April 19, 2021

Buildings that Changed Vancouver: 2280 Cornwall

Michael Kluckner riffs off the post from Michael Gordon below to recount the story of the building that marked the end of the highrise era in Kitsilano*.

2280 Cornwall

It was the end of ’71 when developer Ben Wosk started work on the apartment building at 2280 Cornwall, following the path set by the St. Roch at 2323 and Century House at 2370 West 2nd in 1966 (left), and Las Salinas at 2310 West 2nd and Seaside Plaza at 2324 West 1st in 1968. The earlier “highrises” are on big pieces of property, like the West End ones of the ’60s, with a lot of open space and low FSR, as were Carriage House and similar buildings erected at that time in South Granville and Kerrisdale. Very different from everything today.

People including some NPA aldermen naively believed that the height limit was three storeys at the beach, although it was actually 120 feet or 12 storeys. Bruce Yorke of the Vancouver Tenants Council led the protests – something people have a problem understanding today, that highrise apartments were equated with higher rents than the lowrise ones, and with displacement and gentrification.

(The blowback was so immediate that Tom Campbell, the NPA mayor at the time, intervened with Wosk to get a stop on the highrise proposal.)  Wosk agreed to build only three storeys “on condition the area is rezoned so that no other highrises can be built,” according to the Sun, February 16, 1972.

I presume that Carriage House got into the development stream before the zoning was amended, and it was a condominium – I think the first big strata project in Kits. However, there had been such a rush to convert rental buildings to condos by 1974 that the city put in a moratorium on conversion.

Another one people forget was the proposal by the Royal Canadian Legion and CMHC to build a 13-storey senior citizens residence at 7th and Maple in 1973. It would have stood beside the Burrard-Arbutus Connector (now the Arbutus Greenway, then the BCER railway) and contain 75 bachelor suites at $105 and 26 one-bedrooms at $125. There were widespread protests by community and seniors groups. Senior Anna Paulin: “We don’t want these high prices; we don’t have the money to pay for them.”

The West Broadway Citizens Committee led protests, including occupying the CMHC offices on West 12th. October 25, 1973: the two local MLAs, Norman Levi and Rosemary Brown, accused the City of “blockbusting” in the way the highrise was going in. Eventually, the scheme was lowered to a three-storey model, which remains today.


*PT: Not just in Kits but maybe for all of Vancouver, including the downtown and West End. 

Despite their last-minute conversion against highrises, the NPA lost the next election to TEAM, who changed the zoning in most neighbourhoods in such a way to effectively preclude them.  As far as I know, no new highrise was developed in Vancouver from the late 70s to the late 80s, when a condo highrise on Burrard (left) marked the beginning of a whole new era in condo construction. 

(I welcome any examples of residential highrises constructed in that period, or when the first highrise condo in the 80s was built, but it seems to be a ‘missing’ era in Vancouver architecture.  You have to go to Burnaby to see examples near Central Park.)

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  1. The Carrage House was originally a rental, converted into condos in early 1974. They did extensive upgrades before we bought in March 1974. They allowed us to pick our own wallpaper and carpeting and of course we picked top of the line. They complained bitterly, but that was the deal and they reluctantly kept to it. I loved that condo, but alas we moved to Ottawa within a year.

  2. That’s interesting. The big protest around the open pit for the garage was in the spring of 1974. So it was announced as a rental but converted to condos before it was actually built?

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