The other side of Main Street may be Vancouver’s next hot spot
PHOTOS: RAFAL GERSZAK/THE GLOBE AND MAIL
One of Vancouver's oldest neighbourhoods is comprised of some of its finest old houses and waterfront, and yet, it's remained a quietly hidden gem for most of the city's history.
East side residents know about Wall Street, but city wide, it's largely an unknown. That will change, promises Sotheby's agent Gregg Close, who, along with his son Mackenzie, has taken on his first Wall Street listing at 2523 Wall St. The Battersby Howat designed house is listed at $1.795-million, which is the highest listing price for any home in the area.
Wall is a long, winding street above a bluff overlooking the workings of an industrial port, the freighter-dotted inlet and the North Shore mountains. It's a unique view, the urban answer to Point Grey Road's more sombre, idyllic waterfront.
Mr. Close, who grew up on Point Grey Road and has specialized in selling houses in his west side neighbourhood most of his career, believes that Wall Street is vastly under priced.
"The prices here on Wall are insane," says Mr. Close. "I'm so used to Point Grey Road, where everything there is cheek to jowl. Here you can look right down the channel. This house will be worth $3-million because this street has nowhere to go but up."
Of course, the Closes believe in the area because they have a house to sell, but the fact that Sotheby's has arrived in what was once an intensely working class neighbourhood is a sign of transition. Several years ago, I wrote a story about the first $1-million listing in the city's other old neighbourhood, Strathcona, and today it's hard to believe that anyone even found that shocking.
Considering the shortage of waterfront in Vancouver, it only makes sense that a similar hike in property values would happen on Wall Street. For the last decade, the Hastings Sunrise community has attracted professional urban types who prefer the obscurity of their enclave, which is a short walk to Commercial Drive, a five-minute drive to downtown, and a short drive over the Second Narrows Bridge to some of the best mountain biking in the country. Now that long-time residents are of retiring age and looking to sell their seaside properties, the area is opening to a new market that is starting to recognize the east side version of Point Grey Road.
"All that's missing is a Starbucks," says Mr. Close.
There are already the early signs of a neighbourhood on the upswing, in the form of a few brave independent retailers. Around the corner from Wall Street, on Powell Street, are a couple of indie craft distilleries, including the Odd Society, makers of gin, vodka and whisky, with a stylish new tasting room – and Powell Street Brewing, makers of an India Pale Ale. There is a movement under way by some businesses to rename and rebrand the neighbourhood, including adjacent Grandview-Woodlands, as "the East Village."
Omer Arbel is a celebrated designer best known for his furniture and lighting company, Bocci. His 1942 Wall Street cottage-style house, which he purchased for $1.27-million three years ago, was recently featured in Dwell magazine. He's a recent addition to the neighbourhood, but he's been aware of it for more than a decade, says Mr. Arbel, who moved from Israel when he was a kid. Mr. Arbel's home is located next door to the Sotheby's-listed property, and he has plans for his own major renovation.
"When I could afford to buy and build, there was no question in my mind that it should occur on Wall Street," he says in an e-mail interview from somewhere in Asia. "I feel much more comfortable in East Vancouver than I do in West Vancouver or the North Shore. I love the view of the mountains and the ocean, and the rawness of the proximity to port lands, the trains and large freighters. People have hang-ups about the noise of the train tracks, but personally I love it. I think it's romantic, and I miss it when I travel."
Mr. Arbel is less enamoured of efforts to rebrand the area as a namesake of that famous New York neighbourhood.
"I hate that some misguided individual or group chose to try to rename our neighbourhood. Why replace a beautiful and poetic name [Hastings Sunrise], particular to this place and its history, with a generic name of a neighbourhood in New York? It seems completely against the spirit of the place. Nowhere in the world will you ever find a neighbourhood called Hastings Sunrise. This is something to celebrate, not try to obscure."
Before it was Hastings Sunrise, the area was set aside by the colonial government in the 1860s, and called the Hastings Townsite. Back then, Vancouver was comprised of individual municipalities, and Hastings Townsite became an annex of the city in 1911, following a referendum, says historian John Atkin.
"Because it was far out from the centre the orphanages and delinquent schools, et cetera, were set out there," he says. "They stuck similar institutions way out in West Point Grey on Fourth Avenue as well. But it developed just as other neighbourhoods did, with a mix of incomes and people. The opening of the Pacific National Exhibition helped boost the area's development."
As for the name, Heritage Vancouver's Donald Luxton says nobody knows why it was renamed Wall Street in 1911. Prior to that, it was simply Powell Street.
Change isn't happening instantly on Wall Street. The house at 2523 has been on the market for two years, and is on its third agent. Since Sotheby's took over in May, they say they've had two decent offers, but they believe they can hold out for the asking price.
Last year, the owner of a 1980s-era house on a 66-by-98-foot lot at 2645 Wall listed at $2.450-million without luck. It sat on the market for 126 days.
Elisabeth Obesen, owner of the house at 2523 Wall, has lived there since 2001. She purchased the property and had the house built, but she under built on the property and only allowed for two bedrooms upstairs, which is a setback in terms of its resale, says Mr. Close.
There is still the old, prevailing attitude among locals that the east side should be far cheaper than the west, and that's an outmoded idea, says Ms. Obesen, who is a doctor.
"Vancouverites have a very crazy notion about the east side versus the west side," she says. "Suddenly, just because you've crossed Main Street, they think a house should be really cheap. Those days are over."
Ms. Obesen says she can't afford to live out her retirement years in Vancouver, and so she's selling her dream home, which includes a garden that cost her more than $150,000.
"I wish I could keep my house and retire here, but I can't. That's the reality," she says. "People have this idea that physicians are rich and living high off the hog, and it's just not true. The deal is, if I want to stay in my house, I have to work till I'm 75. I'm not going to work that long. So the options are sell this house … and move to Panama. That's been on my list at the moment.
"I could hang on and wait [for the price to go up]," she adds. "But I just don't want to."
Editor's Note: The print and an earlier online version of this story contained a typo, referring to a "Port Grey Road." The correct name is of course Point Grey Road. This online version has been corrected.