The Switzer House of West Vancouver (1960-1971)

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The Switzer House (1960-1971)
The Switzer House of West Vancouver

Back in September 2013 I blogged about a Fred Hollingsworth designed house in North Vancouver that was sold, torn down and soon after flipped for land value that was more than the original house. Chris left a comment asking me if I could find a photo of another North Shore landmark, a futuristic-looking house that was painted a “shocking pink” and looked like a spaceship. “Ideas Brewing” added that he or she remember it as “the airplane house” on Taylor Way.

Wow, a bright pink flying house – what’s not to love about this!

And, now I understand why the house left such an imprint in the memories of people who grew up on the North Shore.

Switzer House
The Lions Gate Times, July 15, 1960

The Switzer house was built in 1960 at 840 Mathers near Taylor Way.

The house was the first of its kind in North America, a radical experiment that was designed to be built on a rocky building site or steep slope. The house was designed one Sunday by Henry “Curly” Switzer and attracted attention from all over the world.

According to an article in the West Vancouver Museum News (2007), it was adapted from a California style called “Googie,” born out of the car culture of the 1950s and ‘60s and influenced by the space race (and likely the Jetsons).

According to the article: “Structures that appear to float, swooping rooflines and otherwise futuristic shapes used in the construction and design of buildings of the time illustrated the promise new technology could make for a better and more progressive tomorrow.”

North Shore News, August 19, 1994
North Shore News, August 19, 1994

In 1994, Dorothy Foster, a North Shore News columnist wrote that the house had a circular staircase leading to the two bedrooms, kitchen, dining room, and two bathrooms that were on the wings, just off the central foyer—which also held the fireplace. A special plastic dome was designed for a skylight and the base of the centre cement support measured 17 feet wide.

Ironically, the house that was built on car culture was demolished in 1971 to make way for an extension to the Upper Levels Highway.

*Special thanks to the librarians at the West Vancouver Memorial Library and the West Vancouver Museum and Archives.

For more posts see: Our Missing Heritage

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

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17 comments

  1. I’m the ‘Chris’ you refer to…and many thanks for resurrecting a landmark that nearly all old-time North Shore denizens can recall. You certainly did your research!

    As I remember this house stood in the defoliated centre of the newly-divided Upper Levels Highway for some time until they razed it.

  2. I remember the house well – I loved it! My uncle, who was a builder, always told me he’d build me a house just like it. I’d still love it! Thanks for your story – I never knew what happened to that house.

  3. While I didn’t LOVE the Switzer House as I would your basic Thom, Hollingsworth, or Downs, I recall the home very fondly. We began driving past it on a regular basis from 1963, when we started building our house in Fisherman’s Cove. It broke my heart a wee bit in 1971 to see this 11 year WV icon being gutted. Thanks once again Eve for bringing back the memories!

  4. The “Windmill House”! That’s what my four brothers and I called it, for each wing was like a blade of a windmill (okay, so the windmill was lying on its side…). I loved the windmill house and would look for it on our infrequent trips on the Upper Levels in our ’54 Chev Bel-Air.

    We moved from West Van to the Okanagan in 1966 and I never knew what happened to it. Every trip to the coast I would look for the Windmill House. Even as recently as ten years ago I drove along Mathers by Taylor Way to see if it was still there hiding behind some giant cedar hedge. I wanted to show it to my daughters. How sad that it lasted for only eleven years.

  5. This house was hard to miss even for a young child like I was in the mid-60s, around five years old. My seven-year old sister called it the Windmill house. Anyway, I’ve been looking for photos of it for many years and finally something came up when I googled it again. So thanks Eve. Much appreciated and I have to say this is the definitive piece on the Switzer house.

    By the way, the rock wall visible on the south side the Upper Levels east of Taylor Way marks the location of the house, according to a friend who should know.

    1. Hi Peter – and Alice – I’m guessing you are Peter’s sister?!? Thanks so much for stopping by and reminding me of this. I remembered that the West Vancouver Museum have a west coast modern tour on Saturday and have a second home by Henry Switzer on the tour. Apparently it’s similar and I’m put a posting on my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/everyplacehasastory/ tomorrow. Here are the details http://westvancouvermuseum.ca/
      Eve Lazarus recently posted..Cube HouseMy Profile

    2. I lived on the end of the same street as the Switzer house- it’s actually west of Taylor Way behind the wood sound baffle (wall). I was 8 and I cried when they tore it down. A teenage neighbour and his friend, Tim Topping and Cy Lord, were asked by Mr. Switzer to demolish some of the inside. We kept one of the skylights for years but never did anything with it. Great to see this recount. Thanks!

      1. Oh, that’s great information. Thanks John. Does that place the Switzer house on the 800 block of Mathers or perhaps the 900 block where Burley Drive Park now sits ? There are remnants of residential landscaping in the eastern part of the park so I presume there were once houses there before the Upper Levels encroached.

        1. Burley Park was always there. 9th St. opened to the highway and was a cul de sac which ended at Burley Drive. There used to be just woods between the Burley Park tennis court and 9th. A small bark mulch running trial was built in those woods.

          But I’m rambling. The Switzer house was on the corner of Mathers and the end of 9th St. on the east side. My dad said Switzer owned the 9th St. Lands, and sold our neighbours’ lots and our lot. He was a pretty nice guy, from what I remember.

          1. Oh, the address of the Switzer house was in Eve’s post! 840 Mathers. But thanks to my careless reading we now have a better sense of its location and lots more information about the immediate neighbourhood from you. I guess I should keep asking dumb questions.

  6. I have a book on Googie that I must lend to you – the name was a pejorative for a style of coffee-shop architecture in LA. Googie was one of the outlandish coffee shops.

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