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.”
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