Throwback Thursday: A Cliffside Family Home from 1963
We pay tribute to a Western Living classic that’s surprisingly near and dear to our hearts.
The year is 1960 and a blizzard has just hit the “big-little city” of Reno, Nevada leaving two newlyweds snowed in at their motel. Of course, they did what any honeymooners stuck inside a cozy hotel room surrounded by snow capped mountains would do…they grabbed a napkin and started to design furniture. Not just any furniture mind you, but the very furniture that would fill their dream home and one day grace the pages of Western Homes and Living—the predecessor of this very magazine.
Fast-forward: three children, six grandchildren and 58 years later (!), I’m sitting in the Western Living archives flipping through the April 1963 issue to see my grandmother standing in black and white surrounded by that very furniture. It’s just a coincidence that I (one of the six aforementioned grandchildren) am an intern at the magazine that featured my family’s home all those years back. And now, as the house is being prepared for demolition, it is my great privilege to pay homage to it and bring the story full circle.
After their snowy honeymoon, my grandparents, John and Sheila Croll, returned to Vancouver and began their search for a house in West Vancouver. “When we were first looking for something we looked at houses and empty lots,” says Sheila. They came across a site they didn’t particularly like, but it came with blueprints of an architect’s vision for a potential house. That architect was Hamish McIntyre. They loved his designs so much that when they settled on a cliffside lot on Bayridge Avenue they knew they wanted McIntyre to design it.
Having a house designed to suit the site is always important but in the case of the Croll home it was absolutely essential. They had chosen a lot high on the rock bluff that dominates the topography of West Vancouver. To take advantage of this dramatic setting without incurring excessive construction costs, architect Hamish McIntyre designed a 2-storey home that would fit neatly into the natural contours of a rock shelf on the view side of the property without disturbing a magnificent arbutus tree that now grows through the entrance courtyard.
The house was completed in 1962 but additions were made over the years post-publication to fit my family’s changing needs. I don’t remember the oak flooring “in a random plank shipdeck pattern” or the “Japanese shoji screen effect” of the “distinctive hand burned white brick” around the fire place—although I’m sure it was all there. What I do remember is the floor-to-ceiling glass windows that ran the entire length of the house, unusual for that era but necessary to make the most of the forest and harbour views.
I also remember seemingly trivial things that make up a family home: my grandfather had a Nipa Hut shipped by a freighter from the Philippines (where he often went for business) to act as a play house for my mother and two uncles. It sat at the bottom of the garden my entire childhood and was a common Easter egg hiding place. An elevator was installed in 1985 after my grandmother was diagnosed with MS and she was no longer able to climb the stairs to the main entrance. From the balcony of the main floor, in her wheelchair, she would oversee everyone in the pool the storey below and send down a basket on a rope full of leftover beef sandwiches and beers (the latter for the adults, obviously).
Eventually, after 40 years in the family home, my grandparents (empty nesters and aging with grace) downsized to a waterfront apartment in Ambleside. The decision to let go of a home you’ve built is not an easy one to make, and you certainly hold on to your attachments long after the “sold” sign goes up—as my family is discovering now (we had an unspoken agreement to repurchase the home if we were to ever win the lottery).
The house was listed on West Vancouver’s Survey of Significant Architecture, and last month the West Vancouver council voted unanimously to place a 60-day halt on the demolition permits in an effort to save it. Since no agreement was reached, I can only hope that whatever is built in it’s place pays tribute to the cliffside in the same way the Croll home did—and makes it’s own architectural mark on Bayridge Avenue.