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The Secret WWII History of Vancouver's Lightworks Building

PC Urban Properties is launching The Lightworks Building, a new high-tech hub for Mount Pleasant incorporating a factory that manufactured World War II radar and radio parts.

The Secret WWII History of Vancouver's Lightworks Building

That’s PC Urban principal Brent Sawchyn on-site at 22 East 5th Ave. The 1942 building's north and west facades will be incorporated into a six-storey, 54k SF creative industry hub, with a glass cube built on the site’s eastern side that steps back to showcase the heritage building (which once housed Cemco Electrical Manufacturing Co) and make space for a restaurant and rooftop patios. Brent’s firm specializes in reimagining properties with unrealized potential, but he tells Bisnow his team initially didn’t see much in Lightworks. “It was just a little bit too beyond gone.

The Secret WWII History of Vancouver's Lightworks Building

PC Urban's original plan was to tear the building down, but the city urged them to “dig a little deeper” on the utilitarian-looking structure’s back story. So the developer hired a heritage specialist, who uncovered a “wonderful history.” The old factory was designed by Henry Holdsby Simmonds, architect of Vancouver’s iconic Vogue and Stanley Theatres. And it was the place where in the '40s Cemco manufactured radars and radios, the high-tech of its time, under “cloak and dagger,” says Brent. The finished installations were then shipped down to awaiting Allied ships docked in False Creek. "Very cool."

The Secret WWII History of Vancouver's Lightworks Building

Mount Pleasant has become a hotbed for tech and creative manufacturing companies, spurred by zoning changes enabling developers to retrofit (or tear down) industrial buildings to increase density. But Lightworks can lay claim to being the area's original high-tech hub, Brent notes. “Once we got into it, we saw this as a great opportunity to repurpose the building,” a rare example of industrial heritage preservation in Vancouver. The made-over structure, incorporating the original Art Deco-detailed facades, will have 7k SF of ground-floor space for commercial use, and four floors of office above.

The Secret WWII History of Vancouver's Lightworks Building

Selective demo’ing of the old structure begins soon, and Brent says construction on the new one begins next spring, with occupancy slated for 2017. The project's targeting firms in the creative sector—advertising, architecture, emerging tech—that will be lured by rents that are 25% less than competing Broadway, Yaletown and Downtown, not to mention what Brent notes are “extraordinary” North Shore mountain views. PC Urban is bullish on Mount Pleasant. The company's first acquisition there was 149-159 W 7th Ave, not far from Lightworks, where it's converting an old storage facility into offices for an online retail manufacturer. “And we’d love to find other similar opportunities."