Homeless in Vancouver: Deconstructing the Santa Fe

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      Between the eviction of the tenants in October 2014 right up until March of this year, the historic little three-storey Santa Fe apartment building at 2975 Oak Street has looked like any other condemned old Vancouver building.

      In the intervening five months, the copper pipe and the insulation was removed from inside the building and the lot was cleared of all it old trees—as would be the case with any building slated for demolition.

      But in the last five weeks, the redevelopment of the Santa Fe on the northwest corner of Oak Street and 14th Avenue has finally begun to show its unique character.

      Bracing for the worst

      The south and east sides of the Santa Fe to be saved—all trussed up by March 17.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      The first sign of special treatment came in the middle of March when the south and east sides of the Santa Fe were carefully braced with steel buttresses and the buttresses were in turn braced with huge stacking concrete blocks.

      The lot at 14th and Oak wasn’t zoned for the density of the 11-storey tower that the developer, Francesco Aquilini, wanted to build on it so it he made a deal with the City of Vancouver—a Heritage Revitalization Agreement.

      In return for increased density, Aquilini agreed that the south and east concrete facades of the 1928 heritage building, with their bas-relief rondels and decorative wrought-iron balconies, would be saved, preserved in place, and restored to all their original Neo-Renaissance splendour.

      A surreal closeup of the excavator clawing the building back to the bare walls.
      Stanley Q. Woodvine

      Virtually everything else about the old building is to be be scrapped and that’s where we are today.

      The Santa Fe was essentially a concrete box filled with oak-beamed floors and wood-framed walls.

      This week, an excavator began by knocking down most of the north and west sides of that concrete box and has since proceeded to methodically claw out the wooden contents, being careful to scrape right down to the bare concrete of the insides of the remaining south and east walls.

      The more it changes the more the Santa Fe looks the same?

      The redevelopment as seen looking west and north.
      Aquilini Investment Group

      The restored three-storey concrete sides of the Santa Fe will, after a fashion, form part of the south and east sides of the new, rather average-looking, glass, aluminum, and steel 11-storey apartment tower, which will retain the Santa Fe name.

      However, the visualizations of the finished development suggest that the architect, CEI Architecture, has made a deliberate attempt to maintain a separate identity for the remaining two facades of the original Santa Fe building, to the extent that anyone looking at the new development from the west and north will think that nothing has happened to the old Santa Fe apartment building beyond a really good cleaning and painting.

      The restoration of the original concrete facades will, I understand, go so far as to preserve the complete entrance foyer of the old apartment building, though it will not function as an entrance to the new tower. 

      Stanley Q. Woodvine is a homeless resident of Vancouver who has worked in the past as an illustrator, graphic designer, and writer. Follow Stanley on Twitter at @sqwabb.