Reno Galore

‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’

– John Keates

In his book Vanishing Vancouver, Michael Kluckner explained how certain he was that the J.W.Leek House in Point Grey would be a casualty of Vancouver’s rapid growth.  Michael Kluckner is an artist and author of several beautiful books chronicling Vancouver’s history.

Vanishing Vancouver

He was familiar with the house, which was designed and built for a time where Vancouverites grew most of their own food and lived in more modestly-sized homes. Michael went with his paintbrush and with a certain wistfulness, made a watercolour of the house which was surely destined for demolition. It features in his book published in 2012.

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Michael didn’t know that my parents wanted to purchase the house.  Mom and Dad had gone by the house often and wanted to restore it to its former glory.  I shared their vision. Together with my parents, we undertook a daunting renovation of the Leek House after purchase in 2010. So much was going on at the time. My father was at end-stage liver failure and I was gearing up to be the organ donor. We had more than enough things going on both personally and professionally.

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Some interior photos before the renovation, showing holes in the walls and ceilings and roof.

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Stains like these were all over the house. They were either water or animal urine….

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In the living room, this hole was above the sofa. Which had ferns growing out of it. Green house?

When dad explained that our mandate was to renovate (not demolish), the contractors we asked to bid on the job looked at us bug-eyed as if we were bat s— crazy. The roof had holes so extensive that ferns were growing out of the living room sofa. The place stank sickly sweet of rot exacerbated by the various wildlife living in the house, including a family of raccoons. Sean Pearson, our architect at RUF project got reactions every time he went in to take measurements, being allergic to mould. Dad, who was in dangerously frail condition medically, had to be hospitalized after he visited the home and didn’t wear a mask. It was cleaned out by a crew in bio hazard suits.

back from master bed

Back Garden post reno. Dad’s original design was to replace the fallen, rotten, dead and dying fruit trees with a gently sloping landscaping and dozens healthy fruit trees and dozens of healthy cedars.  Every tree that had a hope for health, including the walnut that stands at an angle, was preserved and nursed to optimal health.  The area where the lawn is divided into squares,was before the reno, a mossy rectangle.

The original “backyard” was a something out of Sleeping Beauty’s enchanted forest.  Enchanted as in dark magic and evil: briars and brambles 15 feet high made it impossible to traverse the backyard.  We tried.  We might have been successful with a machete.  A derelict and diseased orchard had gone to seed and created a hazardous situation for neighbours and visitors alike: several fallen trees, many of which had crashed onto the neighbour’s yard. The City was even called upon to remove trees that fell onto and blocked the back lane. These trees, mostly fruit varieties planted when the house was first built, were in such dangerous condition that the city had written to the then-owner to remove them. She never did. The city forgot. They did have copies of the letter, however…. My dad cleaned up the dying trees all of which were already dead, already fallen down, and or certified dying by an arborist. These trees were so obviously dead, that it didn’t take an arborist to attest to their shape.    Several were little more than standing rotten logs covered with ivy.

Fellows who went in to help with the dangerous trees called them ‘widow-makers’, a common lexicon of woodmen which refer to a trees certain to fall.

entrance

Entry way post reno.  Note the original staircase which we protected during the reno and then restored. The lighting fixture is original to the house. We were advised to scrap the front door. We refurnished it instead and it’s gleaming.

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Post reno Room. Architect and Design firm RUF Project used beams both as structure and sculpture. This room was short-listed for best room for the BC Builder’s Association Awards. Other rooms included Best Kitchen reno, Best Bathroom reno, and Best Overall.

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Living Room post reno: Note the original lighting fixture and windows. We remade the 1930’s coved ceilings in the original style. Not throughout the house but in the living room to give a nod to times past.  We managed to keep the original tiling in the bay windows.  G Wilson Construction found a way of preserving much of the original flooring in this room.  We also kept the original radiator covers and decor.  Too beautiful to throw away.

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The façade though some of the many trees on the property. Several of the trees in the back yard were dangerous and deemed Dangerous by the City back when several fruit trees toppled onto the back lane and the neighbour’s property.

The house had good bones, a solid foundation and good-luck coming. Fast forward to 2013, skipping over trials, tribulations, tears, hard work, the ingeniousness of an amazing team, and sweat too…  The builder was G Wilson Construction and the architect and designer RUF Project.  Both told us it would be cheaper to rebuild.  But they agreed to work with us to preserve a piece of Vancouver.  The revitalized house has won several awards for renovation including a Georgie, BC Builder’s Association Award and most recently the City of Vancouver Heritage award.  

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I attended the City of Vancouver Heritage awards and was so proud of dad when he said, “in everything we do, leave the earth better than we found it.”  This is the legacy we must all leave.

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City of Vancouver Heritage Award. One of three major awards the renovation won.

We had an open house as part of the Parade of Renovated Homes sponsored by the BC Builder’s Association.  Both RUF Project architectural firm and G Wilson Construction were awarded several honours for this project.  And we were all overwhelmed by the positive outcry of the public, neighbours, builders, architects and designers.  The entire team had made something historical, beautiful, delightful.  All it takes is vision.  Of which my mom and dad have in spades.  Envisioning and making charge, I am delighted to be a part of the movement to preserve where ever possible.

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The Georgie Award.  Rather like an Oscar….

As we shape our future history, we must cherish the architecture of the past.  Which ties us back to our present.  Amen.

(Amen, I wrote, but I received great comments from a Facebook friend I wanted to add.  Please see comments.)

3 thoughts on “Reno Galore

  1. Gurdeep Stephens Post author

    A facebook friend wrote this and I asked him if I could post it.

    I think it’s fair to say that in enforcing its draconian strict liability laws on tree removal, the City not only turned a blind eye to the extreme and unique circumstances surrounding the removal of these trees (which your blog so beautifully sets out), but also used this as an opportunity to malign Arran’s public reputation and essentially portray him as an environmentalist hypocrite swinging a chainsaw. Also, I think it’s fair to say that if you’re going to use someone as a pawn in the city politics public relations game, just to show ’em all that no one’s-messing-around with our bylaws, have the decency to at least tell the whole story. Where was the City when these trees were deemed a hazard? Where was the City when contractors couldn’t walk past them without risk of injury? And where was the City when the architectural and heritage preservation communities rose in thunderous applause to commend the work your parents did?

    Reply
    1. Gurdeep Stephens Post author

      This is from the same Facebook friend, an eloquent writer indeed.

      This man removed trees that a professional arborist deemed dead and decaying, that the City had told the old owner to remove, and that were indicative of the property’s general state of neglect and disrepair. Whenever there was a court appearance, someone, somehow, tipped off the television news to have cameras and microphones at the ready, a juicy news story on a slow day– Caught in the act! –the closest Vancouver news could come to an ol’ fashioned US style smear piece. But this was no city mayor in an undercover drug sting, or politician texting the wrong photos. It was a guy cleaning up a mess that should have been cleaned up years before. And when the politico’s colleagues down the hall are giving awards away for heritage preservation, can someone at least have the courtesy to apologize for maligning the reputation of a person whose life’s work has been making the world a better, and healthier, place.

      Reply
  2. Yvonne Kipp

    Absolutely Brilliant, Gurdeep. Thank you for in-depth look at this great restoration story.
    Yvonne Kipp.

    Reply

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