Vancouver council to decide on new uses for two old mansions

A pair of Vancouver mansions built for two of the most famous businessmen of their day are set to very different purposes.

Casa Mia to become a care facility, while the Gabriola Mansion slated for rental units

The Gabriola Mansion on Davie Street in 1903, just two years after it was completed. (Vancouver Archives )

Two Vancouver mansions, built for two of the most famous businessmen of their day, could soon be used for very different purposes. 

A public hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday for a number of properties in the city.

But the structures with the most historical significance concern the Gabriola Mansion at 1523 Davie Street and Casa Mia at 1920 Southwest Marine Drive.

The owner of the Gabriola Mansion is proposing to convert it into 16 rental units, while the owner of Casa Mia wants to turn it into a community care facility. 

Both proposals request permission to build new structures on the property.

"It's really great from everybody's point of view, because you get the reuse, the historic landscape, and a building adapting to changing times," said Michael Kluckner, a historian and author of Vanishing Vancouver, a book that explores the origins and evolution of the city's heritage properties. 

Both buildings are classified as A-list Heritage Buildings by the City of Vancouver — the highest possible rating, only given to 263 buildings in the city representing "primary significance."

"The fact both of these have come forward is an indication the city's heritage program is working fairly well," said Kluckner, who estimated there were around 50 A-list heritage mansions remaining in Vancouver.

Casa Mia was built in 1930 for George C. Reifel. (Margaret Gallagher)

Of sugar and beer barons 

Kluckner said in both mansions, the cultural aspirations of their wealthy owners influenced the designs of the homes.

Casa Mia was built in 1930 for George C. Reifel, whose family owned Vancouver Breweries, the city's first brewing conglomerate. 

The 21,000-square-foot Spanish Revival mansion is full of elaborate woodwork and vaulted ceilings, and even has a mural depicting characters from the film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, painted by artists from the Walt Disney Studio. That mural will remain in the care facility, according to the proposal.

"It's Hollywood, Spanish, very 1920s, very much B.C. looking south to California as kind of a style guide," said Kluckner. 

The Gabriola Mansion was built for Benjamin T. Rogers, founder of the B.C. Sugar Refining Company — one of the first Vancouver companies to gain national renown — and reflected the upper-class British design sensibilities of the day.

Casa Mia had been used as a single-family home prior to being purchased by The Care Group in 2011, while the Gabriola Mansion has had a number of iterations, including being a Macaroni Grill.

After the release of the film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Reifel is said to have flown in Disney artists to paint this mural in the upstairs nursery. (Margaret Gallagher)

Both require council approval

The proposals need to be approved by city council, and while the Gabriola Mansion conversion has only been in the works for the last year, the Casa Mia proposal was first made in 2013. 

"They're very complex projects," said Kluckner. "But they're good projects, good reuse." 

The Vancouver Heritage Commission, a non-binding advisory group, is supporting the Casa Mia project, but neither supported nor opposed the Gabriola Mansion proposal, partly based on the rental townhouses that would be built on the northwest corner of the lot.

The public hearing takes place Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. PT.   

A notice of the public hearing scheduled for Vancouver's Gabriola Mansion. (David Horemans/CBC)

About the Author

Justin McElroy


Justin is a reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering political stories throughout British Columbia.