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Something brewing inside refurbished N. Van heritage building
Local front-porch historians have many theories about the Kool-Aid colour of the two-storey building at 279 East 8th St. that for years was a neighbourhood corner store.
Some say the Chinese man who used to own it wanted his convenience store to resemble the sky. Others contend the owner simply got an unbeatable deal on blue marine paint. There’s even the belief it was a colourful protest waged against city hall because he evidently didn’t want his store added to the heritage registry.
Whatever the reason, the former owner’s unique paint job did a good job of masking the building’s remarkable 100-year history. Brad Hodson, a bit of a history nerd, drove by it each day on his way to work, but never once gave it a double take as a building with any historical significance.
Then one day he noticed a for sale sign staked outside. He pulled over.
The owner of Valley Estates, an on-premise beer- and wine-making store, Hodson was facing steadily increasing rent in the Lower Lonsdale area and looking to decamp to a new location.
“The first thing anyone asks is how old is the building,” he says.
Turns out it was built in 1912, the same year the Titanic sunk.
In December 2010, Hodson became the proud owner of a dilapidated historical treasure.
Once he had the keys, he immediately began tracing the building’s history.
“I relished the idea of restoring a heritage building,” he says. “I found a diamond in the rough.”
He began his historical sleuthing with trips to the Vancouver and City of North Vancouver archives, focussing between 1906 and 1950.
He flipped through phone books searching for the building’s former denizens. As he dug deeper, he began blogging about his 18-month restoration project (for more visit valleyestates.ca).
Hodson discovered that a German family, the Dierssens, came up from Sacramento, Calif., in 1905 and purchased several properties, including 279 East 8th St., where the family’s oldest son, John Jr., built a two-storey home. On microfilm, he discovered a newspaper clipping from the North Shore Press, stating: “J Dierssen has arrangements under way for the erection of a fine two storey house on his property on 8th between St. Georges and St. Andrews.”
Hodson points out the window, saying “this would have been an old dirt road (used by) horse and carriage.”
Hodson, a former camera operator in the film biz, digs imagining the wildness of North Vancouver in 1912, a time when early trailblazers ventured here to start businesses and build homes.
“This was the sticks,” says Hodson, noting that he discovered a picture of the building’s second owner, a grocer named Henderson, getting his carriage repaired at Third and Lonsdale.
Decades later, the former grocery and meat shop morphed again.
“I remember it being a corner store,” says Scott Crook, 23, one of Hodson’s employees, recalling the building’s more recent past.
“I know people who have stolen candy from here,” Hodson jokes.
Still, some eras in the building’s history remain shrouded in mystery. That’s why Hodson is asking anyone with pictures or information about his building prior to the 1970s to stop by.
“Prior to 1975 it’s like this ghost of a building.”
During the restoration, Hodson’s team discovered the building’s original pediment — a triangular architectural — while shucking the aluminum cladding that was installed in the 1970s. “It was like being in an architectural dig,” he says.
He also managed to salvage some significant historical features. The original fir floors have been reclaimed, although a section near the door had to be replaced. “One hundred years of people walking through the doors,” he says. “It’s beat-up, but it’s the original. It was buried under tile and glue.”
When the restoration is complete, the main floor will house two businesses: Hodson’s brewing business (now open) and a coffee shop (opening soon), that he’s leasing the space to. For the coffee shop space, Hodson’s even managed to reconfigure the front doorway to its original location. “After over 80 years, the entrance way of 279 e. 8th has been restored to its original configuration,” he blogged. “Joan Casley, daughter of Ben Wilson of Wilson’s Meats remembers the original doorway to Keates Grocery as a child in 1929. She recalls that time when the roads were gravel and the sidewalks were wood!”
Standing outside, Hodson looks up at his building, and points up one of the unique architectural features above. He says he always dreamed about owning a historical home with a turret. “Now I’ve got a building with four turrets.”
Next he points to a small sign on the building that used to read: Henderson Block. He’s changed that to Hodson Block — something done with his young son in mind.
Now he’s got just one more thing to do: a paint job. “I had to, its heritage,” says Hodson, noting that in order to have the building licensed for commercial use it needed to be restored to “Heritage A,” meaning owners are “encouraged to retain or restore distinctive exterior features of the buildings.”
Research has shown him the original colour of the building was “Strathcona Red with an Edwardian buff. In 1912 you had a choice of about 24 colours.”
As he stands on the sidewalk, a couple of young guys in a pickup drive by slowly and one yells out the window: “Change the colour!”
Unfazed, Hodson says quietly, that’s a “given.”