Tucked away on the top of Saanich Mountain sits an unimaginably cool home.
A break in the firs off Old West Saanich Road opens to its curious three-storey spherical structure. That this place was envisioned and expertly crafted by one man in the ‘70s is cool, but that it still revolves at the flick of a switch – unimaginably so.
The owners reject the notion of selling the piece of local history. If the family were to put it on the market, as with any unique home, however, they would be facing certain challenges.
“Unique means just that, and you need a unique buyer,” says Greater Victoria Real Estate Board president-elect Guy Crozier. “Value is directly related to supply and demand. If you have a lower demand, it could mean a lower value or a long search for the unique buyer for a unique home.”
The visionary behind the house bears a family name well-known in the area: Basil “Barney” Oldfield. Though Basil has been gone since 1978, the lore he created with his revolutionary designs and somewhat off-beat ways remains. His nephew, Rob Oldfield now runs the family business, Prospect Lake Garage Inc., founded by Basil and his brother Brian Oldfield in 1934.
At the garage, just a few kilometres down the road from the roundhouse, framed photos of Brian and Basil grace the top shelf behind the counter. Rob greets customers, recalls his uncle’s ways and offers what he can about the home – an in-progress project which only Basil understood.
“He was sort of his own fellow,” Rob says. “He never got married; never had children, just puttered on his own up there and cut his own hair.”
The building began in the mid-’60s, and was to include an elevator. Basil fell ill with cancer before that could happen, but the home remains a mechanical marvel. Through a carport door beneath the home, its circular cellar reveals the heart of the house’s rotating mechanism. Doors marked with a high voltage warning conceal water and sewage pipes and presumably the three-quarter horsepower electric motor from a car transmission and two gear boxes. Shafts from the gear boxes propel rubber wheels on a metal track overhead. The robust thing of beauty is able to run at two speeds: low gear yields a once-daily revolution; high gear will take you 360 degrees in just three minutes.
Unlike other revolving structures, which tend to have a stationary centre, the entire welded steel frame structure rotates. Electricity is transferred through brushes in constant contact with the wheel.
“How do you figure that sort of thing out in the 1950s and ‘60s?” Rob says. “No nails was his claim to fame, so it’s kind of a noisy house to live in because when you step on the outside porch, you step on the metal and the whole thing kind of moves a bit because it’s sitting on wheels.”
The noise isn’t a factor for its inhabitants. One couple, Cathy Cook and Francis Sullivan, have called Basil’s home their own since moving to Victoria in 1989.
“It’s pretty wild,” Sullivan says. “When you think about the number of welds that went into this place, the amount of metal.”
Sullivan is impressed by the craftsmanship, but clearly the novelty of living in a two-bedroom, one-bath home that rotates has faded. It’s the seclusion of the area that has kept the two long-term, though flicking the switch labelled “HOUSE” is a more of party trick he hasn’t forgotten.
“After 25 years, it’s not a big deal anymore,” Sullivan says. “But it’s amazing that it still works after all these years.”
And Rob would like to see it stay within the family for many years to come.
If Basil’s great-niece, 22-year-old Christi Oldfield is any indication, there will be demand for creative living well into the future.
“It’s important to me as an Oldfield to keep (the house) in the family,” Christi says. “I think it’s the coolest thing.”