Tracey Ayton is a Vancouver-based interiors and lifestyle photographer, whose work has appeared in prominent publications such as UPPERCASE, Style at Home and House & Home, as well as online at Kinfolk and House of Fifty. Tracey takes great interest in history and appreciates the quirks and character found in old architecture. She, herself, bought a turn-of-the-century-home in Vancouver’s Kerrisdale neighbourhood 11 years ago, and has since renovated it with her husband to celebrate its original beauty.
Vancouver’s popular West side (east of Kerrisdale) was once populated with the kinds of architectural gems that Tracey loves. The area boasted a vibrant family atmosphere and classic Arts & Crafts style homes. But in recent years, homes in this sought after neighbourhood have been disappearing. “Once you see a “For Sale” sign in front of it,” says Tracey, “you know the red fencing is sure to go up soon after. Old homes on Vancouver’s West side are like sitting ducks.” These homes are being scooped up by developers or wealthy investors who are looking to tear them down and make a profit. Most Vancouver residents are unable to compete with the prices these investors are willing to pay, and are forced to move out of the city and raise their families in more affordable suburb areas.
Enter Vancouver Vanishes, a community Facebook Page that is a lament for, and celebration of, the vanishing character homes in Vancouver. Tracey stumbled upon the page last year and immediately wanted to be apart of it. She now joins Vancouver Vanishes’ founder and author Caroline Adderson in documenting West side homes slated for demolition.
EQ3 Tell us about Vancouver Vanishes.
TRACEY AYTON Vancouver Vanishes is a Community Facebook Page. My co-worker who started it all is Caroline Adderson. She started taking pictures of these homes that were slated for demolition and documented them. It got to be so much that she started a Facebook Page, because she thought she should draw attention to what’s going on in our city.
I stumbled upon this page and I just thought “Wow, this is amazing.” She wrote down the year it was built, the first owner, and the owner’s occupation. I found this really interesting. One of the reasons why I live here is because I have a great appreciation for history and heritage. So I approached Caroline and I said “Hey look, I am a photographer, my subjects are homes and interiors, and I do have a passion for history.”
We travel to the west side of Vancouver 2-3 times a week, and go into houses that we have permission to enter and take pictures, both inside and out. Then we document them on the page.
EQ3 For our readers who may not understand Vancouver’s real estate market, can you explain what’s going on there and why these homes are getting torn down?
TA Vancouver is an interesting and beautiful place to buy property. The west side is extremely popular. People with money will buy up anything and most likely tear it down in order to suit their needs. A lot of times it is just investment interests. They will tear down a house with a front and a back yard, and then they’ll build something that covers 70% of the lot, the maximum allowed.
After that you expect a family to move in, but often they don’t. They just sit on the house for profit, and they’ll sell it for quite a bit more money than they bought it for. It’s sort of diminishing the feel of our neighbourhoods because one-by-one these pockets of the city aren’t vibrant anymore.
EQ3 What are the conditions of these houses?
TA It could be an elderly person’s home that’s out of date and out of shape, but most recently there have been homes that are in perfect condition. They’ve been renovated, painted and brought up to date with electrical, you name it, but it just doesn’t matter when the house is bought as a building lot. The new buyer, who may not be living in the house, doesn’t want the upkeep of a garden.
EQ3 You’re a sought after interior and lifestyle photographer for some very prominent magazines in Canada. What goes through your mind when you’re shooting for Vancouver Vanishes?
TA I think I tend to shoot in a bit of an artistic way. I’ve got a certain eye and it’s kind of artsy, and I try to apply that with these homes. The character of the homes – the bones – they immediately stand out, and that’s exactly what I want to photograph. Some of them have beautiful stained glass, chair rails, and fireplace mantels. I somehow seam it all together in one shot, or I break it up, just as long as it shows the character. But on the other end, I like to show the destruction of the house. So I might shoot a broken window that used to be stained glass – perfect, beautiful stained glass broken.
It evokes a feeling. I think I want people to be touched by these homes and what they used to offer. It’s sad, but they’re still standing with so much beauty in them, no matter how much people have ripped out. I guess I just try to capture that.
EQ3 You mentioned that it evokes a feeling. What feelings do these homes evoke in you?
TA It’s bittersweet because they are such beautiful homes. It’s stuff that you just don’t see being built anymore. You see these good bones, and you know that whatever is going to be built after this is not going to be as intricate.
EQ3 We really loved the post you recently published on The Dorothies – a pair of homes that Vancouver Vanishes recently helped rescue from demolition! How did you manage to save these two homes?
TA Well, WE didn’t save them! They were saved by the city’s Heritage Revitalization Agreement, which is one of the few heritage tools the city has. Caroline had noticed the houses and approached the developer, who was going to tear them down to build his own house and one for a friend. She arranged to get a key and go inside to photograph. Later, when the development application went forward, Caroline posted the photos and encouraged people to write letters in support of saving the houses. The press got wind of it and articles appeared in The Vancouver Sun and the Province, provoking public outcry. The developer eventually had a change of heart when he realized if he moved the houses, the city would relax some of its zoning requirements, which made the project financially feasible. It was a win for the houses, the developer, and heritage.
EQ3 If you could get one message across, what would it be?
TA Just to make people aware of what’s happening. The more people that are aware of it, the more we can help change the laws to save these buildings. All I can do is document these homes and show people what Vancouver used to look like when I was here. I’m a fourth generation Vancouverite, so I have pictures of when my parents lived here. And, I have pictures of when my grandparents were here, and when my great-grandparents were here. I hang onto that dearly.
If there is a way that we could figure out how to stop tearing down homes that shouldn’t be torn down, then maybe that’s all I hope for.
Image source: All photos by Tracey Ayton for Vancouver Vanishes