The Shannon Estate: Fourth most endangered heritage site

by Eve Lazarus on February 27, 2011

BT Rogers Bought the four hectare site from dairy farmer William Shannon in 1913

Last week Heritage Vancouver released its annual top ten list of endangered heritage sites in Vancouver. Three schools topped the list, but the residence considered most in danger is the four-hectare Shannon Estate at the corner of Granville and 57th. Note that it’s not the 40-room mansion that’s under threat, it’s Shannon Mews, the infill townhouse development designed by Arthur Erickson, that’s on the block.

Shannon Mews–Erickson Massey designed townhouse development

The Shannon Estate is valued at $43 million and because the estate is a huge chunk of land in a sought after area, it’s not going to stay the way it is now. It’s also under the allowable density and that’s a problem because loading up the density on the site with glass and steel towers will most definitely impact the context of the estate, which at the moment, still feels like an estate.

Density Bonuses

The City of Vancouver gives developers density bonuses to preserve and maintain heritage in Vancouver. In other words, instead of levelling an old mansion for a 20-storey skyscraper, a developer would incorporate the mansion into the development in exchange for a 22-storey skyscraper. The 1899 mansion at the corner of Georgia and Jervis Streets that sits next to two 37-storey towers is an example. For saving the house and turning it into five condos, Wall Financial Corp (which also owns Shannon) got two extra floors on each tower as their heritage density bonus.

The problem, says Donald Luxton, president of Heritage Vancouver, is that the City has stopped using density bonuses strictly for heritage, but is now using them for everything from daycare to social housing. “What we are asking,” Luxton told the Vancouver Historical Society, “is how much is too much?”

Built for Benjamin Tingley Rogers

I wrote the story of Shannon in At Home with History, and it’s a fascinating one. B.T. Rogers, Vancouver’s first millionaire industrialist and founder of BC Sugar, built the Samuel Maclure-designed Gabriola on Davie Street in 1900. A decade later, Rogers bought 10 acres in the country and had Somervell & Putnam architects design a house that would be the largest west of Toronto. Unfortunately, the economy tanked in 1913 and war broke out the following year, delaying construction until 1915. Three years later, Rogers, 52, died from a cerebral haemorrhage leaving his widow Mary to raise seven children at Gabriola. Mary finished Shannon in 1925 and lived there for 11 years until selling Shannon to Austin C Taylor, president of Bralorne gold mine for $105,600. Taylor stayed until his death in 1965. Developer Peter Wall bought Shannon and hired architect Arthur Erickson to turn the property into a housing development.

Wall Financial Corp's proposal to replace Shannon Mews

The proposed development at 57th and Granville

The 14-storey Tower Proposal

At present there are 162 suites in the two-storey buildings designed by Erickson Massey in 1974. The current proposal leaves the mansion, coach and gate house intact, retains some of the landscaping, but razes the entire townhouse development and most of the surrounding trees. In place of the townhouses are two towers of 13 and 14-stories and several smaller ones scattered about that bring the total count of suites to 891 and increase the number of residents from 340 to 1,600.

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

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

albert chin March 11, 2011 at 12:32 am

Hello;
As a young student of architecture, we visited the estate a few years before
the Massey Erickson work.
It was impressive in the early 70’s & is still impressive now despite it’s
current owner’s pre-meditated neglect.
The mansion was meant to be the dominant structure on the estate, & the
MasseyErickson work respects this architectural point completely.
I’m sure the Massey Erickson buildings can be elaborated upon further to
house many more people without having to build glass & steel structures to
tower over the mansion & the surrounding neighbours.
The mansion is a jewel in the crown of Vancouver’s Heritage, the glass &
steel towers proposed by Wall Financial Corp. dwarfs the Mansion, destroys
the estate feel of the property, & it will be a monument to corporate greed.

Reply

Ed Johnson April 6, 2011 at 9:48 am

A nearby development at Granville and 52nd Ave, known as Granville Mews, has shown a clear sensitivity and respect to the South Granville Neighbourhood. The designer understood the tradition and unique architectural style of the area.

