Point Grey school tops Heritage Vancouver endangered sites list

Point Grey secondary school crowns Heritage Vancouver Society’s Top 10 most-endangered sites list for 2015.

The school, located at 5350 East Blvd. on the West Side, was completed in 1929. Townley & Matheson, who are known for designing city hall, designed it in the Collegiate Gothic style, which is uncommon in Vancouver. It was inspired by medieval Gothic architecture, according to Heritage Vancouver. 

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Point Grey is one of many Vancouver schools that’s at risk of severe damage in an earthquake. The VSB is exploring options for the school, which may include a seismic upgrade, a partial rebuild or a complete replacement.

Heritage Vancouver argues the main building should be maintained and upgraded, calling Point Grey “one of the most distinctive heritage high schools in Vancouver.”

Schools have often appeared on the conservation society’s watch list and some have already been lost. General Gordon elementary, which was more than a century old, was knocked down in January.

Javier Campos, Heritage Vancouver’s president, said many items on the list act as poster children for larger issues.

“So [Point Grey] is a poster child for the idea of all of the schools. It’s not just Point Grey. It’s the fact that all of those old schools are endangered. It’s a long story of mismanagement of resources and the school board not having money from the [provincial] government,” Campos said. “And, compared to Victoria, which uses their money to upgrade seismically, Vancouver did a lot of deferred maintenance. The provincial government is not paying for the maintenance and now it’s more expensive to actually keep a school and it’s cheaper to tear it down and build a new one.”

Not surprisingly St. Paul’s Hospital landed in second place on the society’s endangered list. In April, Providence Health Care announced plans to replace the historic West End hospital with a state-of-the-art building on an 18.5-acre site adjacent to the city’s train station at Main and Terminal.  

St. Paul's Hospital
St. Paul's Hospital. Photo Dan Toulgoet

The fear is the Burrard Street building will be demolished and the land, assessed at $360 million, will be sold for development.

St. Paul’s also landed on Heritage Vancouver’s 2006, 2007, 2012 and 2013 endangered sites list.

“There are no laws or policies, or incentives, which compel the maintenance of institutional heritage,” the society points out. “It is a common tactic to stop maintenance on existing public buildings when a new building is desired. We need only look at our historic schools to see this ongoing lack of maintenance... It is hard to make the case for a new building unless you find fault with the old one, leading to systemic deterioration.”

The organization maintains St. Paul’s could be adapted for office and support services or for unique residential uses as part of a future redevelopment on the existing site.

The remaining items on Top 10 list are: heritage churches, including Oakridge United (1949), Marine Gardens townhouses, Gastown, CBK Van Norman houses, the 100 block East Hastings, Terminal Avenue industrial buildings, Campbell and Hastings Street, and Commercial Drive.

Stewart Burgess, vice president of Heritage Vancouver, said one of the themes of the list is unrecognized assets, which is related to work the society is doing on the process that’s underway to update the city’s heritage register as part of the Heritage Action Plan.

He said St. Paul’s has no protection right now, nor do some church buildings such as Oakridge United, which are not just architectural icons but community assets and social gathering spaces. CBK Norman houses are being “demolished left and right,” along with many character homes in Vancouver, with little or no protection, Burgess added.

“Main and Terminal — the industrial buildings, which everyone drives by and looks at and, I think, appreciates them and their place in the city, but no one is aware they could disappear tomorrow if plans to develop East False Creek go ahead,” he said. “So, I’d say, [the list] is tied to our work updating the register, trying to get some of these properties onto the register and get them some protection.”

Campos believes the city is moving forward in its efforts to protect heritage.

“The heritage action plan is a huge step forward. We haven’t done anything about heritage in 25 years, so we’re dealing with 25-year-old ideas about how to save buildings,” he said. “So I think that’s the biggest thing that’s happening and I think the city took a big step forward in implementing the Heritage Action Plan.”

Heritage Vancouver’s 2015 Top 10 Endangered Sites bus tour is from 1 to 5 p.m., May 9. For more information and tickets, see heritagevancouver.org.

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