May 28, 2012

Condos Breathe Life Into Historic Block

Residential dwellings put a contemporary twist on local heritage

Trapp + Holbrook


For many years, the Salient Group’s Robert Fung has made it his mission to restore and revitalize the residential and commercial landscape of Gastown. There were the Water Street projects: Alhambra, Garage and Terminus. There were the residential, office and retail undertakings on West Hastings that included the Paris Block, the Paris Annex and the Flack Block.

Fung’s efforts to instil contemporary new life into restored decades-old properties have earned his company multiple heritage awards and served as a testament to the Salient Group’s calling — so declared on its website — “to marry excellence from the past with the best design of today.” With the exception of a small project on West 10th Avenue in Vancouver, Fung hasn’t strayed from the downtown core — until now.

These days, Fung is more likely than not to be found in the 600 block of Columbia Street in New Westminster. The neighbourhood may be far from Vancouver’ historic downtown core, but its historic significance is no less compelling. What captured Fung’s attention were two heritage “blocks” — buildings, really — that date back more than 100 years. Construction on the Trapp Block, headquarters of the hardware firm T.J. Trapp, later home to an automotive business, and then to Army and Navy — began in 1899, rising to six storeys on Columbia, and to seven on Front Street, its variations in height a result of the sloping landscape. The next-door Holbrook Block, which would eventually become a three-storey hotel and saloon, was constructed in the 1880s, and then rebuilt after the New Westminster fire of 1898.

The buildings’ front-and-centre positioning in what Fung says would have been an “incredibly vibrant” neighbourhood is significant, but so too were their exterior elements; the terra cotta ornamentation, cornices and large pivot windows of the Trapp Block, for instance, and the decorative brick and arched window hoods of the Holbrook. “These components, these heritage elements, were spectacular,” says Fung, who, in the years ahead, will be merging the old and the new in a 196-unit residential project aptly named Trapp + Holbrook. The blocks’ facades will be reconstructed and front a thoroughly contemporary 20-storey residential building that will incorporate street-level retail space.

“I find that for the older buildings, even the most humble of those buildings, were given detail and attention that’s very uncommon today for our most expensive buildings,” Fung says. “So what we try and do is really show off these elements from the past that can be preserved, and then bring in the very high quality architecture of today.” Sales on the Trapp + Holbrook homes launch today, and marketing guru Bob Rennie, who has teamed up with the developer for the first time, says the project is drawing the attention of those who appreciate the past, yet have practical, present-day concerns.

“They want to walk the streets,” says Rennie, noting that the nearest SkyTrain station is but two blocks away. “They want that environment, but they also want to get to work. They want the transportation. So you’ve got people who really respect the heritage — and they want that — but they also have function in their lives. “How many communities can you find with an old world feel, on transportation, and this close to town?”

While the historic facade of Trapp + Holbrook will be reconstructed and retained, the building’s condos will reflect “a thoroughly modern living experience with an urban lifestyle unique in New Westminster”, says the Salient Group’s website. As such, those homes will showcase the inspired work of Cristina Oberti Interior Design, and contain wide-plank hardwood flooring, porcelain tile bathroom floors, KitchenAid appliance packages, glass backsplashes and quartzite kitchen counters. Floor-to-ceiling windows and generously sized balconies will permit views of the New Westminster Quay, the tugs in the Fraser River, and in some cases, of the North Shore mountains.

As the 766-square-foot, two-bedroom show home demonstrates, they will be efficient, open-plan units, with a kitchen space that blends easily into the living and dining area. Trapp + Holbrook, which will contain a large indoor-outdoor amenity space with a fitness facility, barbecue area, fireside lounge and garden plots, has seen considerable activity at its Columbia Street presentation centre since it opened recently, some by repeat visitors, reports the principal of Rennie Marketing Systems.

“You know the buyers are real when they’re coming back with friends,” Rennie says, noting that some 600 people passed through the sales centre the weekend it opened. “They’re coming back the following weekend and they’re dropping in after work for two or three visits.” When complete, Trapp + Holbrook will be an integral component of the city’s efforts to revitalize of the area, says Fung, noting that the new waterfront park and nearby civic centre are also key elements of that city vision.

Casting his mind ahead a few years, the developer imagines an interesting mix of street-level retail space that might include restaurants and coffee shops, and a vibrant, humming atmosphere that will draw pedestrians from morning until evening. In other words, to restore the area’s feel — not only in appearance, but also in energy.

“You know, this was the first downtown in the Lower Mainland,” Fung says. “It was among the most vibrant and robust commercial districts in the Lower Mainland. And that’s why it has this great energy. It has history. And all these components are really just cycling back, and becoming very prominent again.”

Project: Trapp + Holbrook
Project location: 668 Columbia St., New Westminster
Project size: 196 units in a 20-storey building
Residence size: 494 — 1,265 sq. ft.
Price: $219,900 — $649,900 (100 homes under $299,900)
Developer: The Salient Group
Architect: IBI/HB Architects
Interior design: Cristina Oberti Interior Design
Sales centre: 668 Columbia St.
Hours: noon-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday; noon-5 p.m., weekends
Telephone: 604-525-0223
Occupancy: Fall 2014
Sales begin: Today

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