The Missing Houses of Yaletown

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Percy Linden
Gord McCaw shot this photo of Percy Linden outside his home on June 26, 1986

Do you remember the little house on Richards Street between Nelson and Helmcken? It was one of the last ones standing and for years had quite the garden and lots of funky birdhouses and wheelbarrows. I was reminded of it when Glen Mofford posted a photo that he took of owner Percy Linden outside his house in the summer of 2001. “The house appeared to be a hold out from another age when these Victorian era houses were all over the downtown core,” says Glen.

1021 Richards Street
1021 Richards Street, built in 1907. Photo courtesy Glen Mofford, 2001.

Percy was an interesting guy. A former truck driver, he bought the house in the ‘50s, rented it out, and moved in there in 1970. At one time the house was a violin studio.

1021 Richards Street
1021 Richards Street in 1975. Photo courtesy Vancouver Archives 780-43

“Percy Linden is familiar to east-of-Granville Street regulars, trundling his lawnmower along the sidewalks of the hookers’ strolls, an other-era figure in the shadow of the construction cranes above the old Yaletown warehouse district that flag the march uptown of condominium towers.” wrote Globe and Mail reporter Robert Williamson in 1993.

 

Richards Street
1000 block Richards Street, west-side in 1981. Courtesy Vancouver Archives 779-E08-36

That year, Percy won an award for his garden from the BC Society of Landscape Architects.

“I never, ever thought of what I do in terms of landscaping,” Percy told Williamson. “I didn’t have the faintest intention of even growing a weed. I just set out to clean up the yard, and it evolved, inch by inch. People talk about hours of planning. I didn’t put one second’s planning into it; I just dug wherever I felt like it.”

Percy LInden
1000 block Richards Street, east side, 1981. Courtesy Vancouver Archives 779-E08-26

The birdhouses—a collection of tiny farmhouses, barns, hotels and windmills, were inspired by Percy’s rural upbringing in Alberta. A little sign in the front yard read: “Take a little extra time today to stop and smell the roses long the way.”

Tour buses would stop outside his house, tourists snapped photographs, and others left fan mail in his mailbox. But every year, the house would seem to shrink a little more as a sea of high rises and condominiums grew up beside it.

Percy Linden
1062 Richards Street in 2007. Courtesy Vancouver Sun

Not long after Glen took his photo, Percy gave up his house and garden. And, then a few years later, a feisty little old lady named Linda Rupa, who owned a little cottage in the same block as Percy, gave in under the weight of a $36,000 annual property tax bill. The former Safeway cashier sold the one-time bootlegging joint that she’d owned since 1962 for $6 million.

“When I came in here, I had 17 phones, two private lines to the States and a big poker table upstairs,” she told Vancouver Sun reporter John Mackie in 2007. “It was a lovely neighbourhood, where people cared about each other.”

1000 block Richards Street today, via Google maps

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

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11 comments

  1. I knew a school mate that lived in that area before the birdhouses adorned the property. I knew dozens of kids that lived in great old homes in the West End. One friend (Grodzki) lived in an old home on Thurlow between Pacific and Beach. They were surrounded by hi rises. Another friend lived in Grace Court on Cardero. The building still exists and has quite a history. It had the old fashioned elevator with an iron gate and the lever to operate the direction. Thanks for the history on the house with all the bird houses.

  2. Somewhere, I have a photo of Percy in front of his house, taken in the late 1970s. He was in the yard gardening and I stopped to tell him how much I loved his garden and took his photo.

  3. This wasn’t my neighbourhood, but it was across from an art supply store that I frequented. Of course I took some pics (not sure where they are now) and even got to meet and say hello to Percy. His house brought me joy everytime I saw it. Neighbourhoods lose character when replaced by highrises. The front yard and porches told the story of who lived inside. Everything is so annonymous now. At least in the West End, the apartment building were on a much smaller scale so there is still some personality carved out in the front gardens. All the sameness in big condo or highrise projects extinguish the character of a neighbourhood.

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