The Shannon Mews (Granville and 57th Ave) developer and the architectural firm have shown a total disrespect to the neighbourhood in their aim to maximize profit through the destruction of the present South Granville neighbourhood. The present design is absolutely the cheapest and ugliest design ever. The City of Vancouver planners stated that they want densification. Why favour one developer over everyone else. They could easily achieve their objective by allowing all the single home owners in the area to be given the same 1.9FSR as requested by this developer and allow for a 20 metres height allowance. It is a total surprise that the City of Vancouver planners are providing encouragement to this monstrosity. Granville Street is the gateway to Downtown Vancouver. Having this horror development approved would definitely destroy the Vancouver image that so many generations have carefully groomed and cultivated. May be this planning department is now composed of egoists. May be the Wall Financial Group is so powerful that they actually feel that they are above the individual Vancouverites. The Vancouver planning department has done everything to favour the developer. From giving minimal public hearing notice period to staging public hearing locations far from the South Granville affected neighbourhood. We have all heard about the past abusive property developments that have occurred in China. Even the Chinese government now understand that they have to be more respectful of their citizens. We hope that the Mayor of Vancouver and the Councillors will bring discipline back to the planning department. Actually, the past NPA majority government had been quite sensitive to the long term integrity of a neighbourhood. They understood the need for change, but it is a carefully managed organic change like the Granville Mews development. I hope that the present Mayor and Council would have the wisdom to manage this precious jewel called the City of Vancouver, and to control the potential egoists in the system.

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Barb Irvine June 22, 2013 at 11:01 am

Your right this is ugly , what a shame to destroy this property the Rogers house is quite amazing, which will be totally hidden again
this structure does not fit in with this neighbourhood. Not surprised what is happening in Vancouver with destroying the Cambie neighbourhood as well. This council is impossible. The almight buck rules apparently.

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J Butler July 3, 2014 at 6:27 pm

I remember how beautiful the mansion and grounds (the whole property) were when the Taylors lived there. This densification philosophy is all wrong. Did anyone think this through? It is such a shame to see what is happening to so many old residential (heritage) properties. The city is destroying these well designed neighbourhoods with their beautiful homes backyards, lane-ways, boulevards, grass, shrubs, garden beds, and trees.

Reply

Eve Lazarus July 3, 2014 at 6:30 pm

I wish I’d seen it then. I drove past it last week and was horrified by the changes, looks like there will only be a glimpse of the old place once all those towers go up

Reply

Frederick Wong July 6, 2014 at 4:03 am

With the rush to turn Vancouver and it’s suburbs into the ugliest region with the most beautiful surroundings, the Vancouver city councils of the past 20 years are outdoing everybody. Densification can be achieved gradually and with wise planning, without destroying our finest structures, but our Vancouver city representatives seem to have no understanding of such things. Our politicians are ignorant, uncultured slobs who have no understanding of aesthetics, are totally beholden to the almighty buck and commit planning outrages like this, that challenge the worst practices one sees in places such as China where graft and corruption are the rule of the day. People don’t come to Vancouver to see the same ugliness that they left back home. They come to Vancouver to see things done right. To see a city that looks at it’s beautiful surroundings and designs a city to reflect that. Instead we get the same planning mistakes that have been made in so many American cities and unfortunately copied in so many countries overseas. Vancouver should look to San Fransisco, a city with similar beautiful surroundings but with equally beautiful structures from the past. How has San Francisco, (which undoubtedly feels the same development pressure that Vancouver has ) been able to keep it’s beautiful old neighborhoods and when a modern structure goes up, it is a beautiful landmark structure like the Transamerica Pyramid? When a developer talks about a “landmark” structure in Vancouver, we get a monstrosity like the Wall Tower or the Shangra La Hotel! Do our developers and city councils lack the sophistication that they do in San Francisco? Or is it we lack the planning laws with teeth to regulate what stuctures look like? The few landmark buildings that we do have are all from the past, such as the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and Marine Building. What did our inept planning department and councils allow to go around the Marine Building, they allowed modern monstrosities to be built around it so that one can barely see the Marine Building any more unless one is standing practically next to it! You can no longer see it from the harbour. The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is next to be subsumed into the shadows of 600 foot glass and steel uglies. Our descendents will truly curse us!

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