and I quote

june 2015

click for permalink June 14, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, since it was a beautiful day, I took a walk around the neighborhood and ended up taking a bunch of pictures. At the foot of Hornby Street, in the same block as our old apartment building I was struck by the lovely old yellow house with its odd stucco extension on the corner of Pacific, where Il Giardino restaurant had been sitting empty and dilapidated since it closed in 2013. I don't know why, but something compelled me to take several photographs of the building, getting as close as the security fence would allow and then documenting the site from across the street on both sides and from the alley around the back.

One week later, I was surprised to discover that they'd commenced demolition on the building; the entire stucco structure had been reduce to a pile of scrap plywood, concrete and re-bars. The little yellow Victorian house stood by itself on the lot, looking very fragile. I immediately went home to get my camera. Having stumbled into my very own neighborhood episode of Vanishing Vancouver, how could I not document every stage in the process?

I didn't know it at the time but the Il Giardino restaurant had been a fixture on that corner since 1973, the year I was born. My parents lived here when it opened, or just across False Creek in Kitsilano, anyway. For all I know, they might have driven by while the building was under construction, my mother commenting on the pretty little yellow Victorian house (which is so her thing). Or my dad, who had recently studied architecture back east, might have slowed down to ponder the strange wedge-shaped structure they were grafting onto its south facade. (I suppose I could always just ask them.)

As I walked back up Hornby Street towards home, I started taking pictures of all the construction sites I passed on the way. We're only talking about a four block stretch on a single street here—two if you want to count Pacific—and I counted no fewer than six construction sites. And not just construction sites, but highrise complexes, every one. The site that takes up almost the entire block between Burrard and Hornby Streets going north-south, and Drake and Davie going east-west is one very ambitious and highly publicized development called Burrard Place, which will consist of one very tall condo tower (although how tall is still up for debate) on the corner of Hornby and Drake, another in the middle of the block on the Hornby side, and a mid-rise office/retail tower on the corner of Burrard and Drake Street, the future home of Jim Pattison Downtown Toyota (see map below).

(Below, the current view from the corner of Drake and Hornby.)

(Below, the view from around the corner on Hornby Street.)

(Below, architectural drawings of Burrard Place.)

The renderings certainly look impressive, if such plans are to be believed. Usually, though, they're not. Many a Vancouver highrise has started out life as a glorious piece of two-dimensional art, depicting the marvellous audacity and innovative brilliance of some ingenious architect with dreams of planting his defining masterpiece in the middle of North America's newest frontier city.

But soon after giving birth to his (because, let's be real, it's usually "his") creation, he has to stand by and watch as it's filed down, chipped away at and manhandled by committees and design review boards until the finished product comes out looking just like all the others—a fraction of its former stature, it's edifice the color of pancake batter (because what ages better after decades of Pacific coastal rain than cream-colored concrete?). And don't get me started on that god-awful fucking pale green glass they put in every residential tower in the city—well, in all but One.

I do hope they play their cards right with the city because the Burrard Place plans look awfully cool, especially that wavy car dealership building. They're going to have to fight for it, though, because whoever's job it is to take all the grand architectural plans and neuter them before insisting on the use of that shitty green glass isn't going to roll over just so that Jim Pattison can sell more Toyotas. Then again, what do I know?

When I got home I did a bunch of research and found architectural drawings of what's planned for each of the sites I photographed. You can see all of them in the gallery here and a few select ones below. As my mother put it when she looked out our window at all the cranes on the horizon a year ago, "I guess there's no recession here."

(This is at 1265 Howe on the corner of Drake Street.)

(Howe and Pacific, one block farther south, next to the Granville Bridge.)

(This is the 1100 block of Hornby Street.)

I still don't know what they're planning for the Il Giardino site or the little yellow house, and not for lack of research either. I found one site that talks about the history of the house, but it's very long and detailed and more than a little confusing because it talks about this house but also another one that was moved to a protected "heritage" site. It's interesting stuff nonetheless.

There are actually still two 100-year old Victorian houses on the lot where the Burrard Place towers will stand. I read somewhere that the developers are offering both of the houses for free to anyone who can pay to have them moved off the lot intact. I felt weird taking pictures of them—and I hope somebody buys them—but there are still renters living in both at this point.

I also hope the main tower ends up being 60 stories. That's what the full page ads on the back of every issue of the Georgia Straight for the last two months have said. But the news stories and real estate blogs seem a bit conflicted about that fact. As of now, the first page of search results turns up 54 to 60 stories and everything in between. One thing is certain, though. When that tower eventually goes up, it's going to block my view of the Burrard Bridge, and if I have to lose that view anyway, I want the tallest fucking tower possible in its place.

On the plus side, it will also block my view of the apartment where my friend killed herself three months ago. The one I can see out my window right now. The one right here.

So I guess it's all ying and yang, light and darkness, hope and despair, construction and destruction, death and renewal. The cycle of life.