Believe it or not, there’s still an old log house in Point Grey. And you could argue it’s the most unique old house in Vancouver.
The six-bedroom home is for sale for the first time in seven decades, for $11.9 million. But the sky-high price isn’t because of the log house, it’s because the property stretches over three lots that offer breathtaking views of English Bay, downtown Vancouver and the North Shore mountains.
“Do you remember the Vancouver Show in the ’80s?” asks Jennifer Fahrni, whose family has owned the home since 1950. “The view was actually the first shot of the Vancouver Show (a nightly TV show on CKVU). That was the shot from the (second storey) balcony to the city.”
There’s a bust of a woman on the balcony that looks out at the view, one of many artworks that adorn the property. But it isn’t a bust of just anybody, it’s a self-portrait by the late Jean Fahrni, an artist who made the home an artistic hub for seven decades.
Jean Fahrni died June 2, 1919 at the age of 100. A close friend of the legendary Haida artist Bill Reid, she held countless events in the home for cultural organizations over the years.
“(Reid) hung around the house, he was a fixture at Thanksgiving and Christmas and late at night,” said Jennifer Fahrni, one of Jean’s four children.
“They were great, great friends, from before I was born. He made her a bracelet that’s one of a kind. He didn’t make any with mastodon ivory, other than for her. He said ‘Because you’re such a white woman, I had to put the ivory in there.’”
Jean Fahrni’s warm, engaging personality was a good match for her home, which has large rooms with tall ceilings that were perfect for entertaining.
The cedar logs have a dark stain and adorn the exterior of the house. But the interior is more like an arts and crafts home, with regular walls, coffered ceilings and pollard oak floors with gorgeous inlays around the corners.
In keeping with the arts and crafts theme, the fireplace mantles are made from stones that were dug out of the Capilano River and barged over to the site. The den is remarkable, with a giant river rock fireplace surrounded by six foot tall fir panelling topped by plate rails.
We should also take note of the giant Douglas fir and cedar trees that flank the front of the house. The fir might be 10-storeys high, and there’s a little burl in the cedar that someone has subtly carved into a face.
The 5,000 sq. ft. house at 4686 West 2nd is said to date to 1912, but doesn’t appear in a local directory until 1918, so may not have been finished until 1916 or 1917. It would have been built when Point Grey was a separate municipality — it joined Vancouver in 1928.
The first owner was Ontario lawyer James Francis Joseph Cashman, and one of the architects was Richard Perry, who designed another acclaimed heritage structure, the Tudor-revival Tatlow Court apartments in Kitsilano.
The story goes that Cashman met Tom and Frank Murphy, who had a small timber company on the Sunshine Coast. The Murphys had cut a bunch of logs for telegraph poles, but there was a recession because of the First World War and they weren’t able to sell them.
So they convinced Cashman to build a log house with their unused logs.
“Cashman purchased all these logs, and they floated them all the way from Half Moon Bay to Spanish Banks,” relates Will McKitka of Sotheby’s Realty, who is selling the home. “Then they used draw horses and dragged them up to the site.”
The house would have been out in the boonies when it was built, more like a rustic lodge in the forest than a regular home.
The exterior has a large covered porch, such as those at old railway stations. It’s big enough to set up a table and chairs to dine outside and take in the view. There is also a large patio in back with a large dining area that has an amazing wisteria vine that wraps around the back of the house.
“(Jean’s) crowning glory was that wisteria, (which) was planted when the house was built,” said Jennifer Fahrni.
“It’s the mother of the wisteria at Van Dusen (Gardens). (She) was a master gardener at Van Dusen and she would take lots of clippings from the garden to various places.”
But the giant wisteria, fir and cedar trees only add to the complexity of any potential redevelopment of the site.
The house is listed as Heritage A on the City of Vancouver’s Heritage Register, the highest designation. But it was built in the middle of the site, so adding any other buildings would be tricky.
“Hopefully someone buys the home and does a significant renovation and enjoys it for what it is,” said realtor McKitka.
“But that would take a significant investment. There is an argument to be made that someone could retain this house and build an infill house, or someone may just want to build three new properties.
“The house is on the city’s historic list, but there is no heritage bylaw attached to it, so that would allow a potential buyer to go to the city and negotiate, perhaps retaining the heritage house and at the same time increasing densification, which the city is clearly in favour of.
“And of course it would requite rezoning. It would be a lengthy, costly procedure.”
But it is a unique home, with a unique history.
We haven’t even gotten into Jean’s husband, Dr. Harry Fahrni, an orthopedic surgeon who travelled the world for spinal research.
Jean Fahrni went along on his trips to Indonesia and assembled a collection of 600 ceramics that she donated to the Museum of Vancouver. They were included in an exhibition of Asian ceramics at the time of her death.
“I got her from the hospital and she got all spruced up, like she always was, and took her to the opening of the show, which was in the Vancouver Museum,” said Jennifer Fahrni.
She was a trooper to the end, Jean Fahrni.