Monday, March 4, 2013

Town And Country


Oblana, built in 1916 near Blackwood Station, on the Saanich Interurban line


When Hubert Savage chose to build a country bungalow five kilometres out of town back in 1913, his was likely the first house on Blackwood Road and one of only a handful in that part of Saanich. The question is, why did he opt to locate way out in the back of beyond rather than on a more settled street closer to downtown? And, however did he get back and forth in those days, given the locale's remoteness and the need to commute to a workplace downtown? This all happened before the private automobile was a realistic option. Speculation about the links between a novel form of personal mobility and the early dispersal of suburbia into rural lands forms the basis of this post.

 
In his classic history of suburbia, Bourgeois Utopias, Robert Fishman  recounts how the idea originated with wealthy merchants who opted to build homes in unspoiled countryside, a move that enabled them to flee the horrors of the industrial city without sacrificing their urban comforts. The impetus to move home to a rural locale was the opportunity to breathe cleaner air, gain more space for gardens and outdoor pursuits, and especially, to raise family at a secure distance from the clamoring city. Additionally, rural land was dirt cheap to acquire because, up to the point of becoming accessible to development, it was typically either farmland or bush.
 


Town in the country, house in a gardened setting - the original idea behind suburban bungalows

 
Fishman says the wish to flee the pitfalls of urban conditions lies behind the suburban aspiration, coupled with a hope of finding safer haven nestled in nature. But for urbanites, choosing to relocate to the country means radical separation of the work and home milieus. This was initially only feasible for those wealthy enough to finance a means of transport between their remote residence and their place of work. The choice only became more widespread with the advent of cheaper, more frequent and reliable forms of mobility. Initially, this was prompted by steam locomotion, which in the US generated decidedly upper-end suburbs, often at a considerable remove from town. But from the early 1890s, electric-powered streetcars appeared in cities subject to rapid population growth. Street railways provided novel mobility that opened access to large areas of unbuilt land on the immediate periphery of town, and at lower prices than town lots. In Victoria's striking coastal setting, such lands often came with picturesque scenery. So these new electric streetcar systems quickly led to suburban colonization of former farms and hillsides in outlying areas. Victoria's first streetcar system, the third in Canada, quickly gave rise to a number of small, inner ring suburbs on the outskirts of settled areas. Convenient access from these new enclaves to the town centre, where jobs and shops clustered, was the vital selling point of the daily real estate adverts flogging both land for investment and newly built houses. The connection between the electric streetcar network and the opening up of zones for development was front-of-mind for those financially backing both schemes.


Los Angeles streetcar in 1908, serving dispersed suburban enclaves on a vast scale.

 
Fishman also reveals that the first full-on suburban developments happened due to settlement proliferating at stops along these electrified corridors. Streetcars thus opened the suburban option to the waves of people then flooding into urban regions looking for new economic opportunities. The form this more far-flung, rail-based suburbia took differs markedly from the more uniform shape it would assume in the subsequent era of automobile transport. When cars took over from trains, a combination of cheapened house design, greater uniformity of look and lot size, and less-imaginative building placement (due to uniform setback requirements and subdivision-scale planning) would generate more anodyne outcomes. But up to at least 1920, street railways were the defining vehicle for regional mobility. They not only allowed greater spatial separation of home and work, but also prompted entirely new relationships with regional features and activities beyond the range accessible on foot. The fact that land costs in outlying areas were very low also prompted subdivision patterns that tended to retain more of the look of countryside, resulting in houses set back from the road on lots with residual scenic features. Early suburban developers working in Los Angeles actually financed and constructed these street railways in order to facilitate their speculative housing projects. The ready supply of newcomers meant rising demand for just such suburban spaces: a comfortable house, within easy commuting distance of work and, courtesy of abundant materials and cheap land, affordable for little more than the cost of renting in town. Anywhere within walking distance of a stop qualified for this new suburban homesteading, a feature that in turn 'democratized' residential housing choices.
 
