In 1900, when the two houses at Davie & Jervis Streets (on the right side of this picture) were built, the West End was sparsely populated. It was a gentler place of rolling hills and scrub brush, a lot of the trees having been logged. There were probably great views from the houses pictured above as they are located on one of the highest points in the West End. The area attracted wealthy homeowners, some of whose houses are still standing. There’s the Gabriola Mansion, originally owned by B. T. Rogers, the founder of the B.C. Sugar Refinery. It’s just down the street at 1523 Davie St. Roedde House at 1415 Barclay, now a museum, was built in 1893 for Gustav Roedde, the city’s first printer and book binder. There was even an area on a bluff above Coal Harbour called Blue Blood Alley. Abbott House, at 720 Jervis St. is the lone survivor from Blue Blood Alley. Henry Abbott, an executive with the CPR, built it in 1900.
Beginning around 1906, when the house on the far left was built, many two-storey affordable family homes were being built along with the wealthy mansions. Maybe this was the beginning of diversity in the West End. However, by the 1930’s a lot of the posh crowd had moved to Shaughnessy or British Properties. From the 30’s to the 50’s, many of the single-family homes were converting to multiple dwellings and we see the construction of low-rise apartment buildings, a lot of today’s three-storey walk-ups. One such building is just to the west of the three houses. Many artists were moving to the area as well as an influx of immigrants.
By 1956, City Hall was allowing more density in the West End but with a balance of green space in mind. However, by the early 70’s high-rises were burgeoning and soon over 220 had been built. To make way for the towers, many of the historic family homes like the ones pictured above were demolished.
And today, with the great emphasis on densification, we see the process continue. The three houses in the picture which had heritage value as well as the three-storey walk-up to their west will soon be replaced with a 19-storey high rise containing 68 market priced condos and 27 social housing units. The condos will start at $1 million+ with a penthouse just sold at $4.5 million. They are all two bedrooms and although “market priced,” the condos seem to provide more floor space than usual. The social housing units are at the podium level. It’s not clear how these units will be priced exactly. Some may be at the 30% of income level – others may be small units but close to market pricing. But once a development provides “social housing,” it qualifies for extra density, and it appears there is little the public can do about it. This will certainly influence density and height restrictions throughout the city.
We are repeatedly told the only solution to Vancouver’s housing shortage is densification. That may be true but at his point there seems no corresponding price reduction. A recent report by Royal Bank of Canada states that for a single family home and its associated costs in Vancouver, it would now cost 109% of median pretax income. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out only wealthy people can now afford a single family home. But then there are always million dollar condos, which for many seem more expensive to buy than rent.
In any case, it appears we have come full circle with the West End’s past. Soon it will again be an enclave for the wealthy. On The Source’s website, we have a few pictures of more houses in the area either demolished or soon to be: the Legg House, a West End heritage building on Harwood St. demolished for a 17-storey tower, so exclusive it’s not even being publicly advertised. And there are two houses on Hornby St. soon to be demolished in the middle of the massive Burrard Place project.