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$4.3M sale of 'Starship' heritage home 'precedent setting,' agent says

A real estate agent says the sale shows global recognition of West Coast Modern architecture, while a local expert criticizes the 'jazzy' marketing and wants more action from local government.

A cleverly marketed heritage home in West Vancouver has recently blasted off the market, in a sale its real estate agent calls a powerful statement that reflects global recognition of local architecture.

At $4.3 million, the sale of the “Starship House” is one of the most significant architectural sales in Western Canada, according to agent Trent Rodney of real estate firm West Coast Modern.

Addressing the fears of heritage enthusiasts, the selling price indicates that the piece of West Coast Modern design à la famed Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson will likely be preserved, for now.

Without effective measures in place, many North Shore heritage homes are demoed and replaced by larger builds that better capitalize on lot size. In West Van, the 1956 Ron Thom Dawson/Purdie House on Rose Crescent and the 1940 McDowell House on Hillcrest Road, a Bob Lewis post-and-beam, were both torn down this year.

While Rodney says his firm is playing an important role in practically preserving local heritage, an expert calls the Starship marketing campaign “overly aggressive” and argues local government should be taking bolder action than sales agents.

“No one ever called it the Starship House,” said Trevor Boddy, architecture critic and board member of the Arthur Erickson Foundation.

“Erickson never did, and architects don’t call it that,” he said. “That's a fiction invented by the Realtors – they wanted a sexy marketing name.”

The actual name for the 2,434-square-foot home is the Catton House. Built in 1968, the cedar-clad residence on Eagleridge Drive, above Gleneages Golf Course, overlooks the Georgia Strait.

Ironically, Boddy explained, architects call the style “mineshaft modern” because it looks back to the mining history of British Columbia, not rockets taking to space.

But Rodney contends that the name isn’t made up. From his firm’s research, he said no one remembers it as the Catton House. All the neighbours call it the Starship House “because it looks like it just appeared [and] landed on the mountainside.”

And going with the out-of-this-world name is what caused people to investigate, Rodney adds. The space-age name ended up on the pages of Architectural Digest, Dwell, Elle Decor and various other industry publications. Also, unlike a number of its peers, the home eventually sold.

“This is actually the first time where an architecturally significant building has been [sold with] the buyers appreciating the architecture that's on it,” Rodney said, noting his firm’s track record of selling West Coast Modern homes that don’t get demolished.

Expert says North Shore needs heritage SWAT team

Critic Boddy gives credit to Rodney for getting the home into numerous magazines, but warns people not to confuse the real estate company with non-profit preservation societies.

Realtors like him “capitalize on the intellectual capital of people like Erickson,” Boddy said. “The success of this realty company shows the weakness of municipal action.”

He argues that politicians ought to be as bold as real estate agents, especially in the face of the heritage “crisis” in the area.

“What the North Shore needs is a SWAT team: co-operation between the municipalities to really take on what is the legacy of West Coast Modern,” Boddy continued. Of particular concern to him is the Binning House.

In lieu of any formal controls, historic houses will keep going down.

“Our solution to that is keeping it in the right hands,” Rodney said.

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