The Vancouver Heritage Foundation‘s annual homes tour is one of the best house parties in the city. More precisely, it is a grand celebration of house and home, architect and builder, homeowner and contractor, all who play a key part in the preservation of our local architecture. It is a perfect way to kick off your summer, support the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, and learn more about our house history and ever-changing neighbourhoods.
This year’s VHF Heritage Homes Tour was extra special; one of the city’s grandest mansions was added to the list. On SW Marine Drive, near the foot of Angus Drive sits Casa Mia, once the family estate of George Conrad Reifel. In the 1920s, George and his brother Harry were both living in the neighbourhood of Angus Drive & King Edward, not far from their father Henry, who was at 1451 Angus Drive, right near the Crescent in Shaughnessy. It was Harry who first built Rio Vista a few doors down at 2170 SW Marine Drive, and Conrad must have loved the view enough to follow his brother and build an even more elaborate home along the Fraser River. For the first time ever, I got to see the home from inside the gates.
Designed by architect Ross Anthony Lort, the Spanish Colonial Revival style is most appropriate for a man in the brewing and distilling trade. The numerous arched windows, elegantly curved lines, and vaulted ceilings all pay homage, in my mind, to a grand vineyard estate, one that would be perfectly at home in Southern California, or perhaps in a rich fertile valley not far from Valencia.
In the center of the home is a stunning spiral staircase, from which rooms seem to spread out like a fractal in all directions. While photography was not allowed indoors on the tour, many photos already exist online, so for those of you who missed out, you can enjoy some of the sights here or in this video tour by John Atkin. I got to meet a number of the Reifel family members earlier in the week, during the VHF Places that Matter presentation at Sunset Beach Park. Alma Jane Reifel grew up in the house, and she recounted one of her favourite games to play was hide and go seek, undoubtedly one of the best places ever to play the game!
While the upper floors of the estate are classically appointed, the basement is decidedly deco! The ballroom has a sprung dance floor that was constructed by the same crew that built the Commodore. The entire basement is practically a fully functioning club, with separate washrooms, a billiards room, and an attached bar. Alma Jane Reifel also recalled musical guests such as Count Basie (who she knew as Bill), Cab Calloway, and Dizzy Gillespie! They all referred to her as “the Kid”, as she would have been around 5 or 6 years old at the time. While there were no celebrity photos lining the walls to show off all the entertainers who have played at Casa Mia, I have taken the liberty to create one! This group shot of the ballroom stage shows a few of the celebrated names who are said to have performed there. I’ve added Stan Kenton, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Dizzy Gillespie for one grand snapshot!