Delta heritage mansion may be torn down for rental building

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The Tudor-revival mansion at 4501 Arthur Dr. in Delta was designed by architect Samuel Maclure and has an English arts and crafts interior

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When it was constructed in 1906, the mansion at 4501 Arthur Dr. in Delta was a Ladner landmark.

Built for David McKee, son of Delta pioneer John McKee, it was designed by Samuel Maclure, the architect for many of early B.C.’s biggest and most luxurious homes, such as the Rogers Sugar mansion, Gabriola, on Vancouver’s Davie Street, and Victoria’s Hatley Park Castle.

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In the style of the day, it was given a name: Westholme. The 12-room, 5,300-sq.-ft. mansion had a Tudor-revival exterior and an English arts and crafts interior, with elegant wood paneling and art nouveau stained-glass windows.

“Maclure was just a master at taking British Columbia’s woods, the milieu of British Columbia, and translating that into an arts and crafts ideal,” said Maclure expert Jim Wolf.  “It was all about art for art’s sake.”

The stunning interior is more or less intact, although the overall building is in need of restoration after being used as a seniors home for decades.

But the building may not be around for much longer because a developer wants to knock it down and build a 56-unit rental housing complex on its enormous 37,026-sq.-ft. lot.

This is the third redevelopment proposal for the site in recent years. The first two would have seen the mansion restored. Donald Luxton and Associates put together an 80-page heritage conservation plan in 2020.

The McKee Mews proposal would have seen the mansion moved to the front of the lot and seven new strata townhomes built behind. It passed through several stages of the development process before the project was abandoned and the property was sold for $2.1 million in October 2019.

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The owner is now a numbered company with the same address as Landcraft Homes of Delta. The Delta Optimist reported the new owner submitted a plan to construct a 61-bed community care facility on the site, which would have seen the mansion moved and restored.

But that proposal appears to have been replaced by the latest plan, for the 56-unit rental complex and the demolition of the 117-year-old house.

“That house unfortunately has just sat and sat, (had) proposal after proposal fail because of the situation of the house,” said Delta Mayor George Harvie.

“The house has just deteriorated. We’re just waiting for an application to come in, to see if we should move forward with doing what we need most in the community — rental housing, rental apartments.” 

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A  mansion at 4501 Arthur Drive in the Ladner  part of Delta. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /00101856A

Harvie said there is pressure to build more housing in Delta, partly from the provincial government.

“We’re on the list from Victoria where we’re being demanded to build more housing,” said Harvie.

“We haven’t done much housing in Delta over decades, and it’s caught up with us. We need more housing. I can’t tell you how many times people are phoning me looking for rentals. They’re looking for a basement suite, (but) there’s nothing available. We need to do something.”

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The McKee Mews proposal estimated the restoration cost of the mansion was $650,000 to $750,000 in 2016. To the naked eye, the mansion doesn’t seem like a tear down, but Harvie said, “I don’t even know if it’s worth restoring. It’s deteriorated something significantly.”

Wolf worked as a planner in Burnaby, and received a lifetime achievement award from Heritage B.C. in 2022. He said Westholme is a significant building, one of the earliest examples of Maclure’s work left in the Lower Mainland.

“I would think this house qualifies for a high level of heritage consideration, and definitely is worthwhile in terms of protecting and preserving,” he said.

“(Tearing it down) seems short-sighted, given the jewel that you have on hand. There’s all sorts of ways of preserving buildings, whether you move them on the site, or incorporate them into a development.”

The house is listed on Delta’s Heritage Register and located within the Ladner Heritage Conservation Area.

The McKee family moved out of the mansion in 1925 and it had several owners before being converted to a seniors home in 1964. It is no longer a seniors home, but a caretaker lives on site.

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A closeup of the 5,300-square-foot home. Photo by NICK PROCAYLO /00101856A

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