 
Still way out in the back of beyond, the rail line near Marigold Junction circa 1920
 
 
Cheap but high-quality building materials, like knot-free old growth Douglas Fir and durable cedar shingles, flew out of custom milling operations in large quantities around Victoria, contributing to the superb value-proposition a new home then represented. The ready availability of quality materials also predisposed contractors to begin erecting housing 'on spec', meaning made for the market without a particular buyer in mind. Another, even more important, factor affecting the value proposition of a house was the sheer cheapness of land on the periphery of town. So the revolution in transport galvanized the settlement of outlying suburbs, enabling home ownership for a rising share of the population. In the long boom that began about 1890 and ran well into 1913, the emerging housing market fueled new heights of speculation in land development - turning it into a party that nearly everyone in town could join! 

 

 
Out in the Garden City suburb, well before train service was up and running, investors were busy marketing quarter-acre blocks of land for between $450 and $600, which in present-day dollars is a pittance. Four hundred and fifty dollars in 1913 equates to about $11,830 today, while $600 is about $15,774. Let those figures sink in for a moment. Then consider that in December 2020, a chunk of raw land designated residential in Strawberry Vale now has an asking price of $599,000. The difference between those two figures indicates how much inflated land-values structure modern prices, and point to what a bargain the 1913 land price represents. The same is true, albeit not nearly as dramatically, for the relative value of buildings back then. In 1913, you could buy a fairly deluxe bungalow near the edge of town, on a full basement, for as little as $3500. Translated into today's dollars, that is roughly the equivalent of $91,000. So a 1400-square-foot smartly dressed house could be had for the equivalent of $91,000 in today's money (including the land it sat on), or a cost of about $65 a square foot. Today a 2300 square foot 'standard' home, not including land, would cost $460,000 to $690,000 to build ($200-300 a square foot), and if it were done up with 'luxury' finishing (ie, up to bungalow standards) it could run as high as $400 per square foot (or six times the 1913 cost in today's dollars). Comparative costs of constructing homes also underscore just how good a deal the house-and-land package was back then. It's absolutely true that the land the building sits on is now ridiculously more costly than it was originally: 38 times more expensive today to buy the development potential of a featureless RS-4 lot on a busy street than it was to purchase a deluxe quarter-acre block in the Garden City suburb. No wonder Hubert Savage was interested!

Ten minutes from the car line, three-quarter-acre, $3500 for house and land in 1909 (with views)


 
The advent of electric street railways triggered the growth of rings of suburban outskirts around urban cores in booming cities across North America. In Victoria, electric streetcar service resulted in the populating of then-outlying areas like Fernwood, Fairfield, Hillside, Oak Bay and finally Burnside/Gorge. Towards the end of the first decade of the twentieth century, continuing in-migration fueled a rising demand for suburban housing, creating conditions in which an exciting extension of the street railroad, known as an 'interurban' line, seemed economically feasible. These were faster electric systems - essentially precursors of today's light rail transit (LRT) - differing from on-street trams in having exclusive rights of way. Sleek and classy additions to existing urban infrastructures, 'interurban' (ie connecting regional centres) rail lines regularly took their host cities by storm, rapidly accelerating the dispersal of people into previously unpopulated areas. This power to disperse for residential purposes while assembling for jobs and shopping excursions worked closely with local real estate interests to market new housing possibilities. By 1913 there was so much impetus in real estate speculation that little Victoria, population about 45,000, had over 300 real estate agencies operating.
 

Map showing the BCERC system in 1923, Saanich Interurban Line in red, just before it was closed



 
Hubert Savage's chance to live in the country and work in town arose precisely because a newly built interurban line made the commute feasible. As a practicing city architect, he needed reliable daily transport from what was then a considerable distance. A recent ex-Londoner, he was perhaps accustomed to using mass transit to get around a region, a habit that would have helped him view living out along a rail corridor as a practical choice. Articling in London, England, he'd also likely been absorbing the growing English fascination with recreational use of the countryside, closely associated with a novel building type known as a 'bungalow', then recently imported from colonial India. Arts-and-crafts architect R.A. Briggs was busy popularizing (among people of means) the idea of locating small, artistic bungalows for recreational use in pristine countryside; his Bungalows and Country Residences preached the benefits of a new style of 'free and easy living' they made possible in scenic locales but with convenient access to the metropolis. Certainly in England this was a choice largely restricted to those with gobs of money, and what Briggs proposed as recreational homes were not exactly 'small' houses. But in spacious, enterprising North America, with an entirely different value proposition on offer, it was a whole other thing.

