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  • Ch-Ch-Change: Lessons from View Towers

    Gene Miller

    VIEW TOWERS. It sat there, like a spaceship in a cow pasture, between Quadra and Vancouver, Fort and View Streets, a 19-storey heartbreaker silently announcing to everyone who walked or drove by: “Beauty is tricksome and fleeting, and Death awaits thee.”

    A description in the Islandist states: “The building, completed in 1968, has been locally notorious for much of its 50 year existence, having been the site of several murders, suicides, fatal overdoses, destructive fires, countless violent assaults and several hundred 9-11 calls besides. Its unflattering nickname of ‘Crack Towers’ has persisted since the 1990s.”

    (Crack’s so passé, don’t you think?)




    The building radiates that history out through its mercy-free concrete skin. If buildings convey messages and operate as narratives about human worth and destiny, View Towers is our Statue of Misery.

    The property owner/developer, George Mulek, had intentions, as I understand it, to put up a second, presumably twin or similar building, along the Fort Street frontage of his property, but was prohibited by a shocked and rueful city that curtailed his property development entitlements after the first building went up. Mulek, anecdote has it, left Victoria angry and frustrated and built nothing more here. Mulek is dead (I wish I could report that, in an attempt to restore moral equilibrium, he jumped; but no) and Edmonton-based family members now own View Towers, Orchard House (in James Bay) and numerous residential towers in Vancouver.

    I don’t know how the property acquired its original development entitlements; that is, why anyone thought twin 19-storey buildings in that location would enhance or benefit Victoria. Clearly, there are few enlightening lessons to be taken from the hard mind of the developer, but many from the effort to understand why people in the City of Victoria’s political and administrative circles thought such land use entitlements were a good idea in the first place.

    Progress? Need? Someone’s careless idea? Stupid season?

    Remember: Everything bearing on land use expression is someone’s idea, conceived to respond to an apparent need or exploit some opportunity or produce some beneficial social outcome. Of course, what often happens in the process is best described by a single word: “Oops.”

    Each individual land use outcome can be labelled a microscopic event in the city’s overall life, and we all want to believe the city is large and elastic enough to forgive and endure its mis-calls, but it doesn’t take too many ill-considered choices before a place becomes this instead of remaining or becoming that. All of which has special relevance now as Victoria slowly but surely, building by building, at Victoria scale, turns, either by design or accident, into this (both images Vancouver):




    And this:




    So, what’s so bad about that, you ask? After all, you go to Vancouver and it’s people just like us, not zombies or faceless automatons, right? And Vancouver’s dynamic, exciting, important!

    And this is the point at which you and I need to take a two-directional excursion into the recent past and near future, developing some ideas about current social evolution and how Victoria fits with all of that.

    Find Gene’s excursion (part 2 of this story) here.

    Founder of Open Space, founding publisher of Monday Magazine, originator of the seven Gaining Ground urban sustainability conferences, Gene Miller is currently promoting ASH, an innovative affordable housing concept, and writing “Futurecide,” a book that argues that catastrophe is ecological.

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    Yes, the plan was to build a second identical tower. For years the old concrete forms were piled along side the building by Quadra St. I think the hullabaloo that the ugliness of the building brought on, scuttled plans for the second one.

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    The original plan for View Towers was an 18 story and an 11 story tower with a swimming pool between them. You can see the extra concrete reinforcement for the pool from down in the car park.

    The mostly Batchelor suites were intended to house the proletariat workers for the ever expanding Social Credit government under WAC Bennet. 

    Due to a collapse early in the buildings construction and ongoing quarrels with City Hall the second tower and pool were cancelled. A 19th floor was tacked on the first tower, it has 7 foot ceilings where the other floors are 8 feet. There are 4 elevator shafts but only 3 elevators were installed. The towers exterior was bare unpainted concrete until the mid 1990s.

    After Mr Mulek passed on his daughter took the reigns of Westsea Construction and immediately fired the management staff at View Towers. Since that time ongoing repairs and upgrades have been continuous. The concrete and rebar has been inspected and repaired in a years long process. New thermopane windows have been installed on the entirety of the buildings exterior.

    View Towers is probably the most security conscious building in Victoria. A non-tenant cannot enter the building after 7pm without showing ID to a security guard. A large proportion of the tenants are international students. The building is clean, quiet and safe.

    You may want to do a bit of homework before you write snarky columns about people's homes and wish that an old had committed suicide simply because you don't like a building they developed a half century ago. 500 people call View Towers "Home". Nobody should have to jump off a balcony over that. How classy of you. 

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