Not all older homes worth saving: builder

The home known as Blair Gowie

The home known as Blair Gowie

Runnymede home’s future hot topic at meeting

After house builder Max Huxley bought a 1916 Georgian home on Midland Road six years ago, he did what many of his clients ask for: he renovated it.

“Everyone thought it was a tear-down, but I walked in and said ‘it looks bad, but structurally it’s a fantastic house.’”

Designed by a San Francisco engineer, the house had good bones and was worth the effort to replace the entire exterior and three-quarters of the interior, Huxley said.

After finding the original plans for the house, he completed work the original developer couldn’t do because of a lack of funds. Huxley added wide crown moldings, window trims and a porte cochére bannister. To bring it into the 21st-century, he installed in-floor heating, thermal pane windows and an on-demand hot water tank.

Although he took the time to bring his old house back to life, Huxley doesn’t think all vintage Oak Bay homes – those more than 60 years old – deserve the same treatment.

“A lot of these old homes had good material but weren’t necessarily built well,” he said.

He points to an arts and crafts house on Ripon Road built in 1913. When he walked through the house two years ago he told the owners not to consider renovating it.

“To bring it up to today’s standards it would have cost almost as much as to build a new one, and you still wouldn’t ever get the same efficiency.”

The house was torn down and a new 8,000-square-foot house is being built, although not by Huxley.

There is one Oak Bay house, however, that Huxley believes is worth saving.

Blair Gowie, the 40-room Runnymede Avenue mansion designed by Samuel Maclure and built in 1916, has been the subject of controversy in Oak Bay the past six months. A potential buyer has asked Oak Bay council to approve de-designating a 12,000-sq.-ft. section of land to allow the subdivision of the 1.25-acre heritage property.

The buyer’s plan is to use the funds from the sale of the lot, valued at $750,000, to renovate the house.

Recently, 43 people showed up at an Oak Bay Green Committee-organized meeting at the Monterey library to protest that idea and discuss what to do about the potential divide. Oak Bay councillors Hazel Braithwaite and Tara Ney “bravely fielded questions from some fairly agitated participants,” said event co-organizer Barbara Julian.

Ney said the heated debate showed her that “this community cares a great deal about our heritage properties. We will work with the community to make the best possible decision to preserve this property.”

Neither potential buyer Bruce Wilkin nor the estate’s current property manager, John Simson, responded to recent interview requests about the property’s future. Oak Bay planning director Roy Thomassen said last week Wilkin is drafting a heritage revitalization agreement proposal, which should be ready to present to council by the end of February.

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