 
BCERC's electric rail network across the Lower Mainland, new Saanich Interurban Line inset at upper right
 

 
Such factors may have predisposed Savage to feel comfortable choosing a remote building site in then-distant Strawberry Vale, itself part of a recently organized district municipality called Saanich (1906). Saanich (an anglicization of WSANEC, the Coast Salish term for the area) then comprised sparsely inhabited rural lands that were once part of First Nations' traditional territory. At the time, and certainly to a town eye, Strawberry Vale and its neighbouring Marigold district weren't much more than a few farms ringed by rocky outcrops and stands of native vegetation. One of the area's attractions was surely the low price of land-access, another the opportunity to inhabit some truly picturesque landscape on an upland slope. Perhaps that's what led the Savages to purchase a half-acre lot with distinctive landscape advantages.
 


Hubert Savage chose to inhabit a picturesque hilltop, courtesy of a new interurban railway line

 
A look around the area's built-out streets today shows a collection of mostly modest, mainly single-storey houses dating from various eras, a few still located scenically on larger parcels of land. Built loosely on a grid pattern but with some culs-de-sac courtesy of the steep Wilkinson escarpment, the Garden City suburb still retains a degree of natural landscape and native vegetation on its many upland sites. A glance around suggests its pattern wasn’t contrived by a single planner or builder, but rather grew gradually from infill of a more eclectic kind, accelerating in the 1960s boom. Its primary assets today are an unpretentious mix of housing and residual greenery. Since the early nineties, when Saanich Council opted to stand firm on the idea of urban containment, this area has been undergoing infill development at a fairly rapid rate (often not very compatibly, as below).
 


Sandwiched between infill mega-houses that now fully occupy a heritage home's once spacious grounds

 
One does observe too that the more recently built the home, the less modest and more mammoth the outcome tends to be. Garage doors appear and come to define facades, frontages come much closer to roads, setbacks are ever-more uniform. The biggest of these new houses fully occupy the smaller lots carved out of vestiges of earlier suburbia, where buildings were sited well back from the road, in more generous landscape settings and in greater sympathy with the lie of the land. This idea of a house placed carefully in a distinctive landscape contrasts sharply with the more packed-in and built-up feeling of both the urban core and later auto-oriented suburban development. Early layouts of rural suburbs were based on integrating town and country in a way that achieved a balance, an objective of the English arts-and-crafts movement.
 
 
A village-like feeling expressly created by design in the first ever Garden City Suburb at Letchworth


 
If Marigold's layout now resembles many auto-centric suburbs, it was anything but that back in 1913. Mostly it was bush and stumps, and the prospect of it being anything other only arose because an interurban rail line punched its way through the precinct. When plans for this major capital project were revealed, speculators quickly bought up land in anticipation of the rapid development they hoped it would catalyze. It was named the Garden City, in a rather lame attempt to coat-tail Ebenezer Howard’s then-popular idea for self-sufficient garden cities (like Letchworth, pictured above). But beyond naming streets after common flowers like zinnias and hyacinths and lilacs, there's no evidence of any Howard-like thinking behind this real estate play - just the desire to harvest a fresh bonanza of real estate froth on the fringes of town. Growth had typically followed rail lines, so the would-be subdividers of the Garden City were confident it was coming their way. It certainly had gone that way all across the Lower Mainland! And the ad below, the bottom section of the one  discussed above, shows just how widely the net was cast back in the run-up to the line's opening. Prospective buyers were invited to "get in on the ground floor," "as the prices now offered will undoubtedly double as soon as the car line is in operation". That was speculation in motion, but solidly based on what had been happening around the region for some time. Indeed, it was the pattern emerging in Victoria wherever streetcars gave people ready access to property. Victoria historian Harry Gregson notes how Fairfield "became one of the most popular residential areas and 60 X 120 foot lots were selling for $5,000 in 1912 compared with $400 six years earlier." One had only to find the wherewithal to buy in, and voila, riches would surely follow.
 
