Art deco bridge tops endangered list: Heritage activists fear plan to
add bicycle lanes to Burrard Bridge will ruin look of the structure
15 February 2002
B1 / Front
Copyright c 2001 Vancouver Sun
The graceful art deco lines of the Burrard Bridge have made it one of
Vancouver's most beloved structures. But heritage activists fear it
could be radically altered by a proposal to add bicycle commuter lanes
to either side of the 1932 bridge.
As a result, the Burrard Bridge tops Heritage Vancouver's second
annual list of the Top 10 Endangered Sites in Vancouver.
The list is designed to bring attention to Vancouver's most pressing
heritage issues. This year's Top 10 features a wide variety of old
houses, commercial and industrial buildings, and even a natural
feature. It ranges from Vancouver's old downtown core on Hastings
street to an 1888 cottage in Mount Pleasant, and the roller-coaster at
the Pacific National Exhibition.
The Burrard Bridge is number one because of its historic and
architectural value. It was a monumental project when it was built,
the first bridge over False Creek that was high enough for ships to
pass under. (Prior to its construction, the old Granville and Cambie
bridges had swing spans, which impeded traffic.)
"It's such a significant entrance to downtown," said Janet Leduc,
president of Heritage Vancouver. "For the Olympics, wouldn't it be
wonderful to have the bridge restored with the torches at either end
as a grand entrance into the city of Vancouver?"
Instead, city engineers are looking at*** "outrigger" lanes off
the sides of the bridge.
"They'd have to demolish some of the railings and features of the
bridge," said Leduc. "It would completely detract [from the heritage
look]. It might look like the Port Mann Bridge, with these great big
Leduc said from a heritage standpoint, a better option would be to put
a bicycle lane underneath the Granville Bridge, which she said has a
more central location and is closer to the areas experiencing
Number two on the list is Hastings street between Main and Cambie, in
the heart of the Downtown Eastside, with its drug and social problems.
"Hastings street from Main to Granville was the original main street
of the city," said heritage consultant Don Luxton. "The whole eastern
half of it is being allowed to deteriorate.
"What's happening, certainly in the West 100 block [across from
Woodwards], is that the buildings are left vacant. They are not only
deteriorating, they're also at threat of vandalism and arson. There
isn't going to be much left fairly soon of some of those buildings,
they're just not going to survive. The danger is demolition by
Vancouver heritage planner Jeannette Hlavach said that even buildings
that have heritage designation are at risk.
"Designation prohibits people from demolishing them without special
approval, but it doesn't give owners any assistance with keeping them
up," she said.
"We do have some further protection in Gastown and Chinatown, so we
have something to wield if we don't want something to be demolished.
But really it's not helping improve the buildings. Designation on its
own without any incentives, we have found, isn't sufficient. The
buildings may be there, but they're crumbling."
The PNE roller-coaster is number three on the list. The PNE's lease at
Hastings Park is up at the end of this year, and a proposal to move to
Surrey has been squelched by the provincial government, which has also
said it wants to get out of the amu***t park business. It looks like
the PNE will either be taken over by the city of Vancouver and remain
at Hastings Park, or die.
The roller-coaster is the most beloved symbol of the fair. Built in
1958, it is still the most popular ride at the PNE, ridden by
literally millions of people over the years. Built by coaster legend
Walker Leroy, it has been rated one of the best coasters in the world
by a group of roller-coaster enthusiasts. Its fate is entwined with
that of the PNE; if the fair is killed, the coaster would likely be
moved to a U.S. amu***t park.
Clark House, number four, is a modest little cottage at 243 East
Fifth, near Main. Built in 1888, it is one of the three or four oldest
houses in the city of Vancouver, but has been unoccupied for several
years and is rotting away -- the house's main feature, an elaborate
Victorian porch, had to be torn down after it started to fall down.
"Realistically I don't think it's going to survive on its current
lot," said Leduc. "We're not opposed to it being moved and restored."
The old North Vancouver ferry at the foot of Lonsdale in North
Vancouver is ranked number five. The ship, built in 1941, operated as
the Seven Seas seafood restaurant in recent years, but has been caught
in a tug-of-war with North Vancouver council, which thinks it could
sink and wants it moved.
The Terminus Hotel in Gastown (number six) is just a facade; a 1998
fire destroyed the rest of the building. Re-development proposals have
fallen through, and Heritage Vancouver is scared the facade may wind
up being knocked down.
Opsal Steel (number seven) and the Domtar Salt Building (number nine)
are among the only industrial buildings left from False Creek's
industrial past. Opsal Steel is probably toast; it is situated in an
area the city has designated for high rises, and the city took the
building off the heritage register.
It had been a Heritage A, the highest ranking in the city. But if an
owner can prove the building has no economic use, it can be taken off
"It points out the difficulty of conserving industrial heritage," said
Luxton. "The uses change over time, and the function of the building
relates to how they were designed and how they were built. As the uses
change and become obsolete, the buildings become obsolete.
"It takes some intensive thinking to find a way to preserve these
buildings in a new context."
The Domtar Salt Building is a Heritage B structure owned by the city
at West First and Manitoba, in an area planners have designated for an
experiment in "sustainable" housing.
Luxton is skeptical of how heritage fits into the mix.
"With Domtar Salt, they're allowing it to deteriorate, making no steps
to preserve it even though it's a B-listed heritage building and it's
their own property and it's in the middle of this sustainable
development," he said.
"I would challenge anybody to define sustainable to me when you
demolish everything on a site to rebuild. People throw this term
sustainable around and it just irks me to no end, when they're just as
destructive as any development."
Luxton is also leery of bringing heritage buildings like the Domtar
Salt building up to modern building codes, which often destroy many
"You try and make it conform to existing building bylaws, you rip off
the siding, you rip out the windows, you rip off everything and try
and upgrade it and fix it and essentially destroy the building," he
said. "If you want a green building, paint it green. Leave it alone."
The Beatty Street escarpment (number eight) is one of downtown
Vancouver's few remaining physical landmarks. But the cliff might soon
be covered up by a proposal to put a Costco store across the street
from General Motors Place.
The Top 10 is rounded out by the First Church of Christ, Scientist, at
1160 West Georgia. The 1918 building is a Heritage B structure, but
was recently sold and could be knocked down in a redevelopment scheme.