Century Old Vancouver Warehouse Reborn With $10 Million Restoration

VANCOUVER — With a five-level glass addition about to go on top, a Beatty Street warehouse built in 1909 and vacant for decades is about to rise in a phoenix-like, $10 million restoration to fresh, mixed-use life.

Approved unanimously by city council as part of Vancouver’s Heritage Building Rehabilitation Program, the plans will allow 564 Beatty “to maintain its identity while providing a striking glass lantern accentuated with architectural lighting,” says Jon Stovell, president of Reliance Properties Ltd., which bought the property for $5 million.

By January 2014 the four full office floors, plus two restaurant levels and rooftop social room and deck, will transform the site into a distinctive bookend for Heritage Row, the other being the historic Sun Tower at Pender and Beatty. Stovell is confident about the appeal of blended contemporary and heritage aspects to tenants and the public – not to mention the convenience of being beside the Stadium-Chinatown SkyTrain station.

“We expect the office tenants to be a broad mix of professional service firms, design firms, and high-tech companies whose work forces are attracted to the vibrant neighbourhood and interesting building design of stick-and-brick and contemporary glass addition.”

At first blush, the idea of adding five levels to a heavy-timber building seemed dodgy. The brainwave, says Stovell, was to use cast-in-place concrete rather than the more conventional steel framing and metal decking.

“The building was already receiving a new concrete stair core that also acts to provide a seismic upgrade for the building – so why not just keep going with the same material? The addition will provide a more rigid and solid-feeling building. It will accommodate larger spans, so we can have fewer columns in the new office, and a smooth ceiling without beams to get in the way of air conditioning and ceiling finishes.”

The outside brick walls of the original building will carry most of the weight of the large floor spans, Stovell explains. That extra weight helps to increase the stability and seismic resistance of the old building.

“New concrete columns, where needed, split in two when they meet the old building. They run down either side of the existing 100-year-old heavy timber columns, all the way to the basement parking level, where they rest on new or expanded footings.”

Kent Munro, Vancouver’s assistant director of planning, concedes that the addition is ambitious compared to the usual, more modest ones for heritage buildings. “However, the robust massing of this addition was considered to be appropriate for a site located where Victory Square, the Central Business District, International Village and Stadium SkyTrain station all intersect. The new contemporary addition is designed as a simple cubic form of glass and steel so that it is clearly distinguishable from the historic base building which allows the heritage features to maintain their presence at street level.”

To Donald Luxton, the project’s heritage expert and consultant, the restored 564 Beatty will gleam with history as much as with glass and steel. “The east side of the 500 block of Beatty Street is one of only three places in Vancouver where an escarpment or a steeply sloping site historically provided a unique commercial development opportunity,” explains Luxton, principal of Donald Luxton and Associates Inc.

“The two other locations are the north side of Water Street and Yaletown. In these unique locations, commercial warehouses could be built with railway spurs at the rear, allowing loading bays and the transfer of goods at a lower level and street-level access above. This was ideal for commercial businesses that shipped in heavy goods – like the iron stoves brought in by the Gurney Foundry that built this building. These escarpment situations were prime location in early Vancouver. This is the reason these large brick warehouses exist in 500-block Beatty. The Sun Tower was able to ship in all the newsprint it needed by rail.”

The tracks are gone – and so is the building that once loomed to the south of 564 Beatty. Stovell saw the light. “Our building had just a solid wall along the Plaza. We saw an amazing opportunity to open up this wall with doors and windows on to the Plaza. This has the effect of making the building into a corner building and providing a strong architectural identity for the end of the block and the Plaza down to Paris Square.”


Artist's Rendition of Completed Renovation:

564 Beatty was originally built in 1909:

What it looks like now, vacant for decades:


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