West Vancouver's historic Binning House sold

After years spent decaying in a legal tug-of-war, West Vancouver’s historic Binning House has been sold.

Heritage advocates who have been fighting for years to preserve the home built in 1941 on Mathers Crescent by famed artist Bertram Charles Binning are breathing a sigh of relief. The new owner is Jesse Saniuk, a second-generation West Vancouver Realtor who happened to grow up in the Altamont neighbourhood.

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“I saw it and thought, ‘That’s the kind of house I could live in forever,’” said Saniuk, 28. “My dream for the property is to basically restore it and, if I can, add some square footage to it, like a master bedroom or something like that.”

With its floor-to-ceiling windows, open concept, flat roof and large overhang, it is considered to be the first example of West Coast Modernism, a style that is found in neighbourhoods around this part of the world.

Binning’s home was also something of a mid-century salon, with writers, artists and architects, including Ron Thom and Arthur Erickson coming there to mingle and be inspired. When

Binning’s widow Jessie died in 2007, she stated in her will that she wanted the house preserved and remain open to scholars and academics.

But all of that was cast into doubt when The Land Conservancy, the non-profit that took over the home on a charity basis, wound up in bankruptcy protection. In an effort to pay back more than $6 million owed to creditors, TLC first attempted to sell the home to a company owned by developer Bruno Wall.

The sale was halted by the courts, but the University of British Columbia swooped in and filed an appeal, claiming the trustees of Jessie Binning’s estate improperly transferred the home to TLC, and that it should be sold with the proceeds going to the BC Binning Memorial Fellowship, a scholarship available to students getting their masters in fine arts at UBC.

That was Jessie’s second wish if no suitable foundation could be found to preserve the home.

Saniuk said he would be “very open” to allowing public and scholarly access to his new home as Jessie had wanted.

“I would encourage it, in fact. If people would appreciate the house then maybe it will lead to more houses and more people wanting to restore this interesting architecture that we have here on the West Coast, which up until this point, has pretty much been sadly ignored,” he said. “We have so many foreign buyers right now who really put zero value on it but there is value in it. Maybe the profit is not as much but the lifestyle that you enjoy can be worth a lot more than that, I think.”

Under bylaws passed by the District of West Vancouver, the home must be maintained and any alterations must be approved by the district in consultation with a heritage expert.

Heritage advocates who have been watching in dismay as the house was neglected under TLC’s stewardship, are expressing relief. “I’m more pleasantly surprised than I thought I would be,” said Adele Weder, founder of the West Coast Modern League and personal friend of Jessie Binning. “It looks like he’s done his homework on the house and is interested in its heritage and its value as a national historic site.”

Weder said her group, along with the district and other heritage advocates, will be supportive when it comes to restoring the home and making it available to the public as per Jessie’s will.

“This is an exciting possibility. He has a chance to be a real hero,” she said.

The property was listed $2,188,000 and sold after multiple bids. The proceeds will go to UBC minus the cost of UBC and TLC’s legal bills, which Weder said were more than $600,000.

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