City Informer: Where Did All These Hobbit Houses Come From?

These houses look like they should be in Lord of the Rings, not Vancouver.

As someone who has slept through Return of the King in theatres twice and had to fact -check just now that that is, in fact, the name of the third Lord of the Rings movie (which one was the king again? Dumbledore?), I admit that I am probably not the target demographic for hobbit architecture. Did I even see the first two? I don’t remember. Wake me up when we’re talking about a trilogy I care about (the Look Who’s Talking series). And yet here I am, living in a city with three hobbit-themed houses, each quainter and more suited to whatever “elevenses” is (elf brunch?) than the last. You’ve most certainly noticed the unusual thatched, wavy roofs and leaded windows if you’ve ever taken a long drive down Broadway or King Edward to cool off after an argument with your husband about whether the baby in Look Who’s Talking had to learn to lip-sync or if it was done digitally.

Illustration: Byron Eggenschwiler

Despite my disinterest in everyone’s favourite fantasy franchise-which was clearly just designed to be a product placement vehicle for the powerful Ring Industry-it’s hard to resist the storybook charm of these houses. Built on rubble-stone foundation and topped with steambent cedar shingles, each cottage hearkens back to the good ol’ days, when Canadians valued whimsy over structural engineering. All three hobbit houses were built in the 1940s as collaborations between architect Ross Anthony Lort (biography title idea: Lort of the Rings) and builder Brenton Lea (biography title idea: Lea-turn of the King). The first, located at 3979 West Broadway, became Lea’s own 3,000-square-foot family home, which he intended to look like a cottage from Shakespearean times but which came out more like a cottage that was put through the dryer accidentally when it was supposed to be dry-clean only. Whether or not that signature lumpy roof was intentional, it was charming enough that Lort and Lea (co-biography title idea: L.L. Cool Rings) built a second for a CNR foreman at 587 West King Edward and a third in West Van at 885 Braeside Street, presumably for some sort of old-money gnome.

These unique units have avoided demolition with “B” category (maybe it stands for “Bilbo”?) heritage designations, and new townhouse complex King Edward Green was actually built around the 75-year-old hobbit house on the property: the cottage itself will soon be renovated and sold to a new resident. Because here in Vancouver, the ultimate quest is to become the one developer to rule them all.

Originally published in the September 2018 issue of Vancouver Magazine.