One of Surrey’s oldest homes has fallen prey to the bulldozer, despite efforts by the City of Surrey and the developer to preserve the Clayton heritage building for a new chapter of Surrey history.
Crews moved in to raze the 1908 George E. Lawrence house near the northeast corner of 184 Street and Fraser Highway.
It originally belonged to a city councillor who served in 1905 and 1906, and was part of a property that is being turned into a 71-townhome development called Mackenzie Estates.
Alternately derided as a neglected eyesore and championed as a heritage treasure, it had been vacant for as long as a decade; arsonists had struck twice, and the home had been fenced in to thwart vandals and squatters.
It was protected by a Heritage Revitalization Agreement with the City of Surrey setting it aside for preservation as a condition of the townhome development being built by the Mann Group, who were planning to relocate it to another part of the property for use as an amenity building, and completely restore the home, which was on the city’s heritage register.
However, engineers hired by the developer wouldn’t sign off on moving the building, declared unsafe by WorkSafe B.C.
The city subsequently agreed to allow the developer to demolish the home and build an exact replica, using as many original materials as possible.
“For a few years, we were of the opinion that it could be moved,” Don Luymes, Surrey’s manager of community planning, said last week, explaining a structural consultant had previously said the building could be safely moved, but a more recent assessment by a company hired by the developer determined the 116-year-old wood structure would not survive the move.
But because there has been a loss of heritage value, the developer has also had to pay a “fairly substantial” fine of $100,000.
“A replica house is nice, but it’s not the real thing,” Luymes said.
[At left, firefighters respond to a suspicious blaze at the George E. Lawrence home in 2010. – file]
He agreed the prospect of moving the George E. Lawrence home had been greeted with a “lot of raised eyebrows,” over the years, “but our clear preference would have been to move the house, and restore it in situ, but it became clear that it was unsafe to put workers in there and it probably would have fallen apart if it had been moved.”
The fine goes into a restricted fund to pay for upcoming heritage projects, at the discretion of the city’s heritage advisory commission.
“It could be used for moving another heritage house, or restoration works,” he said. “There’s a range of projects the commission can decide to use that money for.”
The developer intends to start construction on the replica heritage home soon, and has paid a bonded security to firm up the commitment to rebuild.
“Money is being held to make sure it does happen.”
Architectural drawings have been made based on measurements of the house.
When the townhouse development was approved, the City of Surrey took a strip of land along Fraser Highway for a future greenway, meaning the home had to be relocated. It also stood very close to the roadway.
Real estate representative Jolly Saluja said the replica will be used as an amenity building for residents.
He said the original building’s structure was weak, and there were hazards like asbestos tiles.
“Worksafe BC wouldn’t let anyone go inside to fix it up,” Saluja said, adding there were problems in every direction. “If there weren’t, the house would have been saved, no question.”
The plans are still being drawn up, but Saluja said the replica will have a meeting space and a yoga studio for residents.
A public greenway is in the works, and the City of Surrey is creating a storyboard highlighting the home’s history.
“We want it to be usable to the community and the people who live on the site,” Saluja said.
The first residents of Mackenzie Estates are already moving in, and by the end of March he expects 10 to 15 families will be living on the site.
Saluja said he’s spoken with a former resident of the home who lived there during the 1940s and ‘50s, and hopes to invite her to the grand opening.