 

 
The privately owned BC Electric Railway Company (BCERC) decided to build this chic commuter service expressly to open up what they felt would quickly become thriving residential enclaves up and down the west side of the Saanich peninsula. With a legislated monopoly to supply power and street-transport services in both Vancouver and Victoria, the BCERC was already enjoying robust success operating interurban lines across the Lower Mainland. As the operators of Victoria's successful tramway system, the BCERC brass were convinced that Victoria's hinterlands were similarly poised for takeoff, and they were keen to be catalysts and beneficiaries of this growth. Adaptation of electricity to run lights and devices in residences was also just then taking off, so the BCERC, sole generator and distributor of electrical power in the region, saw real potential in this emerging market.
 


Interurban railways were unlocking development potential in cities across North America

 
Operating at higher speeds than streetcars, electric Interurbans vastly extended the possibility of new settlements setting up in outlying areas. In Los Angeles, railway spurs radiating outwards from a central spine allowed huge masses of people to work downtown while retreating at night to citrus-grove subdivisions dotting a vast metropolitan plain. The same phenomenon spread to other city-regions, also subject to rapid in-migration, so there was really no reason to think anything different would happen in then-also-booming Victoria. And the new areas to be opened up were as often as pretty as postcards, with views to fields, inlets, straits, lakes and mountains, so they were doubly marketable. Yet in the end, despite a few scattered residential starts like the Savage bungalow, the hoped-for real-estate bonanza from the new interurban line would simply fail to materialize. In 1913, and quite unexpectedly, the economy began tanking badly, everywhere. Then in 1914, world war broke out, and so by 1915, many young Victorians had enlisted in the army in order to fight for their country, dealing a further blow to local demand. For the Savage bungalow, the stalled economy meant that rather than his house serving as the forerunner of a whole new housing trend (as its designer may have imagined), it became instead a rather distant outlier - marooned in a street-car suburbia that never actually came to pass. For Savage himself, the gravity of the crisis would mean that for a time he worked outside his credentialed  profession of architect. As the Garden City failed to materialize around the rail-line as planned, the rural land it was to be platted from remained mostly cow pasture, rocky outcrops and oak-and-fir-clad hillsides for a good many decades to come. The form the neighbourhood took when it eventually did fill-in derived more from the primacy of automobile travel, and the sixties in-migration to Victoria, embodying a far less romantic, vastly more prosaic, vision of suburbia than than the suddenly outdated idea of 'town in country'.
 


Extensive streetcar suburbia in early C20 Los Angeles

None of this would necessarily have detracted from Hubert Savage’s plans to create a rural refuge in a pretty place, which came to fruition in tandem with the Saanich Interurban line's construction (an effort costing nearly $1-million back in 1913). Some 23 miles long in total, with thirty-one stops and sheltered wooden platforms, this well-engineered electrified line enjoyed its own right of way north from Tillicum Station junction, continuing all the way out to Deep Bay on the Saanich Peninsula. From Tillicum Station inbound, the line shared Burnside Road with the street railway en route to a convenient downtown terminus located across from City Hall.


 
Dignitaries, gathered on the platform across from City Hall, for the opening of the Saanich Interurban Line

 
Saanich Interurban line, Prospect Station, after the service had been reduced to single cars and solo drivers
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Birney coach interior, as Savage may have experienced it daily.
 
The first of the new rural stops along the Saanich line was named Marigold, after Marigold Avenue, less than a kilometer from Savage’s new digs on Blackwood Road (today Grange). Its second stop was Blackwood station, a bit closer to the Savage bungalow but apparently costing a nickel more for passage. I can easily picture a smartly dressed Hubert Savage walking a wee bit further each day in order to effect that significant saving, and feeling pleased with himself for getting exercise into the bargain. 
      

