February 6, 2013

The White Stripes slept here: an ode to my abode

Grant Lawrence in front of the Beach Park: "resort living all year round!"

It was my home for twelve years.

Last week, I signed the papers over to the new owner of my much-loved apartment on Beach Avenue, in the English Bay neighbourhood of Vancouver. The last building before Stanley Park. So ends the era of my great rock ‘n’ roll apartment.

When I first moved in, I was the complete anomaly at the Beach Park, a 1958 mid-rise building that had mostly maintained its original art deco designs. Many of the residents were original owners and senior citizens, several of them in their 80s and 90s, one even over 100 years old. For the first few years I lived at the Beach Park, when any of them met me in the hall, they thought I was either the pizza guy or a home invader.

When I first moved in, I was the youngest host on the entire CBC Radio 2 network. By bizarre coincidence, my next door neighbour was the oldest host on the entire CBC Radio 2 network: broadcasting legend Otto Lowy. We lived side by side until his death.

Back then, my band the Smugglers was still a touring machine. Wherever we’d tour, we’d often crash at fellow musicians’ homes, so I tried to return the favour when bands rolled through Vancouver.

Hence, American touring musicians like Ted Leo, the Groovie Ghoulies, and the White Stripes all stayed on the couch or on the floor of my apartment at the beach.

New Jersey mod pop great Ted Leo.

It took me under 30 seconds to walk from my front door to the best ocean swimming spot in Vancouver: Bikini Beach, historically named because when bikinis first came into vogue in the 1950s and early 60s, they were outlawed on Vancouver beaches as being too risque for teenage girls. The cool girls who wanted to wear bikinis anyway found this secret, sandy haven, hidden from the lifeguards, nestled in between English Bay Beach and Second Beach, at the very entrance of Stanley Park.

I swam at this beach thousands of times over the past decade, almost always between May 1 and October 1 (though in 2012, the latest I was in the ocean was Thanksgiving, during a particular warm spell).

Every year for eleven years I hosted a Winter Solstice / Christmas party, packing the tiny 700 square foot space with as many friends and members of the local music community and members of my hockey team as I could.

David Vertesi and Hannah Georgas perform at a Xmas party. Photo by Christine McAvoy.

I am a great lover of live music, so over those years, I am extremely thankful to have had many musicians perform acoustically beside the Christmas tree in the living room, including: Said the Whale, the Matinee, Treelines, David Vertesi and Hannah Georgas, Cuff the Duke, the Choir Practice, Backpack Yoda, the Gay Straights, Reid Jamieson, and Dan Mangan.

A rare gig for Ween-like hipster duo Backpack Yoda. Photo by Christine McAvoy.

Dan Mangan’s early living room performance of “Robots” has become so legendary it even got written up in SPIN Magazine.

Nardwuar crowd surfed the living room.

In 2008, things changed radically in the little Beach Avenue apartment when my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Jill Barber moved across the country from Halifax to finally put a firm feminine touch on what I had always considered to be the perfect bachelor pad. (Speaking of pads, I used to dry my goalie pads in the oven before Jill moved in).

Jill eventually renovated, overhauling the original 1950s faded pink bathroom and linoleum-centric kitchen. She also got rid of a lot of my decrepit furniture, much of which was passed down from my grandparents, and much of which dated back to the 1930s when they immigrated from Scotland. Their old bed we shared for months was so tiny we nicknamed it “The Scottish Squeeze”.

Jill is a singer-songwriter, and so began a whole new era of Canadian singer-songwriters either sleeping over on tour stops or just coming by for dinner, including Joel Plaskett, Sarah Harmer, Rose Cousins, David Myles, Old Man Luedecke, Jeremy FisherIn-Flight Safety, Jill’s brother Matthew Barber, and the entire staff and touring crew of the Vinyl Cafe.

If my elderly neighbours ever knew that the legendary Canadian raconteur Stuart McLean was in our building, it would have started a riot, like a cross between Cocoon and A Hard Day’s Night.

Our last great dinner at the little Beach Avenue apartment was hosting kayaking Olympic superhero Adam VanKoeverden and Canadian freestyle skiing Olympic hopeful Roz Groenewoud.

Adam VanKoeverden and Jill Barber.

And so that’s it for the little Beach Avenue abode. No more walking across the street for a swim after work, no more cycling the seawall to the CBC, or shooting a round of beer-golf at the pitch and putt. And no more parties.

Jill and I have now begun a new, much more laid back chapter of life in East Vancouver, but I will never forget that fabulous decade at the Beach Park, the last building before Stanley Park, in the little rock ‘n’ roll apartment.

Jill and Grant at the final Xmas party at the Beach Park. Photo by C. McAvoy.

Thanks to Christine McAvoy for the great photos!

(9) Comments

  1. Renko Styranka says:

    Very enjoyable story about a special place, made more special through sharing it with others. A neat piece of Vancouver you had.

  2. Grant Lawrence says:

    thanks Renko!

  3. CVM + Reido says:

    howling over the vinyl cafe riot comment. so glad we were there for the final soiree! wishing you both the very best in yer new hood.

    CVM + Reido

  4. Jordy Birch says:

    Absolutely brilliant and heart warming as all hell too.

    Good luck in your new place.

  5. Grant Lawrence says:

    Thanks Jordy!

  6. Grant Lawrence says:

    I’ll never forget the Billy Joel tribute! Thank you!

  7. Please don’t bid adieu to the cabin before I can make it there. Uninvited, or otherwise…

  8. Ken Kelley says:

    Awesome, Grant.

  9. Joan Athey says:

    Yes the contrast between Otto and you was something I thought of whenever I passed by that building. I used to see his wife Barbara doing some “gardening” picking up a few weeds from the tiny landscaping on the front. They had to move to follow up on a legacy. It suited you. Many blessings on you and Jill in your new place. And the great vibe and memories of your expansive personality towards fellow musicians lives on. May we always give shelter and support to artists whenever we can.

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