These Old Heritage Houses

The owners of a century-old house near Queen’s Park have a canceled TV show to thank for their fancy new kitchen.

Anyone who watched the creepy, mid-90s Fox series Millennium will no doubt remember the oft-invaded house belonging to FBI serial killer profiler Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) and his beleaguered family.

The show’s creator, Chris Carter, had previously used the atmospheric three-storey at 321 Fourth Ave. as a location in the second episode of The X-Files and he arranged with its owners, John and Lauren Bomhof, to again use it for what became three seasons of his new project.

This house on the the 32nd annual New Westminster Heritage Homes Tour and Tea on May 29 was featured in the TV series Millennium. (Larry Wright photo)

While Millennium helped pay for a new kitchen (not to mention a new bathroom and the removal of an unwanted swimming pool), the couple never really got to enjoy their home’s 15 minutes of fame.

“I couldn’t watch it,” said Lauren Bomhof with a laugh. “It freaked me out too much.”

The address saw more than a few uninvited guests show up during the show’s run, but hundreds of visitors of a different sort will be welcomed inside this month when the home is featured as one of 10 entries of the 32nd Annual New Westminster Heritage Homes Tour and Tea on May 29.

Bomhof was already busy preparing for the tour when contacted by The Record.

“I was cleaning the whole place out for the big neighbourhood garage sale anyway, so it was kind of killing two birds with one stone,” she said.

The 1908 house was designed specifically by local architect E.G.W. Sait for coal furnace salesman Herbert Kirk to prove that coal furnaces were, in fact, capable of heating a large house.

“He brought the first coal furnaces into the city, and nobody would buy them because nobody believed you could heat your house with coal instead of a fireplace,” said the current owner. “He used to live on Third and Third in what became the ballet studio. He moved here with his family as if to say ‘I can prove it to you.'”

(Whether or not the Kirk family had to wear a lot of sweaters during winters has been lost to the mists of time, although it’s worth noting previous owners had already installed a forced-air furnace by the time the Bomhof family moved in, and the couple has also since installed a fireplace in the living room.)

The Herbert and Mary Kirk House, also known as the Eldora (named for the Kirks’ two daughters, Elsie and Dora), isn’t the only heritage home on the tour whose kitchen has seen a major makeover.

When Pacific Breeze Winery co-owner Frank Gregus and his wife Sharon bought their “modern” 1940 heritage home three years ago, one of the first things they did was hire a friend who is a contractor to extend the kitchen area.

“One of the things we did was burst out the kitchen to create an area where you could have a kitchen table and everybody could hang out,” said Gregus. “The most important thing is I didn’t want it to look like an addition, I wanted it to look natural. So once the addition came out, we carried the roofline to the back of the house to line up with the second level and now we have an undercover patio and barbecue area.”

The Queens Avenue house, known as the Jack and Ethel Pentland House, was designed by Robert Brewick, who was once considered one of Canada’s most progressive modernist architects and is best known for his work on the old B.C. Hydro building.

The Jack and Ethel Pentland House. (Larry Wright photo)

Although extensive changes have been made, ironically the house itself has been a bit of a constant in Gregus’ life.

“I was born in Saint Mary’s and I was married at Robson Manor, so from where that house is to where I was born and married, it was always within a block,” said Gregus, who is happy to have returned home again.

“Even when we lived in Burnaby, all our walks would somehow take us into Queen’s Park. We knew we wanted to come back, the opportunity was there and we seized it.”

This pride of living in an architecturally unique community is what helps make life a bit easier for tour organizer Catherine Hutson, who is a familiar face to most owners of interesting old homes in the Royal City. Chances are good she and/or her “partner-in-crime” Kathleen Langstroth have appeared on their doorsteps at least once over the years in the hope of convincing them to open their homes to strangers.

“The homeowners who volunteer are all so enthusiastic,” said Hutson. “They love their homes, and the fact they’re willing to share with several hundred people, what they’ve done to their homes or what they’re doing, it really is something special.”

She credits tough times in the past resulting in the city’s treasure trove of heritage buildings.

“Some of the places on Columbia Street and the big houses around Queen’s Park, they couldn’t do things to them and they also couldn’t afford to demolish them,” she said. “The options weren’t there. So there’s a vast reservoir all around the city.”

Thirty two years ago, a small group of local residents formed the New Westminster Heritage Preservation Society after economic conditions improved and demolitions were becoming more common. What began as a way to call attention to the need to preserve heritage homes has since aged into one of the city’s busiest social events.

(This story was first published May 13, 2011. © Copyright (c) New West Record.)


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