Royal Mansions – Bute and Pacific

Royal Mansions

Here’s Royal Mansions in the West End, on Pacific. It was built in 1912, but in 1938 when this Vancouver Public Library image was taken it was still in great condition. It was designed by a British-born father and son architectural team, Townsend & Townsend. They only used two colours of brick on their buildings; red and buff, but generally they liked to mix the two with huge diamond shaped red motifs on a buff ground. Uniquely, as far as we know, this is all red – and has some fancy rustic stonework on the corners as relief. The building permit says it cost $80,000 to build for M B Wilkinson. The Townsends were only in the city for a few years, from 1908 to 1913, but they were responsible for designing at least 25 buildings worth over $800,000 in that period. They may have come from Manchester, and disappeared from the city as the economy started to face serious decline. We think Alfred Townsend (who might have been christened Joseph, like his father) may have fought in the First World War, and possibly returned to the US after the war. This seems to be the most expensive project that the partners designed.

brick & tileIn 1887 a new company was incorporated – the ‘Vancouver Brick and Tile Company Limited’. The five Trustee shareholders made an interesting group: David and Isaac Oppenheimer, the Gastown merchants who controlled much of the land in the Old Granville Townsite, George Black; pioneer butcher who would become a hotel-owner, Sam Brighouse, one of the ‘three Greenhorns’ who bought 222 acres of land now making up today’s West End, and W H Armstrong – a local contractor. The Canadian Mining Manual for 1890-91 shows that the company – at least briefly – were in production, manufacturing 750,000 bricks in 1889, and that the company secretary was M B Wilkinson.

A complicated court case that lasted for many years revealed the relationship between Mr. Wilkinson, and Mr. Brighouse, and their involvement in the Royal Mansions. Michael Wilkinson by the point the case was settled (in 1929) was known as Michael Wilkinson Brighouse – he changed his name as a result of a requirement of Sam Brighouses’s will. Michael was Sam’s nephew; Sam had no wife or children, Michael came to Vancouver in 1888 at the age of 24, settled with Sam on his Lulu Island farm, and eventually took over running Sam’s extensive business and property interests. Michael’s mother (Sam’s sister) kept house.

Brighouse hollow treeWe know what Sam and Michael looked like from an Archives image that shows them setting up a bar in the hollow tree (something the Park Board haven’t contemplated). The photograph shows Michael Wilkinson, Sam Brighouse, William Beech, A. McCallum (serving drinks) and others around 1890.

A 1906 will left most of Sam’s assets (worth over $700,000 at his death) to Michael, but Sam was ill a couple of years later, had a prostate operation in 1908 and returned to England in 1911 in poor health. He died there in 1913, soon after changing his will to leave Michael the Richmond farm (on condition that he couldn’t sell it), and all the other property to other relatives. The court case (brought by Frederick Morton on behalf of Sam’s estate) eventually determined that this final version of the will was the legal one, leaving Michael merely extremely well off, rather than very, very wealthy. It also showed that as well as managing a company called the Royal Ice and Dairy Company on his uncle’s behalf, in 1912 Michael had developed Royal Mansions at a cost of over $80,000 on Sam’s land. The judgement allotted Sam’s estate $30,000 of value and Michael and his brother Arthur mortgages of $25,000 each. on which interest was paid. The initial court case in 1916 created this arrangement – the final 1929 Supreme Court judgement appears to have reversed it. Michael ran Richmond’s Minoru Race Track on its opening in 1909, and he married – in 1921 the Daily World reported “Mrs. M. B. Wilkinson of the Royal Mansions entertained at the tea hour on Wednesday”.

 

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Posted June 1, 2015 by ChangingCity in Still Standing, West End

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