Premier McBride on hand to drive home the last spike, a set-piece of Canadian railway openings   
 
Commercial cluster at Marigold junction on the Saanich Interurban line, not long before the line closed
 
Construction of the Savage bungalow was likely in full swing when rail service commenced on June 18, 1913. There was plenty of regional boosterism around the interurban line's big opening, the train festooned with ribbons and laden with a cargo of some 100 dignitaries for its inaugural ride. It even featured a ceremony with Premier McBride symbolically driving a last spike out at Deep Bay (picture two above), where the BCERC would soon build a chalet-restaurant as a destination to draw sightseers. The initial service was a two-car train with comfortable seats and a smoking section, offering many return trips per day.  If Savage caught the 7:30 morning train at Blackwood station, or the 7:32 at Marigold station, he was downtown by 7:50 and could be at his drafting table by eight. The return trip would have been equally convenient, punctuated perhaps with a stop to purchase groceries or sundries at one of the country stores near located at Marigold junction (pictured above, looking a bit down-at-the-heels, in 1922).
 

Jud Yoho designed bungalow, built in 1912 for a Victoria realtor, above Marigold Station on the Saanich line

 
It is undoubtedly true that Savage’s choice of such a remote building site was determined by this convenient method of commuting. Access to town water and electricity may also have played a role (the new number one water main from Sooke Lake was buried under nearby Burnside Road, opened as of 1915). The house came equipped with an electrical system (with knob and tube wiring) which initially fed overhead lights and several wall outlets per room, as well as front and back outside lights to illuminate the night. We can be certain that just this sort of suburban homesteading was what the Interurban was counting on to generate future demand for electricity (both as passengers on the trains, and as domestic consumers). Embryonic markets for the power it was generating are the sole explanation for the BCERC making such a huge investment in rural passenger service. And, back in the day, it was just the sort of artistic, low-slung bungalow that Savage designed for himself that was proving a highly attractive lifestyle choice to the droves of newcomers filling North American cities.
 


The sort of artistic, low-slung suburban bungalow attracting city folk in 1913

 
If privately owned electric railways were contrived for the purpose of opening access to unbelievably cheap rural lands, real estate speculation was central to the equation. Interurbans were faster and more reliable than competitor railroads from the steam era. They were in effect as distinctly contemporary an idea as the low, horizontal houses then finding favour with the newly minted suburbanites. Railway promoters and development interests in fact operated as part of a single development scheme. Where the formula worked out, settlements mushroomed around the stops on patterns of convenient walking access to the trains. The Saanich Interurban's effect differed only in degree from patterns set up by the downtown streetcar system, which also sparked new neighbourhoods around its stops, albeit much more tightly spaced and closer to the downtown core. One impact of covering greater distances more rapidly was to in fact physically disperse suburbia much further outwards. 

 
Opening day saw a great deal of fanfare in anticipation of the real estate bonanza that failed to materialize
 
However, to the great dismay of its investors, the Saanich Interurban line didn't spur the desired galloping growth, despite all the investment, fanfare and sustained efforts to market its advantages. And then the economic boom that had been raising all boats for so long fizzled just as competition from rubber-tired vehicles began filching the railroad's needed clientele. And picturesque little Victoria, distant from the major movements of goods and people animating larger centres, was not destined to be the people-magnet the port of Vancouver became as Canada's major west-coast trans-shipment point. So it would transpire that, little more than a decade after its opening, the Saanich line's prospects dimmed to such an extent that it was shut down. Soon after that, its tracks and overhead wiring ripped out, it was made to suffer the ultimate indignity of conversion to municipal roadway - hence the level quality of the Interurban Road we still experience to this day. The boom that went bust after 1913 wouldn’t return to Victoria until well after the Great Depression and a second global war, then still decades away. People who invested in parcels along the line were left holding the bag well into the sixties before there was fresh hope of redemption. 
 

Seattle Jitneys: they appeared suddenly in every city, taking passengers from the street railways.

