Saturday, June 11, 2016

Heartbreak through real estate

A favourite house-- the stone chimney, the landscaping --  on our street has just gone up for sale. Pricetag: $3.48 million. It's pretty much a given that every old house like this will be demolished and replaced with something bigger.

At least one movie was shot at this perfect little house with its huge trees. I was heartbroken when the for-sale sign went up.

This house may not look like much now, but it was beautifully landscaped on a big treed lot before it went up for sale. The orange in the windows means it may have asbestos and demolition will be done carefully.

This house is not for sale, but it's one of the perfect English cottage-y places I love in Vancouver. What a chimney, what windows, what a garden!

This isn't for sale either, but it's an example of a house built on two lots. Look at the luscious extra garden space! The developers must be drooling. 

There are now five buildings --some multiple dwellings -- on what once was one huge lot with a fine old house and a beautiful garden with ponds and trees. Nobody can say the city isn't densifying!

For awhile, I thought it was personal. I thought somebody somewhere had figured out which houses I loved best in my neighbourhood, then deliberately targeted them for destruction. As if my heart had painted them with a big X -- and that was the spot where the bulldozers should head first.

My favourites were houses with character, as English-y as possible, surrounded by big gardens. Perfection was ivy-covered walls, steep roofs, leaded-glass windows and maybe some nice brick or stonework. The perfect garden had big trees, lots of shrubs and English-country-style roses and hollyhocks.

Because of its British heritage, the city actually did have many houses with at least some of these features, and in the days when land wasn't the gold it is now, many lots were big. Some people even bought two lots so they'd have plenty of garden room.

 "During the 1920s and '30s, Kerrisdale, Dunbar and West Point Grey had filled up with the comparatively small "Storybook" houses, and the larger lots of the west side evolved into a leafy landscape of gardens and trees that epitomized Vancouver for many people -- especially those of British ancestry, who dominated the city at that time," wrote Michael Kluckner in Vancouver Vanishes, a book about the demolitions and changes in the city.

Today, an old house on a big lot is known as demolition bait. Character, charm, and leaded-glass windows count for naught. The new buyers want everything new and as huge as zoning will allow. As for the grounds, the bigger the lot, the bigger the house that can be built. If a lot is big enough, it can sometimes be split into two, three or even more lots, as happened to a property several blocks away from us. Instead of one $3-million house -- five! How can a piece of charming history compete with that?

It was a sad awakening, but I came to understand that the developers' targeting of my favourite houses wasn't personal at all. I realized that the very things that made me adore these places made the developers adore them even more. And in such a contest, guess who wins?

1 comment:

  1. Just a minute while I put on my rose-coloured glasses. I grew up in this wonderful city and although I was an East Van kid, my paternal grandmother lived in Point Grey and when we visited we usually went on a drive through the “fancy” houses and I still see wonderful old houses all the time now and even in the West End. And even the days of demolishions for “Vancouver Specials” meant families and extended families could live in a house with enough space and modern conveniences. And now there are lots of ordinary hardworking people who have won the lottery. Good for them! Their kids are lucky because their parents can help them out. But all parents would give up everything if only to have a healthy nice kid. We won that lottery. So far our city hasn’t been devastated by wildfire, war, earthquakes, etc. So let’s savour the moment. We do all the time by having a beach resort in our front yard and Manhattan in our back yard.