Downtown heritage buildings to be restored, 30 condos added

A plan to restore a prominent heritage corner in downtown Victoria has won the support of city councillors.

Councillors authorized a heritage alteration permit for restoration of the two-storey facades of the Morgan Block, built in 1891, and the Watson & McGregor Building, built in 1909, and to add two storeys for 30 condominium units above.

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Both buildings are at Douglas and Johnson streets.

“I am absolutely delighted to see this investment in Douglas Street. I feel like Douglas has been a little bit neglected,” said Mayor Lisa Helps.

Coun. Pam Madoff said a walking tour of heritage restorations with rooftop additions in the downtown showed that the most successful are those where the rooftop addition has been set back from the main building, making the original building more prominent.

“This is visually a very prominent site where you’re going to see it from all angles as well,” Madoff said. “I think it’s really important that it’s the heritage building that takes prominence, but at the same time we’re providing new residential units as well.”

Madoff said it’s fortunate that it’s the same owners for both buildings, to make the work viable for both. “The one on Johnson would have been very challenging on its own in order to achieve some more residential units.”

Madoff and Coun. Charlayne Thornton-Joe successfully argued the setback of the upper two floors and recommended part of the approval be contingent on the setback being increased to three to four metres from the proposed 1.3 to 2.3 metres.

Merrick Architects, on behalf of 284244 B.C. Ltd. — a trust owned by the Morgan family — say key elements of the restoration include:

• reinstatement of the original raised parapet on the Douglas Street facade

• stripping away paint to expose the original brick

• re-introduction of historically sensitive commercial storefronts

• restoration of wood windows

• reinstatement of an original sheet metal upper cornice on the Johnson Street facade

A city staff report says both buildings are representative of the heritage character and architectural composition characteristic of Victoria’s Old Town district.

City staff say the 1891 Morgan Block “provides visual continuity” along a historic street that contains an entire block of heritage buildings.

The 1909 Watson and McGregor Building is described as “a two-storey brick Classical Revival-Influenced commercial building” that has seen “numerous interventions over its lifespan.”

“However, the building has maintained many of its character-defining elements in terms of its overall integrity of historic form, scale and massing, as well as its symmetrical three-bay design, masonry construction, continuous window heads and sill in the upper floor bays; double hung wooden sash windows; projecting cornices; and common red-brick side walls with segmental-arched window openings.”

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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