 
In 1913 the immediate threat to the Saanich Interurban line was cut-throat competition from vehicles making free use of the public roads provided by civic tax revenues. If electric railways easily bested the older steam railways, they in turn were quickly trumped by the introduction of gas-powered automobiles. Almost the moment the Saanich line opened for business, dozens of ‘jitney’ cabs (or small buses) appeared out of the blue to compete for the rail clientele ('jitney' was slang for a nickel, the uniform price of a ride). By November 1913, over fifty such jitneys were operating in Victoria. 
 

 
Travel choices: launches leaving the Causeway, Burnside car to Washington Avenue, or Gorge Road Jitneys



With low costs and the ability to offer door-to-door service, jitneys posed a running threat to streetcar systems everywhere. Drivers cruised the stations in advance of the trains, scooping up riders with cheap fares and the chance they offered to experience movement in one of these strange self-propelled contraptions. Widespread use of jitneys thus contributed to the early demise of many Interurban lines, whose relatively high capital and operating costs meant they couldn't compete on fares without virtually bankrupting themselves. Jitneys not only established prototype taxi and bus services, they also helped pave the way for the rapid spread of the private automobile, by far the deadliest competitor for any form of mass transit.



1915-6 Packard Jitney bus, similar to those competing for the Saanich line's customers 
 
While interurban trains effectively linked regional centres, the new settlement patterns they sponsored were spread at broader intervals along their longer lengths. This pattern of growth leapfrogged a huge amount of unbuilt residential land much closer to downtown, land that was potentially cheaper to service and offered shorter commutes once there was an alternative to fixed-link streetcars. Steady extension of paved roads by local municipalities made it easier for people to adopt automobiles, which helped in turn open up many un-built areas lying between existing streetcar lines at greater than walking distance. These locales came with rural, hillside and seaside settings too, giving them a resort-like or country feeling that in Victoria still persists to some extent to this day.
 


 

If Hubert Savage was counting on a train-based extension of suburbia to readily expand his architectural practice, he was doomed to disappointment. My guess, however, is that he chose this locale for its intrinsic merits as much as for business reasons, realizing his own family would enjoy a pretty spot far from the crush of newcomers for a great many years to come. The idea of retreating to the country was very much 'in the air' at the time, and architects discovered it could be made practical using the novel housing type called bungalow as the basic building block. R.A. Brigg's writings advocated finding a pretty country place and simply popping a building onto it, thus enabling the family to enjoy a lifestyle 'of rusticity and ease'. Gustav Stickley's The Craftsman magazine advocated the very same thing as well. And that's pretty much what Hubert and Alys Savage did out in Strawberry Vale. The bungalow, reinvented prosaically in Los Angeles as subdivision housing, would prove the perfect medium for this outward movement all across land-rich North America, providing safe haven and creature comforts in gardened settings. It's no surprise that Hubert and Alys wanted this experience for themselves.
 
The Lake Hill jitney bus, one of many such precursors to modern buses and cabs

To return to the rapidly changing mobility equation: if the low fares offered by the jitneys bled the Interurban lines, the rapid rise of the private automobile delivered the coup de grace. Streetcar historian Henry Ewart says that jitneys served to introduce people to the idea of car travel while demonstrating its utility. The car's advantages of flexibility (on your own schedule) and convenience (weather protected and secure), coupled with its continually falling price-tag once mass production got rolling, made it truly unstoppable when municipalities got into the business of paving roads.
 
Model Ts coming off the world's first moving production line: Ford Nation emerging
 
In an even deeper irony, unknown to either electric railway builders or suburban homesteaders back in 1913, Henry Ford was at that very moment successfully introducing the moving production line to car manufacture. His pioneering leap into automated production cut the time needed to build a car chassis from some 12 hours to just 2.5. This innovation dramatically increased his factory's output while in turn lowering the price of its products, guaranteeing growing markets for the private automobile. It also allowed Ford ultimately to introduce the $5 working day (leading his competitors to accuse him of being a socialist!) which meant his own workers could actually aspire to own the fruits of their own labours. Far from implying socialist inclinations, Ford's wage increase was aimed at improving retention of workers who had to endure the relentless monotony of the moving production  line.

