Vancouver is filled with beautiful heritage homes, and it’s always interesting to see the care that residents take to showcase a house’s historic charms – but when is the last time you saw that type of care in a rental property? Recently I was fortunate enough to meet antiques collector and expert Robert McNutt who resides at the Wenonah Apartments across from Burdock & Co. on Main Street. Although his name might not be immediately familiar to those outside of the antiques business, he certainly deserves praise as the man behind the stunning stained glass windows that adorn the building.
Robert began designing the windows in the late ‘90s, but it’s worth mentioning that his entire apartment is filled with antiques and furniture (nearly) contemporary to the Wenonah’s construction. From radiators to ceramics, a dizzying number of doorknobs, pristine antique furniture, and more, it is an amazing showcase of unique pieces that all feature their own stories. This passion for antiques (coupled with his skills in the industry) led him to install an antique painted bird window in his dining room many years ago. His landlady at the time fell in love with the idea, and soon the two launched an impressive project to decorate each window in the Wenonah. It’s an incredible story: since they had no funding, they resolved to collect pop cans to pay for the materials and installations, which at the time ran about $500 apiece. Slowly but surely, the common areas and suites were outfitted with windows, which are all placed in thematic pairings. Currently there are 23 windows still left to be finished. Robert borrowed some of the designs from various historic Vancouver buildings, including the Gabriola Mansion on Davie, the Lotus Hotel on Abbott, and from archival design books at the MOV. Houses in his hometown of Ottawa also influence some of the work.
The detail and thought that went into each piece is remarkable, especially considering that Robert insisted on using glass that was quite high quality (and therefore expensive) to match the integrity of the building. From seaside landscapes to peonies, poppies, and roses, each design was chosen carefully. Additionally, there are a few other antique windows that have been delicately reconfigured to fit the sills. Though he didn’t advertise the glazier’s name, Robert explained that he uses a professional who has been in the industry since the 1960s. The site is believed to have once been home to the San Francisco Brewery, and the Wenonah’s basement — a unique trait of the Brewery Creek area — is full of additional glass windows and assorted treasures. It’s amazing to see what a few (thousand) recyclables can get you.
The building’s 1913 structural design is the work of Seattle-based architect William P. White, whose other Vancouver projects include the Del Mar Inn on Hamilton Street and the Sylvia Hotel in the West End. The builders, Booker, Campbell & Whipple, spared no expense in the materials used, including terracotta imported from Atlantic Terracotta in New York for the entablature work and distinct blonde bricks for the front façade. City permits show that the construction cost well over $50,000–quite a feat for the time. Owner James Bolivar Mathers had originally named the building the Leonard Apartments. It’s not entirely clear why it was renamed in 1914, but Robert posits that it could very well have something to do Mather’s daughter, Rachel Wenonah.
More on Robert’s collections, travels, and the stained glass at the Wenonah can be found here, or simply take a look up next time you stroll through the ‘hood, and enjoy a little piece of the “new” that fits in perfectly with the old.