Preserving Victoria’s character buildings costly, but worth it

Preserving Victoria’s character buildings costly, but worth it

Pemberton and Son recognized for heritage preservation of Promis Block

The costs are heavy, the labour is intense, but the reward is worth it, says Richard Holmes.

Holmes has worked in real estate and has been restoring heritage buildings for 30 years. He knows as well as anyone in Canada that even the best laid plans for the restoration and rehabilitation of a century old downtown building can go sideways in a hurry.

It took six years for Holmes’ 131-year-old business, Pemberton and Son, to restore the Promis Block it owns at 1006 Government Street, from 2011 to 2017. All said and done, the Promis Block, built in 1905, is now a sleek blend of brick, contemporary downtown architecture that boasts glass walls and open staircases. Upgrades included seismic upgrading (which was the tough part), a new foundation, electrical wiring, sprinkler system and the installation of support beams.

This month it was recognized by Heritage B.C. with the Seismic Upgrade And Tenant Improvements award at the 2018 Heritage Awards.

As expected, Promis Block was an unruly amount of work with delays they couldn’t have imagined.

For starters, they excavated the Promis at its Langley street entrance, which was only 6-foot-6 in height, a place to stable work horses and other goods.

“Our intentions were to add some height to the main floor on the Langley side,” said Holmes, a North Saanich resident. “We found the outer walls had no underpinning, simply sitting on the dirt, which was quite a surprise, so we had to undercut the walls and install new footings, which was a big job. You can’t remove the material completely so we had to go around the building progressively, exposing four feet at a time, to set new footings.”

Financially, it is not as rewarding as new builds but in the long run it all comes together, Holmes said.

“I love our downtown, I don’t like to see it changed. I think it’s what makes Victoria special. I get a lot of pleasure out of seeing a heritage building glow and shine, seeing it desired by the tenants and customers.”

Holmes also oversaw the recent restoration of 737 Fort Street, with its 1910 Greco-Roman front.


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