Appeared in Business in Vancouver – February 26, 2013
The cost of the roof over one’s head in Vancouver is almost as gripping as a Roberto Luongo interview.
Grasping two suitcases, I moved here – greater population then about 800,000 – 50 years ago this month, long before the (Rich) People’s Republic of China invasion. After a brief stay at the Hotel Vancouver, $10 a night, I took shelter in the Kitsilano Point home of kindly Mary Ivanocko, who knew a helpless, motherless lad when she saw one. My lodgings consisted of one room with a Murphy bed, kitchen, shared bath and Mrs. Ivanocko’s cleaning services: $50 per month.
I jumped to a suite on The Crescent, a distinguished Shaughnessy address where near-neighbours were the Rogers sugar family, the newspaper Southams, and B.C. Electric president Dal Grauer. $75. Incredulous? Well, Ottawa’s wartime Order-in-Council 200 had suspended zoning regulations and allowed mansions to be broken up for needed war-workers’ suites – eggs not easily unscrambled. By the 1960s they were furiously attacked by old-money Shaughnessy.
One Sunday around 1967, my temporarily beloved and I checked five solid houses in Mackenzie Heights. All under $20,000. A bit later an advertisement lured us over a scary logging road to a remote place called Whistler. A gent straggled from a trailer and pointed out hillside lots from $7,900. I looked around. Who the hell would ever buy land in this God-forsaken wilderness?
My rental days topped out in 1968 at $150 a month for a walk-up Kitsilano penthouse, superb view. With the average house even in once-despised East Vancouver valued at $1 million, now I’m a landed multi-millionaire – Monopoly money, I fear.
And the currently highest-assessed Vancouver property, a 25,000-square-footer on uber-fashionable Belmont Avenue, clocks in at $39.2 million. You may think this compares a B.C. apple to a California orange, but try this on for size:
A 13-acre Bel Air home was recently on the market. A snug 7,500 square feet, true, but there’s a guest house, staff quarters, a lap pool, and vineyards and a winery producing 1,500 cases a year, $4 million worth of wine included. Yours, total price, for US$29.5 million – nearly $10 million in about-par Canadian dollars cheaper than the Belmont property, enough left over for some of life’s bare necessities.
Plus this cachet to casually drop into your dinner talk: it was built by Hollywood legend Victor Fleming, director of record (the film chewed up directors) of Gone With the Wind, its frenzied scriptwriting uproariously depicted in the late lamented Vancouver Playhouse production, Moonlight and Magnolias. That same year, 1939, Fleming directed another classic. Hint: Click your heels and ask for a direct flight to Kansas.
Too tastelessly Hollywood? For the more discreet businessman, the daughter of big, big oil baron H. L. Hunt is selling her 12,273-square-foot New Mexico hacienda on 263 acres – with an 1890s house thrown in – for $15.1 million.
But True North Strong and Free persons will especially salivate for Wayne Gretzky’s abode in Thousand Oaks, California, offered at $15 million. It’s a tight 10,815 square feet but has two guest houses, one with a full-size gym, and, at no extra cost, Britney Spears as a neighbour.
Close to home, the tony du Pont Registry currently lists just one Canadian property: Twin Oaks, a 20,000-square-foot Vancouver Island house and estate “designed and built by one of the world’s great entrepreneurs” for … “price upon request.” Not shared with an inquiring journalist, I found.
© Trevor Lautens, 2013