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Santa Fe closer to really becoming history

June 4, 2014


The application to redevelop the site of the slightly historic 85-year-old Santa Fe apartment building on Oak Street at 14th Avenue in Fairview finally went before a public hearing on May 20.

I have no idea what public input there was or when Vancouver City Council will render its final judgement.

At the beginning of the year I wrote about the redevelopment plan and the Heritage Revitalization Agreement (HRA) at its heart.

Last month the Vancouver Courier newspaper described the HRA using words like of “heritage protection” and “restoration.”

The HRA would, in truth, see the developer preserving parts of the Santa Fe’s facade like a movie set in return for a nearly 50% increase in allowable density. The development application information — with plenty of pictures — is online here. And there are pictures here also.

The Santa Fe at 2975 Oak Street is a three-storey concrete apartment building dating back to 1928. It is interesting enough to have earned a ‘B’ class Heritage designation but, judging by the disheveled outward appearance of the place, it hasn’t gotten much care and attention from its owner.

Hockey is the least of Francesco Aquilini’s concerns

Since April 2012, that owner has been Aquilini Developments which bought the 14-rental-unit property for CAN$4,600,000.

Aquilini Developments is owned by Francesco Aquilini who also owns the Vancouver Canucks NHL hockey team.

Last year CEI Architecture, for Aquilini Developments, submitted a development application (#DE417330) to the City of Vancouver proposing to preserve the north and west facades of the Santa Fe where they are today and to build a new eleven storey apartment tower on the remainder of the site. The new tower would increase the density from 14 to 50 rental units.

Reportedly, the site’s RM-3 zoning allows a developer to demolish the existing building and redevelop the site to a density of 1.9 FSR (Floor Space Ratio) and a building height of 120 feet without Council approval, so long as the developer arranges for the relocation of the tenants.

Approval of the Heritage Revitalization Agreement to preserve parts of the Santa Fe’s facade would allow a 47% increase in permitted density to 2.8 FSR ( the total floor area of the new tower would thus be 2.8 times the gross area of the lot).

The Santa Fe in happier days

The Santa Fe, nee Van Arsdel in 1931.--  City of Vancouver Archives

The Santa Fe ( née Van Arsdel) in 1931. — City of Vancouver Archives

The proposed HRA is hardly any kind of real restoration but it may be the best we can hope for in our development-hungry city and thus better than nothing.

The facade restoration could at least wind the clock back on the tired-looking Santa Fe apartment building so we can again see what a very fresh-looking two-tone building it was when it was originally constructed as the Van Arsdel in 1928.

The apartment building was designed by the architectural firm of Townley and Matheson, which also designed the Stock Exchange Building and the current Vancouver City Hall.

The building is notable for its poured concrete exterior and as an example of the Period Revival Style, popular in the 1920s and 1930s. There are also suggestions that the interior of the building originally had some interesting features, with one apartment rumored to have had a sailing ship artistically worked into its interior.

The Van Arsdel was constructed for Empress of Asia Captain Arthur Wellesely Davison. He named it after his wife Eva Van Arsdel Margeson. Davison and his family had moved out by 1941 and the building was renamed the Santa Fe in 1945

The other benefit of the facade restoration which cannot be denied is that it would partially hide the dull-looking 11-storey tower planned for the site. Click the image to enlarge it.


The Santa Fe building at 2975 Oak Street
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