Like a faithful sentinel, the brick building has stood fast through time.
For almost a hundred years, the two-storey house with a convenience store on the ground endured at the corner of East 34th Avenue and Nanaimo Street.
A surviving relic of an earlier era in Vancouver, it may yet live another century or more.
Richard Wittstock of Domus Homes, a developer with a passion for heritage preservation, wants this to happen. He has worked on heritage projects like the Homer Building in Yaletown, which is home to the Homer St. Cafe and Bar.
For the property at 2308 East 34th Avenue, Wittstock is proposing to fully restore the building containing the retail space and a home upstairs, and upgrade it to modern standards.
As part of the plan, the building will be designated as a protected heritage property. The white coat that has been painted over the structure will be stripped off, and it will be restored to its original red brick form.
The plan also includes a rezoning of the single corner lot to allow the construction of three new townhomes, one of which will be attached to the heritage building.
In an interview, Wittstock said that the retail space will no longer be used for a convenience store.
“The intent is for it to be more of a café type use, a neighbourhood hub,” Wittstock told the Straight by phone.
Wittstock said that he is thinking along the lines of something like the Le Marché St. George, a neighbourhood café and corner store in Mount Pleasant.
He also mentioned the Wilder Snail, a neighbourhood café and grocery in Strathcona.
Another example is The Mighty Oak in the Riley Park neighbourhood.
“Neighbours can get to know each other and socialize, and it becomes a real focal point for the community,” Wittstock said.
According to a report by Vancouver city staff, the building was built in 1918 by bricklayer Harry Bridge. The Bridge family moved into the upstairs unit the next year, and the shop below served as a store.
“In the early days of rural Vancouver, paved streets were rare and vehicles even rarer. Residents relied on small stores for basic supplies,” the report states.
Staff also recalled that since 1968, the building was home to B&K Grocery.
Wittstock picked up the narrative of the building in the interview, noting that the building had been the home and place of business for the Mah family for decades.
“They lived upstairs and ran the grocery downstairs,” he said.
Wittstock bought the place from James Mah, who grew up in the building and helped his family with the store.
The dwelling unit above the new cafe will have two bedrooms. The townhome attached to the heritage building will also have two bedrooms. The two other townhouses located at the back of the heritage building will contain three bedrooms each.
The proposed development has won the approval of Joseph and Jeanette Jones, a husband-and-wife team who keeps watch over what’s happening in their Norquay neighbourhood.
Writing on the man’s Eye on Norquay blog, the couple noted: “In this particular case, the desirability of retaining an unusual, scarce, and prominent Norquay heritage building clearly outweighs significant concessions on density bonusing and parking requirements.”
The Jones couple also wrote: “It is encouraging to see new construction that shows such promise of enhancing the Norquay area.”
A public hearing by Vancouver council on the rezoning application is scheduled on Tuesday (June 21).