JOHN MACKIE (VANCOUVER SUN ) - The West End’s last great mansion has been sold for $6.72 million. And after several decades as a restaurant, it’s being turned back into a residence.
But it won’t be for a single family. New owner Nevin Sangha plans to convert the 17,327-sq.-ft. house to rental apartments.
Gabriola House was built between 1900 and 1901 by B.T. Rogers, the founder of the B.C. Sugar Refinery. It was named after the Gulf Island where its distinctive “greenish grey” sandstone exterior comes from.
Sangha has loved it since he was a kid growing up in East Vancouver.
“It’s the coolest property in Vancouver,” he said. “There’s a few properties (where you think), ‘Oh my God, I could actually own this?’”
Rogers died in 1918, and in 1924 the house was converted to the Angus Apartments. In 1978, Hy Aisenstat converted it into Hy’s Mansion, one of the city’s elite restaurants. In 1994, it went a little more down market as the Macaroni Grill.
The Macaroni Grill moved out a few years ago and last year the mansion went up for sale for $10 million. The building cannot be torn down because one of the former owners designated it a heritage structure in order to build condos on the western end of the original lot.
Sangha spent seven months putting a deal together to purchase the building, and to get out of a lease The Keg restaurant chain had on the space. The inside had been partly gutted in preparation for a new restaurant.
“It needs a little bit of TLC on the inside,” he said. “The good news is the nicest parts of the inside of the house have not been touched — the iconic staircase, the fireplace, some of the flooring.
“What we want to do is celebrate a lot of that detail. So in our new rental complex, we’re going to retrofit the residential units inside.”
Sangha is still coming up with a plan for the site, but figures the number of apartments will be “in the teens.”
“There will be some smaller suites, and there will be up to three-bedroom suites,” he said.
“Up in the third floor, there’s a huge attic, so some (units) will have a loft area, a second storey.”
Sangha has done projects like this before.
“I specialize in older buildings,” said Sangha. “I have one of the oldest highrises in Vancouver at Comox and Cardero. It was a natural for me to try to take this thing and try to keep it.”
He recently got approval from the city to build infill rental buildings at three sites in the West End, including Grace Court, the seven-storey building from 1906 at 1601 Comox. He would like to add some infill to the Gabriola site, as well, in the form of four townhouses in the northeast corner. But the mansion’s exterior will stay the same.
“We want to preserve it, keep it,” he said. “It’s not the highest and best use for the property, but it works.”
He also wants to try and keep as much of the interior as possible.
“We want to celebrate the elements on the inside that have never held heritage designation, like the stained-glass windows, the gigantic staircase,” he said. “The fireplace at the entrance is incredible.”
Indeed. According to a story in the July 15, 1901 Vancouver World, the fireplace is “heavily ornamented” Arizona sandstone, “displaying in the upper panel the monogram of the owner (Benjamin Rogers), amidst foliage of Byzantine acanthus.”
Rogers also had his initials (“BTR”) installed on the doorknobs. He spared no expense on the mansion, which was built on a hill with a commanding view of English Bay.
It was designed by B.C.’s top architect, Samuel Maclure, and B.C.’s top stained-glass artist, James Bloomfield, executed a trio of stunning stained glass windows on the second floor landing.
The dining room featured eight-foot-tall wall panelling fashioned from red bean and Australian tallow wood, and the coved ceiling was moulded “in a Jacobean model of intersecting bands.” There was a library, a drawing room, a conservatory, a billiard room and a porte cochere.
The downtown peninsula used to have a lot of mansions like this, but the only ones left are Gabriola House and Abbott House, at 720 Jervis, which has been converted to condos.
Sangha figures Gabriola’s beauty and history will give it a lot of cachet as a rental property.
“I’ve got people who want to put a furniture store in there,” he said. “A major restaurant chain wants to put a restaurant in there. But my business is apartment buildings.
“I think it will be the coolest thing for people to be able to say ‘I live at The Mansion.’ That’s my goal.”
(CBC NEWS) Details of a $200 million proposal to replace Vancouver's Georgia and Dunsmuir street viaducts, including a new 13-acre park on the shore of False Creek, were revealed by senior planners from city hall today.
The proposal suggests replacing the elevated roadways with surface roads that connect to ramps near Rogers Arena in and out of downtown Vancouver.
Staff say the total cost for the project would be about $200 million, but the full cost would be covered by revenue generated by a variety of sources, including development of land opened up by the project.
According to city staff replacing the viaducts would have several benefits including:
"Staff are chomping at the bit waiting to go," said Jerry Dobrovolny, the acting general manger of city engineering. "This is a once-in-a-life-time city building opportunity.
City Councillor George Affleck said he still had concerns about whether the projected revenue would be able to cover the cost of the project, and much it would impact commuters.
"We are looking at one to three minutes per trip. For a commuter that is six minutes a day, five times a week. That is 30 minutes a week. This is time out of people's lives," said Affleck.
The plan and estimated cost doesn't include $100 million for a new overpass along Mailken Road to move rerouted traffic over the rail yards on False Creek Flats to the east of the site. That cost, like the new Powell Street railway overpass, may be shared by the federal government and the rail company.
Planning stagesIn June 2013, the city council voted unanimously to study the removalof the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts, which link East Vancouver with downtown, but a final vote on the proposal has not taken place yet.
Since then, city staff have been conducting traffic impact studies and community consultations to determine what impact the viaduct removals would have on the city.
The Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts link downtown Vancouver with Prior Street in East Vancouver. They were originally built to connect to a freeway through East Vancouver that was scrapped after residents protested.
An exhibit of the technical findings will be on display at Science World for the next two weeks, and staff will report those findings to council later this fall.
The viaducts were originally opened in 1972 as part of a larger proposed freeway through East Vancouver. That plan was scrapped after residents protested.
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