Monday, February 21, 2011

The House Built on Cavities

I couldn't resist the title of that entry. This mansion known as Gabriola was not built on a cavity in the ground but it was built for Benjamin Tingley Rogers of Rogers Sugar. I've written on Rogers before if you look back at earlier entries. He was one of the people who helped to make this city.

Architect Samuel Maclure designed this lavish home for the Sugar King, as Rogers was known, starting in 1900. On July 1, 1901 Rogers and his wife moved in and lived in Gabriola for seventeen years. (It was named Gabriola since the stones used to build it were quarried on Gabriola Island.)

While I was walking around the vacant property today I imagined what it must have been like over a hundred years ago when this extravagant home was full of life and parties and the crème de la crème  of Vancouver society. I even imagined that if I listened hard enough maybe I would hear the tinkling of glasses and the gaiety from years gone by. I didn't though.

I read that there are a series of tunnels under this Queen Anne style mansion that lead to a manor on Bidwell Street that has  been known as the Balthazar Night Club. These tunnels were used for rum running. The Balthazar has been renamed Maxine's which is a throwback to Maxine's College of Beauty Culture which existed in the 1930s and 40s and was a bordello.

Another story about those tunnels is that the Balthazar used to be a finishing school for young ladies and that when the school mistress was having financial problems she would send a few girls through the tunnels to Gabriola. Of course these are rumours but you have to admit stories like this are interesting.

The impressive stained glass windows were designed by the Bloomfield Brothers.

There are a lot of photos today of what was once known as "probably the most lavish private home ever constructed in B.C" but I really want my readers to get the true feeling of the mansion.

 I was so enthralled by this beauty of architecture that I spent more time than usual walking around it. I could see the vehicles entering the gates and smartly dressed people getting out. I could imagine the mansion lit up for one of the many parties. And I wished that I could somehow go back in time and actually see it, experience it. But alas we don't have the technology to time travel. At least not yet.

In 1918 Ben Rogers died and his wife sold Gabriola - she moved to another mansion in Shaughnessy. In 1925 this was the home of Angus Apartments but by the 1970s the once magnificent home had fallen into disrepair. Fortunately it was saved from demolition and renovated.

In 1977 Gabriola was converted to a restaurant with the interior being restored closer to its original design. (The exterior hasn't changed since it was designed by Maclure). The restaurant Romano’s Macaroni Grill called this building home for quite a while but they have now moved on. I've heard that it has been bought by those involved with the Keg Restaurant chain so we may be seeing new life at the Gabriola again.

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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