Victoria heritage building gets new life

July 10, 2012

As seen in the Vancouver Sun on July 9, 2012

How do you save the front of a historic brick building while demolishing the rest of it to make room for a 16-storey residential tower?

“Very carefully,” chuckles Donald Luxton, the heritage consultant hired by Concert Real Estate Corp. of Vancouver after the company purchased property in downtown Victoria that included a two-storey building listed in the city’s Heritage Register.

“It’s a very tricky little procedure,” Luxton explains, adding that engineers have designed special scaffolding for the job. “The brick wall itself will be clamped into the scaffolding, ... the weight of the brick will be held up, and then cantilevered over the excavation.”

It’s a small but integral part of Concert’s new development, a 157-unit tower called Era, in Victoria’s Old Town — the company’s fifth multi-family residential building in the city. Construction is expected to begin this month after a lengthy process to determine the best way of saving the Edwardian-style building from 1905.

While preserving the whole building might be best from a historical perspective, it wasn’t possible in this case, Luxton says, since it’s in the middle of the property that Concert is developing. “The problem is there has to be an approach that works or the building won’t get restored at all or nothing will be retained.”

The compromise Luxton recommended is to preserve intact the front of the original building and incorporate it into a new two-storey building, re-creating the same look and proportions.

“We’ll actually be reconstructing some of the brick side walls once the construction is done, so it will look more solid, so it won’t look like a facade hanging off the front of the building,” adds Luxton, who’s been involved in the project from the beginning. “We want it to be a real showpiece.”

The original building has been altered by various owners over the years. Stucco now covers the original yellow brick and black mortar, and an arched entryway on the ground floor is long gone. Preservation work will include removing the stucco and restoring the original brick, as well as rebuilding an arched entryway and restoring decorative details.

With the belief that “the best way to pay respect to the old part is not trying to mimic it,” Luxton says the residential tower that will sit on top of the second level will be contemporary, with lots of glass.

The tower will be modern in other ways, too, says Rod Wilburn, Concert’s senior vice-president, sales and marketing.

“We — the development community, the builders — we’ve come a long way in creating super-efficient and well-laid-out floor plans. There are no winding, rambling spaces. There’s well-used space, lots of windows, lots of light.”

Most of the condominium homes are in the $198,900-to-$398,900 price range, Wilburn says, with a few penthouses at the $600,000 price point.

Sizes will be equally modest: Studios are about 475 square feet, one-bedrooms are a little larger and two bedrooms range from about 750 to just over 900 square feet. The largest suite in the place — a loft-style one bedroom with a den — is 1,048 square feet.

The company copied one of its studio floor plans from a popular design at Astoria, its first residential highrise in Victoria. “Astoria remains very popular,” Wilburn says, noting that the studio suites there have a dedicated space for sleeping and they will at Era, too.

“It’s not the typical studio where you have a Murphy bed or a fold-out bed and you’re sleeping in your living room,” he explains. “This is a dedicated sleeping area or what I would call a bedroom. You pass through the bedroom area to get to the main living area. ... It forms the hallway through the suite.”

Wilburn says the condos are designed to primarily appeal to first-time homebuyers. “It’s quite common that local Victoria folks would buy, quite often for their son or daughter as a stepping stone, or perhaps while they’re going to university.”

About 30 per cent of the units have been purchased, Wilburn says, adding that “one-third of the suites sold so far in Era have been sold to repeat Concert buyers.” He credits this to the company’s reputation for creating quality buildings, something supported by the fact that it has won the Customer Choice Georgie Award four years in a row.

Buyers at Era have one thing in common, according to Wilburn, and that is the desire to be able to walk everywhere. “The main benefit of Era is the location,” he notes, with its proximity to Victoria’s Inner Harbour, restaurants, coffee shops, banks and Beacon Hill Park.

Even though residents won’t need their car to get around the downtown core, all the two-bedroom units and some of the larger one-bedrooms will come with underground parking. Studios and smaller one-bedrooms don’t include parking. However, Concert is donating a car to the Victoria Car Share Co-op for the use of residents in the entire neighbourhood.

Other amenities include a large social lounge and a garden terrace off the second floor. As well, Concert will be expanding and improving Millie’s Lane, a historic walkway next to the development that connects to another north-south walkway, creating a mid-block pedestrian shortcut. The lane will be open to the public and promises to be a lively space. Plans call for a café on Era’s ground floor to open onto the lane.


Location: Downtown Victoria

Project size/scope: A 16-storey, concrete residence containing 157 suites, as well as a social lounge, garden terrace and car-share program. Street-level retail abuts the redesigned Millie’s Lane and a public open space with seating.

Price: Most homes priced $198,900 — $398,900

Monthly Strata fees: from $188.31

Developer: Concert Real Estate Corp.

Builder: Campbell Construction Ltd. (General Contractor)

Architect: Rafii Architects in collaboration with Richard Henry Architect

Interiors: Portico Design Group

Telephone: 250-383-3722


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