Swing mu­sic leg­end en­joys life in condo

Loft rem­i­nis­cent of life in Big Ap­ple

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - JOHN MACKIE

At 91, Dal Richards is a swing mu­sic leg­end, a liv­ing link to the hey­day of the big bands in the 1930s and ’40s.

And he might have Van­cou­ver’s most swing­ing pad, to boot.

Richards and his wife Muriel Honey live at 550 Beatty, a 1906 ware­house that was con­verted to lofts in the early 1980s.

The con­ver­sion was a fi­nan­cial dis­as­ter — the orig­i­nal de­vel­op­ment went bust, and the units were auc­tioned off at fire sale prices.

But ar­tis­ti­cally, the 32 lofts are stun­ning.

The ar­chi­tect be­hind the project was the in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned Bruno Fres­chi, who kept the spa­ces big and open and added all sorts of cool touches — spi­ral stair­cases, sky­lights, ex­posed beams and wood ceil­ings.

Walk­ing into the apart­ment for the first time, Sun pho­tog­ra­pher Bill Keay looked stunned and mut­tered: “Wow.” It’s a com­mon re­ac­tion. “You still have it when you’ve been gone for a while,” says Honey. “You come back and go, ‘Oh yeah.’”

The wow fac­tor comes from the spa­cious­ness, the high ceil­ings, the vibe that you’ve en­tered some­thing spe­cial. It’s like some­thing out of a movie set in New York, circa the 1960s.

Fres­chi is an imag­i­na­tive fel­low — he was the chief ar­chi­tect at Expo 86 — and ev­ery­thing in the apart­ment is well thought-out.

The en­trance, for ex­am­ple, is slightly el­e­vated, so you step down into the apart­ment, like you’re en­ter­ing a sunken liv­ing room.

Richards and Honey live on the top floor, and have a three-level apart­ment. The liv­ing area/ kitchen is on the sev­enth floor and the bed­room/of­fice/mu­sic room is a floor down, com­bin­ing for more than 2,000 square feet of space.

A spi­ral stair­case spins up to the third level, a 300-square-foot rooftop deck that of­fers a won­der­ful ur­ban view stretch­ing from the cranes of the Port of Van­cou­ver to the In­ter­na­tional Vil­lage’s high­rises, the Ge­or­gia Viaduct and Van­cou­ver’s Art Deco city hall.

Back in­side, there are a min­i­mum of walls, and ceil­ings that rise from 13 to 30 feet.

Light streams in from the sky­lights, il­lu­mi­nat­ing a gi­ant Frank Si­na­tra bus shel­ter poster Richards got from AM 600, where he does his Dal’s Place ra­dio show Sun­days at 9 p.m. (the sta­tion has moved up the dial to 650 AM since the poster was printed.)

Light is also brought in via one of Fres­chi’s tricks, an in­verted bay win­dow at the east­ern end of the loft.

“The prob­lem with his­toric ren­o­va­tions is the win­dows are al­ways too small and there’s not enough light,” says Fres­chi, who re­cently moved back home af­ter two decades in Buf­falo and Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

“You want (light) to pen­e­trate deep into a unit, so we did the in­verted bay. The tra­di­tional bay pops out 45 de­grees, but we popped it in­wards, and cre­ated small decks.

“That in­ter­nal or in­verted bay re­ally be­came very very im­por­tant in the process of im­port­ing light into the unit — and peo­ple loved it.”

The decor is very Richards. Muriel says she had a hand in a chic kitchen reno (cherry cab­i­nets, gran­ite coun­ters, sub­way tiles), but left most ev­ery­thing else as is.

“You don’t touch a mas­ter­piece,” she says, laugh­ing.

The wall is filled with me­men­toes of Richards’s ca­reer, in­clud­ing the sign for the old Panorama Roof lounge at the Ho­tel Van­cou­ver and a wall of all the hon­ours he has re­ceived, such as the Or­der of Canada, the Or­der of Bri­tish Columbia and the procla­ma­tion of Dal Richards Day in Van­cou­ver (Honey re­placed it with a joke Muriel Honey Day procla­ma­tion for six months un­til Richards no­ticed.)

Aside from Richards, there aren’t many an­tiques, al­though there are mod­ern fur­ni­ture clas­sics such as Achille Castiglion­i’s swoop­ing Arco lamp and Eero Saari­nen’s womb chair.

A glass ta­ble and sev­eral mir­rors en­hance the feel­ing of spa­cious­ness, so much so that some peo­ple mis­take a big mir­ror by the kitchen for a win­dow.

“I’ve had peo­ple say, ‘Gee, I didn’t know you could see to the other side of the street,’” Richards says with a smile.

Richards smiles a lot when he’s show­ing off his digs. His big­gest smile comes when he tells you how much he bought it for — $178,000 in 1987.

“I saw an ad ad­ver­tis­ing 32 con­do­mini­ums for auc­tion,” he re­counts.

“I was just cu­ri­ous. What made me more cu­ri­ous was that it had a pic­ture of this suite. It knocked me out.”

Richards came down to check out the empty space, loved it, and came back for the auc­tion.

“When I got to the auc­tion, I learned that you had to have a $5,000 cer­ti­fied cheque de­posited to bid,” he says.

“And they all had min­i­mum bids. I think the low­est price level was $154,000.

“They all went for five to 10 per cent more than the min­i­mum bid un­til they got to this one, and no­body bid. I was sit­ting there hold­ing my breath: first ask­ing, sec­ond ask­ing, third ask­ing.

“I went up and said: ‘If I bring some money back by 10 o’clock to­mor­row morn­ing, will you ac­cept it?’ And that’s how I got it.”

The build­ing was ahead of its time.

When constructi­on started in 1980 it was the first con­ver­sion of a her­itage build­ing to con­dos, and Fres­chi says draw­ing up new by­laws and reg­u­la­tions for the project was “tor­tur­ous.”

There were costly de­lays, constructi­on costs soared and many of the orig­i­nal buy­ers backed out. The lofts were fi­nally fin­ished in 1984, but the mar­ket had turned and no one wanted them.

They were rented out dur­ing Expo 86, then auc­tioned off a year later.

Richards has done well with his in­vest­ment — he says at the height of the mar­ket, his apart­ment was prob­a­bly worth $1.4 mil­lion. (He paid $10,000 for his first house back in 1945.)

Richards loves liv­ing on Beatty Street, which is perched be­tween Chi­na­town, Gas­town and down­town and al­lows him to walk to most of his jobs.

“Ev­ery­thing I do is down­town, the the­atres, the ho­tels, the CBC and the rest of it,” says Richards.

Apart from sev­eral lo­cal per­for­mances, he is about to release a new CD, One More Time. But the gig he’s re­ally ex­cited about is next Fe­bru­ary, when he’ll be car­ry­ing the Olympic torch. “I’m in train­ing,” he re­lates. “I go to the Round­house for fit­ness train­ing twice a week. Thurs­day af­ter­noons, I go to the YWCA and swim 16 lengths, which is about an eighth of a mile.

“Peo­ple say, ‘Are you sure you can carry that torch?’ And I say, ‘Well, I’ve been car­ry­ing a sax­o­phone for 75 years.’”

Bill Keay, Van­cou­ver Sun

Dal Richards plays the sax­o­phone, some­thing he’s done for 75 years, in his two-storey loft in Van­cou­ver.

The ex­te­rior of the build­ing.

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