This unique site, known in the neighbourhood as “Salsbury Garden”, comprises three city lots at the southwest corner of Napier St. and Salsbury Drive, including two historic BC Mills cottages (1117 & 1121 Salsbury) and an extraordinary heritage garden/forest.
SW corner, Salsbury Street & Napier Street, in Grandview
The two small working-class homes, built in 1907, were probably the first houses built on this part of Salsbury Drive and are rare surviving examples of early pre-fabricated construction. They document an important period in the city’s socio-economic history, serving as examples of the small, utilitarian workers’ cottages common in Vancouver’s early days.
What makes the site particularly significant is the close to 100-year-old garden, which presently occupies 60% of the site. The garden was created by an unusual placement of the two BC Mills cottages. Instead of placing each cottage on its own lot facing north to Napier, owner Charles Reid placed them in what would normally be the back yard, then turned them ninety degrees straddling both lots and facing east to Salsbury. This placement created a large rectangular space at the corner of Salsbury and Napier, framed on the west by 1760 Napier Street.
Arthur Greenius, who bought the property from Reid in 1914 and lived at 1760 Napier Street until the 1950s, was committed to Reid’s garden vision and planted many unusual trees such as a California redwood, a giant butternut tree and a California spicebush.
The growth of the garden continued undisturbed through the next 80+ years, even though Dr. Greenius was the last person to own the entire property. Throughout the 20th century, Salsbury Garden had a special place and value within the community.
Now, one hundred years later, the Garden and homes are threatened. Developer Richard Niebuhr, the new owner of 1117 and 1121 Napier Street, wishes to obliterate the existing BC Mills cottages and garden treasures, which have absolutely no heritage protection. (1760 Napier Street, which is separately owned, is not at risk.)
Once again, the vulnerability of our heritage is exposed. Like so many areas in Vancouver — and particularly in East Vancouver — this neighbourhood is sadly underrepresented in the Heritage Register. For example, most (90%) of the 54 houses with addresses on Salsbury Drive between 1st Drive and Venables were built before WWI; none is on the Heritage Register.
Little cottages such as those on the site are a fast-disappearing element of our historical record. Even more significant is the potential loss of a unique, intentional development configuration that might be termed a historic ‘vernacular’ landscape.
Although the community cherishes the configuration/ landscape, the 1986 Register, which focuses on individual buildings and architectural merit, is woefully under-equipped to evaluate its significance or to provide mechanisms for retention.
We applaud the previous City Council’s decision to update the Register and anticipate that ways to recognize and protect sites such as Salsbury Garden in the future will be considered. In light of this, we urge the City to explore creative alternatives for the preservation of this unique resource.
Update April 14, 2006: Developer Richard Niebuhr has appealed to the Supreme Court of BC the August 2005 Board of Variance decision in favour of the Friends of Salsbury Garden. (This decision had overturned the development permit.) We await the outcome of the current appeal. The two 1907 BC Mills prefabricated cottages remain vacant. We will request the City of Vancouver to conduct a heritage evaluation of the cottages and garden.
Update October 20, 2006: In August 2005, the Supreme Court of BC ruled against the Board of Variance having the jurisdiction to overturn the previous development permit for the site. Accordingly, development and demolition permits were recently re-issued, and today, developer Richard Niebuhr had the homes torn down, and also cut down the largest trees, including the cypresses and the butternut. No heritage evalution was made by the City.