When A Housing Market Crashes

There is much talk in Vancouver these days about how the “housing bubble” may have burst, that the astonishing rise of house prices over the last couple of years is coming to an end and that, perhaps, prices may actually fall.  Given this background, I was interested to have access this week to a few pages of the City of Vancouver property tax assessment register for the years 1933 to 1939.

The pages cover Block 67 in Grandview; a residential block enclosed by Clark Drive, Graveley Street, McLean Drive, and First Avenue and consisting of 24 separate lots. Nine of these lots were occupied by dwellings during the period 1933-1939, while fifteen were vacant.  The period covers the depths of the Depression before eastside Vancouver’s housing market improved with the influx of wartime workers from 1940.

Using 1933 as the baseline (100%) value for the assessment, the following two charts show the fall in assessed values through 1939.

Vacant Lot Assessments

Property Assessments

In 1933, the vacant lot assessments ranged from a low of $500 to a high of $630.  The property assessments in the same year ranged from $1,280 to $3,500.

As a further indication of how housing markets can fall from dizzying heights, lots 15 and 16 in this Block which were together assessed at $1,155 in 1933 and $795 in 1939 had been offered for sale during the crazy boom year of 1910 at $7,250.

Tour of St. Francis Church and Rectory

On Thursday evening last, Fr. Eugenio, pastor of the St. Francis of Assisi parish in Grandview, very kindly invited a group of GHG members and friends to the Church on Napier Street where he took us on a tour of both the church and the rectory where he lives.

In the early 1920s, Franciscan monks took over the mansion called Wilga on the corner of Napier and Semlin that William Miller had had built for himself in 1909.  It became a monastery and at one point, there were sixteen friars living in the house.  In 1939, the Catholic diocese decided to move the parish church from it’s original location at Broadway and Victoria and they built the church that now stands next to the monastery.  The monks left the house in 1990 and it became the rectory for the parish priest of St. Francis.

The church is a modest Romanesque building that fits rather well into the streetscape.  Being of a comparatively young age, there is little of historic value to the building itself but it has an inestimable value as the community centre for Catholic and especially Italian life in the neighbourhood.  The stained glass windows were installed in the 1990s as were the new pews.  It has to be noted that the pews are Gothic (rather than Romanesque) and their light coloured wood jars somewhat with the rest of the interior.  That being said, the “feel” of the church is neighbourly and warm.  It is no surprise to learn that the parish is seeing a revival of young families.

One piece of church furniture that has an historical connection is the baptismal font which began life as a flowerpot owned by the Tsar of Russia.

Fr. Eugenio noted that when he took over three years ago, the fabric of the church was in sorry disrepair and he had spent much of his time simply fixing what needed to be be repaired.  He has done a marvelous job.

Next door to the church stands the former Wilga, a classic Grandview mansion from 1909, built for the Australian immigrant William Miller who, with his brother, John J. Miller, made a fortune in the BC Interior land market at the beginning of the twentieth century

The exterior of the building is still of classic proportions and the gardens that take up the balance of the lots between Napier and Parker give it a scale and grandeur that is missing from most of our local mansions.  The interior is still full of original woodwork and fascinating touches, though the upstairs has been remodeled over the years — primarily to create bedrooms for the 16 monks, I would think.

The building is set at almost the peak of Grandview Hill and from the bedroom on the third floor and the sitting room on the second, there is still a magnificent and unobstructed view across the Inlet to North Vancouver and Grouse Mountain.   I suspect that originally, before the development of the neighbourhood, William Miller would have had an equally fine view of the city from the front porch.

These old mansions are a precious part of our neighbourhood and it is a joy to see the interiors. This is Fr. Eugenio’s home, of course, and he was most gracious in allowing us to amble over the whole place.  We also want to thank several ladies of the parish who prepared a groaning table of seasonal goodies for us. We are grateful indeed.

 

 

The King and Queen Visit Grandview

In the late spring of 1939, as the political situation in Europe darkened and war with Germany became inevitable, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured Canada by train to meet their subjects and bolster the bonds of Empire  From small-town whistle stops on the Prairies to bustling cities coast to coast, eager crowds cheered, sang and lined up for hours, eager for a glimpse of royalty. Grandview was as excited as anywhere, especially when it became known that the royal procession would pass by First & Commercial.

Come the day — May 29th — there were flags and bunting on First Avenue from Woodland to Victoria, and on Commercial from Graveley to Second.  Local people had started arriving before noon, bringing boxes, chairs, stools and benches as spontaneous grandstands.  The Graveley Boys Band stood in front of the Commerce Bank, playing hard.  The streets and sidewalks around the First & Commercial intersection were jammed with spectators as the royal motorcade was spotted climbing the First Avenue hill.  At a few minutes past three in the afternoon, the royal car crossed the streetcar tracks traveling at about fifteen miles per hour.  The car went by so fast that most of the eager crowd caught just a brief look at the King and barely a glimpse of the Queen’s powder blue hat.

And that was that.

[Source: King 2010 “The Drive“, p.98-99]