13th Annual Heritage Vancouver Society Top10 Watch List
Once again, a landmark of our postwar modernist heritage is threatened, and the VanDusen Gardens Forest Education Centre is at the top of our 2013 list. Recognized as an architectural masterpiece when it opened in 1976, this little-known gem will soon be vacated and there is no guarantee that it will be retained. Another new Endangered Site is the fabulous Waldorf Hotel, illustrating the potential loss of critically-needed cultural and social venues in our rapidly-densifying city. Remaining on the list this year is the recently-sold Main Post Office, the neglected Burrard Building at St. Paul’s Hospital and some of our historic neighbourhoods.
A number of Vancouver’s Schools remain threatened with replacement, a process kicked off by the long-awaited seismic mitigation process. The demolition of so many schools has been an unintended consequence of the seismic program, through an attempt to catch up with many issues of severely-deferred maintenance.
Although we fully support the seismic upgrading of our historic schools, this process alone should not trigger the number of demolitions that are likely to occur over the next seven years; L‘Ecole Bilingue will be the next to go.
As the economy continues its slow improvement, more and more heritage sites face redevelopment. Our Top Ten sites for this year demonstrate a variety of issues that affect our heritage environment, ranging from individual buildings to entire streetscapes and neighbourhoods. Several neighbourhood plans are underway that could have serious impacts on local heritage resources, but there are no proposed mechanisms for updating the Heritage Register in those areas. Over the next year, we will be actively involved in the development of these plans, and other community initiatives.
These sites also indicate many issues with the City’s weak policy framework regarding heritage protection, including a woefully outdated Heritage Register, a freeze since 2007 on the Heritage Density Bank, and the precedence given to housing issues over heritage retention.
These ten endangered sites represent the many challenges that we face in building a future for heritage in Vancouver
In 2013, our Number One Endangered Site is the Forest Education Centre, a little-known modernist masterpiece, currently lost in the forest of an untended section of VanDusen Garden. Built in 1976, it was originally known as MacMillan-Bloedel Place, named for its donor, the largest forestry company in what was then the largest industry in British Columbia. Its unique educational displays, including a 50-seat theatre, were called “A Walk in the Forest” and used “state of the art technology to excite interest in forest technology.” The Park Board continued to offer educational programs here until its new Centre opened in October of 2011. Since then, this architectural gem has been used for storage and offices. Today, the Park Board claims it has no use for the Forest Education Centre and has plans to demolish or abandon the building.
Number Two is the East Hastings Corridor. Featuring a number of varied streetscapes and running through a number of different neighbourhoods, very few of its heritage resources – including the Waldorf Hotel – have been officially recognized. Its “High Street” character is being assailed by a number of new developments, and the pressure on this historic Corridor has only just begun.
Vancouver’s Main Post Office is third on the list. Recently sold, there is no guarantee that the heritage value of this modernist landmark will be recognized. Its uniquely robust industrial structure, built for the use of trucks to move mail, offers unparalleled opportunities for rehabilitation. The public debate about this site should recognize the high quality of its architecture, its unique functional layout and its heritage significance as a postwar landmark.
Number Four illustrates the ongoing concerns regarding our historic Vancouver Schools. The School Board is pushing to complete its seismic rehabilitation program, which will result in much more replacement than retention of our older school buildings. In addition, there are several schools, such as Sir James Douglas, where a new school has been built, the old school is redundant, and there is no resolution of the fate of the historic building.
Our other Top Ten sites for this year demonstrate a variety of issues, including ongoing difficulties associated with the Heritage Density Bank – frozen since August 2007 – as well as the lack of a start date for the long-promised, long-awaited update of the outdated Vancouver Heritage Register. Some heritage sites are also threatened by current city policies that try to wring maximum public benefits out of many sites through extra density, and can therefore favour the provision of social, rental and affordable housing over the retention of heritage.
The Provincial commitment has also been weak. St. Paul’s Hospital remains on our list, as the Province has not yet allocated any funds in their 2013-14 Budget documents to undertake the seismic upgrade and restoration required to preserve the Burrard Building.
As we see increasing amounts of redevelopment throughout the city, there is additional pressure on some of our historic community amenities. In addition to historic schools, we continue to lose neighbourhood theatres such as the Ridge, and cultural and social venues like the Waldorf Hotel are now under threat. We are also monitoring threats to many of our heritage churches and our disappearing early farmhouses, many of which have not been identified.
These ten endangered sites represent the ongoing challenges that we face in building a future for heritage in Vancouver.
We acknowledge the financial assistance of the Province of British Columbia.