Streetcar line still servicing the Ford plant - not yet put out of business by the car

 
We don't know at what point Hubert Savage abandoned the train and began commuting to work by car, but the Interurban option was gone by 1924, just 11 years after starting up. Even the extreme measures taken in Vancouver and Victoria to formally ban jitneys from cruising rail stops wouldn’t prove sufficient to save the interurbans. It was perhaps prophetic that Saanich, home to the region's first and only electric railway, took absolutely no action to curb the use of jitney cabs and buses. Perhaps the Council of the day was early to recognize that automobile travel was the real wave of the future? 
 

A remnant of the Saanich line's corridor, now part of the Interurban Railtrail, near Observatory Hill

So the owners of the rail-inspired Garden City suburb had little choice but to adapt to the car from early on. Yet, given its distance from downtown in a now slow-growing city, this relative remoteness meant incremental rather than rapid build-out, and ultimately of a more modest nature than initially envisaged. Of course, Savage's bungalow was quite indifferent to how it was to be accessed, and it certainly didn't require a built-up neighbourhood crowding in upon it. Its unique placement on a hilltop in the countryside only necessitated access to some form or other of viable mobility in order to overcome the separations of home and jobs and services. If suburbia does involve an element of escape from the crowding of town conditions, its precondition is inevitably some form of convenient mobility. Without it, suburbia can't exist.
 

Suburbia remade for the car - city without the services, country without the landscape features

 
At the time it was built, the Savage bungalow would have appeared sleekly modern and entirely novel: radically horizontal in contrast to its Victorian forbears, forward-looking with its motion-minded kitchen and new electric appliances, isolated geographically but in touch with a broader world via telephone initially (services and friends) and then by radio (news and entertainments). While fully modern in its day, in true arts-and-crafts fashion it was consciously styled to appear solidly rooted in past traditions, working more closely with the landform it sat upon, and built entirely from local wooden materials. 
 

Consciously styled to appear rooted in past traditions while at the same time offering fully modern living

 
Yet the bungalow could only embody this novel combination of town and country (and secure the emerging suburban lifestyle) because of the transportation revolution occurring in the first decades of the twentieth century. The scale of this revolution, and particularly the advent of the privately owned automobile, would quickly downgrade the vision behind Savage's choice and slowly but steadily alter the look and purpose of suburban housing in new developments. The flair and panache that the bungalow movement in general, and Savage in particular in his own home, invested in design, ultimately affecting building placement, proportioning and the use of natural materials, all went the way of the dodo in the great depression. Exuberance in domestic architecture left town permanently in the more affordable range of dwellings for aspiring middle class families, replaced by far less elaborate options, more meagerly appointed, and rendered in cheaper and increasingly more synthetic materials. Unwittingly, Hubert Savage designed and built an outlier that quickly became an anomaly rather than a representative form. Today it stands as a rare example of a true country bungalow, built on a suburban model that embraces the integration of town and country, sited to draw the best out of its surroundings, and erected just before that model was trumped by the personal automobile.
 
And the winner is the private automobile: comfort and convenience prove irresistible
                                                          
This post is the second in a series celebrating the centennial of Hubert Savage’s arts-and-crafts bungalow, which turned 100 in 2013. Other articles are planned irregularly throughout the year. The ideas are those of David Cubberley (owner since 1988), and speculative to some degree because there is almost no evidence available of Savage family history. The author may be contacted at cubbs@telus.net .
 
Vestiges of the Interurban line:
 
 
On the platform across from City Hall, customers await departure of the Saanich Interurban Line

 

Commemorative sign at the former Tillicum Station, jumping off point for the Saanich Interurban line
 
Installing tracks to accommodate turns out of the platform onto Pandora and Douglas, across from City Hall


Former head office, BC Electric Railway Company, designed by Francis Rattenbury


Model suburb plan, BCERC, indicating the company's involvement in development


Cyclist enjoying a ride on the Interurban Railtrail, built on remnants of the original right of way


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