G.W.T. Hobson, is not considered special, even though it’s almost entirely original inside and out.
It has no outstanding architectural merit, or an unusually ornate design that would have landed it on the A-list. For example, the high-end mansions have oak floors on the main floor, while this one has fir. But it’s still a handsome house, with an interior that would be considered gorgeous by most any heritage lover’s standards.
“It’s got what we call the English picturesque aesthetic,” says Mr. Keate, a fourth generation Shaughnessy resident. “It’s English arts and crafts. The wood just needs a lot of burnishing. It’s quite beautiful inside.”
The Hudson Street house would probably have made the C list, had the owner applied — not that that would have saved it.
“None of the A-list houses have come down because they require a public meeting with city council, and that’s expensive and very high profile and nobody has the stomach for it,” says Mr. Keate. “But we’ve lost B houses and C houses.”
When asked to describe the city’s position on heritage protection in Shaughnessy, I received an email reply from Kent Munro, assistant director of planning.
“In the 30 years since adoption of the First Shaughnessy Official Development Plan, four out of five properties that have come forward for development applications have resulted in retention of the pre-1940s buildings,” says Mr. Munro.
“The process includes an independent assessment conducted by a qualified heritage consultant, and the conclusion of that assessment for 3738 Hudson was that this building did not merit retention.”
As for the Hudson Street house, the owner has it listed it on the market, with a price tag of almost $11 million.
“They’re tearing it down because the empty lot is worth more than with the house on it,” explains Mr. Keate.
Realtors are taking advantage of potential redevelopment on the city’s biggest lots. A listing agent wrote: “This is an opportunity to acquire almost three quarters of an acre to build a gracious new mansion of over 14,000 square feet.”
The Shaughnessy houses are also targetted partly because the neighbourhood is the one area of Vancouver where you can build around 18,000 square feet of mini-palace in which to lay your head.
Whatever gets built at 3738 Hudson, it’s certain it won’t have the quality old-growth timber that was used to construct the original. It won’t have the patina of time, or the painstaking detail that was achieved before they had power tools. Whatever gets built won’t speak of Vancouver circa 1911, when the West Coast arts and crafts movement was in high gear and a housing boom was under way.
The mind-boggling thing is, it’s not like the new generation of homeowner doesn’t appreciate the look of an old house. In fact, judging by the new builds throughout Shaughnessy, they’re enthusiastically attempting to replicate character with a jumble of styles that can run the gamut from arts and crafts to Victorian to Georgian, with a smidgen of the White House and the Vatican Basilica thrown in — and that’s before you’ve made it up the driveway.