Welcome Home to Kensington Place. A brief history.
1386 Nicola Street
Architect: Philip M. Jullien
Owner and builder: Robertson & Hackett Co.
Heritage Register: A, Designated
Kensington Place was designed at the height of the pre-war economic boom, one of the finest apartment buildings in the West End. By the time of its completion, world affairs were shifting but the opulence of the building and its location secured it a market, offering beachfront luxury in furnished and unfurnished rental apartments.
David Robertson, James Hackett and George Hackett were building contractors who also owned a large lumber company with a sawmill on False Creek. Seeing opportunity in the building boom, in 1912 they commissioned American architect Philip M. Jullien to draw up the designs. Jullien trained in New York with leading American architectural firms and brought the Beaux-Arts styling of the era with him when he came to Vancouver in 1910. The exterior showcases the elaborate ornamentation of Renaissance Revival executed in pre-cast concrete and stucco, with a highly decorated sixth storey, recessed loggia style balconies, and finished with a flamboyant Baroque entrance. The interior provided large suites, only four per floor, with fireplaces, ample windows, decorative plasterwork and paneling.
From the beginning, the apartments were occupied by prominent businessmen and well-to-do residents including company executives in key industries of British Columbia from lumber and mining to railroads and shipping. Some stayed for many years while others lived at the Kensington for a year or two while their Shaughnessy mansion was built – it was a prestigious address. In the 1940s and 50s, it was home to the celebrated Canadian novelist, Ethel Wilson and her husband.
In the late 1960s, a new owner had plans to demolish and redevelop. Tenant Terry Devlin, decided to buy the building and convert it to a condominium, enabled by the Strata Titles Act passed by the provincial government in 1966. It became one of the first examples in Vancouver of an existing building converting to strata ownership and many of the renters became owners. A program of updating and restoration began in the 1970s and progressed over many years, including upgrades of heating and plumbing, refinishing the exterior, replicating the cornice, and restoring windows.
Apt 26, now part of #24, was home to the Managing Director of the Union Steamship Co., Ernest Beazley, in the early years. The two apartments were combined thirty years ago to create an expansive suite well-suited to entertaining and hosting intimate musical events for its owners at the time, opera singer Gerry Britland and his wife Gloria. Sensitive updates in both suites have retained the elegance of the original spaces and provide a taste of executive beachfront lifestyles of the past and how well this remarkable building has been adapted for modern living.