‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)