Another piece of the Vancouver that I know and love is dead.
I’m deeply saddened to report that on Thursday morning, the “Fido” building, a true charmer and a unique part of the city’s architectural mix, was crunched into rubble, gone forever from the city’s landscape.
This has me both sad and very angry.
I just loved this building – an audacious art deco delight at the corner of Georgia and Richards that was like no other. Dating back to the 30’s, this bold little structure featured a dynamic, cylindrical tower, lots of stainless steel, and a “Rocketeer”-esque, jet age dynamism. It was originally a car showroom, one of many at the time but now the last one still standing. It had continued to serve admirably â€“ as a Budget Rent-a-Car outlet, and for many years now as a Fido cell phone retail centre.
I dug up a great old photo of it at the library a couple of years ago, and was amazed to see how little it had changed in so many decades. Naturally, I took a photo of it from the same angle as the old one (see below). I’m glad I at least have that.
I’d passed by only last week, and saw that Fido had vacated the premises. I assumed (hoped?) that they had simply moved on and another business would soon take over. If I’d known what was in store, I swear I would have camped out and strapped myself to the top of it. I’m not kidding. Some people do that with trees, so why not with a priceless building that brought charm, style and a bit of history to my city?
I don’t know who deserves the most blame here, but there is plenty to go around. The toothless heritage designation system that protects nothing? Greedy property owners who respect only the bottom line?
Forget greedy – they are cowardly. As Don Luxton of Heritage Vancouver noted in a Globe and Mail article on Friday (from which I just learned the news), the owners took advantage of the current strike situation, which meant there was nobody to negotiate with the owner. He said they saw the strike as “an opportunity to take it down now without any fuss.” That’s right – they knew that doing this would run into resistance at any other time. So they whisked the process through while potential resistance was immobilized.
Perhaps the most maddening part is that there aren’t even any plans for a new building! They simply wanted to clear the space for possible future development.
What kind of a person can look at something like that building and see a parking lot as an improvement?
This lovely, unique building persevered all those years as the city changed around it and its neighbours were felled, and was well-used and useful all the while. And now it’s gone forever.
I’ve said before that a city’s colour, personality and charm are much like a person’s – they are the accumulation of a lifetime of experience. Older buildings remind us of where we’ve been, add diversity to the cityscape, and support the collective memory of a city. We need the variety of designs, shapes and textures, the layers of different styles from different eras, the unplanned and unplannable nooks and crannies, the serendipitous surprises.
Of course we need new construction. But there’s a name for a city of only brand-new buildings with nothing unexpected and every space, every corner, planned. It’s called a suburb.
I don’t want my city to become a soulless collection of oh-so-stylish but utterly boring structures. I want to know that the things I love today about Vancouver will be there tomorrow morning. I get less and less sure of that as time goes on.
So much of what I love about this city, the things that give it its humanity and character, seem to exist in the shadow of an encroaching, unstoppable force – a force of greed that casts its cold eye on the little cafe, the old diner, the vintage row of shops; and sees only insufficient profit. This force, unfettered by any sense of beauty or community, does its heartless calculations of the potential square footage, how to minimize any undesirable character that would limit the rentable space.
Buildings like the one we just lost are like elderly relatives with stories to tell. We should protect, honour and treasure them, for they are unique and irreplaceable. Not bash them into dust and replace them with something flashy and new just because we can, or because someone will make a few more bucks. If this keeps happening, eventually we’ll wake up in an antiseptic city, a full-sized architect’s model with nothing but smooth edges, glass and concrete, and Starbucks as far as the eye can see. And as for the little, plastic people in that architect’s model, they’ll be there too. They will be us.