Historic Wilmar Residence may be preserved

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016

City of Vancouver ?pleased? owner pursuing retention

Naoibh O?Connor
Van. Courier

It’s been vacant for a decade. A proposal to preserve it fell through more than two years ago. But Vancouver’s historic Wilmar residence may yet be saved from the wrecking ball.

Developer James Evans has come up with a new heritage revitalization proposal that would see the estate’s house and coach house restored and five infill buildings added to the almost two-acre lot at 2050 Southwest Marine Dr.

The 9,000-square-foot main house would be divided into two units, while the coach house, which is a three-car garage with space above it, would be rehabilitated with the space above turned into amenity space for the residents.

Such a redevelopment would be a first for one of the large estates along Marine Drive.

Evans, who was involved with the earlier proposal, is optimistic his revised plan will be approved.

The City of Vancouver’s communication department told the Courier in an email that the city is “pleased” the owner is pursuing retention and rehabilitation, although the city can’t discuss details since the application hasn’t been officially submitted yet.

Built in 1925, the Tudor-style Wilmar residence has heritage B status, meaning it’s registered but not designated, so it could be knocked down.

It’s considered one of the great estate properties on Southwest Marine Drive and in Vancouver. The five-bedroom home landed on Heritage Vancouver’s 2012 endangered sites list. The organization considers it valuable because of its architecture, history and historical associations.

“Wilmar” combines the names of Willard and Mary Kitchen. The Kitchen family and its descendants occupied the house until 2006 when Judith Jardine, the last living family member, died. The estate was eventually sold to Evans and his business partners for $7.5 million.

While the fundamentals of the house are in good shape, and the outside has been well looked after, the inside is largely the same as it was when it was built in 1925.

The rehabilitation effort will include ensuring Wilmar meets the requirements of the modern building code.

“By the time we’re finished, the [exterior of the] house is going to look substantially the same as it did back in 1925, with the exception that we’re basically adding a second front door to the entrance of the house because it’s going to be two units,” Evans said. “But other than that, it will look exactly the same as it did when it was originally built.”

Evans’ ongoing interest in the Wilmar redevelopment project is both personal and professional.

“My hairline’s a lot further south than it was when I started, and there are a few more grey hairs in there,” he joked.

When he first became involved, Evans said it looked like a viable project and one that would be fun to do since he enjoys fixing heritage homes.

“It’s important for us to try and preserve a little bit of where we came from in the City of Vancouver because we spend so much time looking forward and trying to figure out how we can be the latest and greatest in whatever it is. [But] we can’t forget where we came from,” he said.

“I’m not going to pretend for a moment that every old thing in the city can be saved, or should be saved, for that matter. But there’s a history attached to the house with prominent families back in the day. And, it happens to be an excellent example of a house that’s largely unchanged from when it was built. It’s worthy of keeping. So, some of it’s personal interest and, like I’ve said, I think now I’ve actually got a project form that the city’s prepared to support and that is viable.”

Evans is well versed in heritage restoration. He was behind the Jeffs Residence rehabilitation project at 1298 Salsbury Dr. in Grandview-Woodland. That saw the restoration and retention of a Queen Anne Revival-style home with 13 infill townhomes added to the property.

“My objective with that was to try to save the home and try to add what I call stealth density into an area that would obviously support it,” he said. “Because there’s a couple of ways you can create density — one is you build high rises all over the place, which we seem to do in abundance in Vancouver. The other one is you try to intelligently densify within existing neighbourhoods without changing the fabric of what the neighbourhood is.”

Evans hopes to replicate that concept through another heritage revitalization proposal he’s involved in that aims to save the Brookhouse Residence, a landmark home in Grandview-Woodland at 1872 Parker St.

The home was built in the Queen Anne Revival style, with a corner turret, in 1909 and named for printer and editor Arthur A. Brookhouse, who owned it and lived in it with his family from 1927 until his death in 1947.

If the proposal is approved, the house will be rehabilitated and divided into six strata units, while four infill townhomes would be built along the rear lane.

A January open house attracted about 50 people. It was generally well received, according to city staff, but the application is still under review and a public hearing date has not been scheduled.

If Evans gets the green light on the Wilmar and the Brookhouse project, he hopes to start construction on both properties this summer.

Asked if he’s worried the Wilmar project will be derailed once again, Evans said: “That’s the $64,000 question. Will it be derailed? Well, I guess anything can happen. As I say, there are still some form-of-development and planning issues that I’m working through with [the] planning [department] right now that are fairly minor in nature, but ultimately, it’s council’s decision and they can bless it or they can say no. And if they say no, that’ll be the end of it.”

© 2016 Vancouver Courier


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