Description of Historic Place
The Smith House is a two-and-one-half-storey Dutch Colonial Revival house located at 1705 32nd Avenue on the East Hill in Vernon.
The Smith House is valued for its association with a succession of owners and their contributions to the social and cultural life of Vernon. S.C. Smith (1849-1933) was a prominent businessman and civic leader in the 1890s and early 1900s. Born in Acton, Ontario, he established a lumber operation on Howe Sound in 1891 and the next year moved it to Vernon. Smith’s sash and door factory, which operated from the mid 1890s until Smith’s death, was the town’s largest employer and the source of most of the local building material. In 1894, it manufactured 17,000 doors. Smith had sawmills in Enderby and Naramata and a lumberyard in Penticton.
Mrs. Smith died before the house was finished, but Smith moved in and lived there with several family members. Upon Smith’s death, it was unoccupied until 1941, when Clement Smith (son) returned to lived there. In 1956, the Catholic Church bought it as a convent for the Sisters of St. Ann, who taught at St. James Catholic School. In 1981, the house was sold to the City of Vernon. The City designated the building as a municipal heritage site that same year. The City and the BC Heritage Trust contributed funds for its restoration, after which it was used as the headquarters for the BC Summer Games. The City sold the building to the Vernon Community Music School in 1982. The Music School created studios in the house and renovated the carriage house.
Smith was also active in civic and business affairs. He was a City Councillor for eight years, was a member of the hospital board for twenty years, was active in the Board of Trade, and was President of the local Liberal Association and President of the Yale-Cariboo Liberal Association. His sports interests included horse racing, lacrosse, hockey and curling.
The Smith House is also valued for its high quality of architectural design. Commissioned in 1905 and completed in 1908, at a cost of $13,000, a significant sum at the time, it is Vernon’s most significant Colonial Revival villa. A large frame structure, the house is side-gabled with a gambrel roof with wide overhanging eaves decorated with modillions. A two-storey portico, with Tuscan pillars and matching semi-circular porches on either side, dominates the front façade. Other fine design details include bay windows, an attached one-storey conservatory, balustrades above the porches, cedar siding, and fieldstone foundation. Interior features include large rooms finished with plaster, fir and hardwoods. There is a ballroom with a sprung floor in the attic. In the rear is a fine carriage house with a gambrel roof. The house was a significant project that spurred growth in the new Lakeview subdivision.
The house design is likely from an American pattern book. The 1892 World's Fair in Chicago popularized the Colonial gambrel form with Beaux Arts detailing. The Massachusetts Pavilion was built in this style and has many features that are echoed in the Smith House design.
The Smith House is also notable for its association with the architect R.B. Bell and the builder T.E. Crowell. Bell was a Scot who moved to Vernon in 1891. He was self-trained and was one of the first architects registered in BC. His earliest houses were in the Queen Anne Revival style, including the Megaw, Billings, and Carew houses, completed in the 1890s. By the time the Smith House was commissioned, Bell was in partnership with R.O. Constant and had broadened his work to include commercial and institutional buildings and newer residential styles, based on Colonial Revival motifs. The now-demolished O’Neal house on 32nd Street was another Bell house in the Colonial Revival style, which shared many of the Smith house’s features.
Source: City of Vernon Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Smith House include its:
- location on the north side of 32nd Avenue
- two-and-one-half-storey Colonial Revival massing and scale
- gambrel roof
- wide overhanging eaves with modillions
- central portico entrance with groups of Tuscan columns
- matching semicircular porches with Tuscan columns
- second-storey decks with balustrades
- fenestration, including bay windows, Palladian windows, and stained glass
- entry with transom and sidelights in diamond-shaped coloured glass
- tall brick chimneys
- gabled dormers with returned eaves
- cladding, including fieldstone foundation, fir siding, and shingled eaves
- interior features, including original fir and hardwood panelling and spindlework, doors, fireplaces with hardwood surrounds and cast iron covers in the ladies' and gentlemen’s sitting rooms, original light features, two staircases, original hot water pipes and registers
- carriage house in sympathetic gambrel form
- date stone in sidewalk