It is close to 50 years since I wrote an appeal to Victoria city council and it’s a police department urging they not give in to vandals bent on wrecking a window-sheltered lookout atop the “beacon” hill in the city’s famous Beacon Hill Park.
Built in 1936 the Pavilion had long been a place of comfort for seniors seeking summer shade, or winter protection from the elements while enjoying a game of checkers; for park walkers of every age who appreciated a place to sit – especially on wet-windy days – warm and dry while watching rain squalls mist the Washington State Olympic mountains on the far horizon. If read my plea was ignored and by the late 1960’s the Pavilion, gracing the spot where great fires were once lit as beacons to guide ships from Race Rocks to the entrance to Victoria Harbour, was being ripped apart.
Windows were shattered – and replaced. Wooden benches were hacked and replenished. The interior became ugly, the floor painted checkerboards defaced and faded by urine and excrement. The once charming haven was a refuge no longer
In the late Eighties and early Nineties there was talk of demolition and reconstruction but the police department warned a pavilion – old or new – located away from more travelled paths would always be a target for vandals.
City council of the day listened and boarded up all windows and entrances strong enough to keep vandals and law abiding citizens out. The old pavilion has stood a lonely vigil since – a derelict monument to the triumph of vandal wreckers.
A few days ago Victoria Council member Ben Isitt was quoted in the local newspaper as sounding a new clarion call for city fathers – and mothers -– to take another look at the pavilion with a view to restoring it possibly as a nature house and including “a nice quiet sitting spot for seniors and other members of the community – or going back to a Checkers Pavilion.”
Fellow Councilor Geoff Young, possibly remembering the past, warned there would be problems with a simple restoration problem. He argued, with some merit, that to restore it and leave it open as a shelter was not an option. In other words he feared the vandals would soon rack up another victory.
Isitt seems to agree but argues “supervision and maintenance” would be reasonable expenditures “for the city to look at” to combat vandalism.
A third municipal viewpoint has been expressed by Coun. Chris Coleman who seemed to lean toward Isitt’s family oriented centre but surprisingly added “there is probably no call in today’s world for a checkers’ pavilion.” It seems to me that checkers encourages thoughtful action and should be a preferred option to challenge vandalistic thinking.
When the park was founded in the 1800’s commercial operations within its boundaries were banned – and remain legally banned. And no municipal politician to my knowledge has ever challenged that continuing ban, even in these days of economic hardship when the good things of life demand all ways and means be generate the revenue required used to continue our enjoyment of playing fields, pools, art galleries, museums – and parks.
Isitt says he has no desire to explore the possibilities of a commercial enterprise in the park; Young says the old idea of a tearoom wouldn’t be allowed under the old “no commercial ventures” rule, Coleman just wonders “who pays for restoration and who maintains it once complete.”
So dare I suggest the trio get together and launch a bid to get the original charter changed or amended to allow the operation of a tearoom-come-coffee bar with all revenues over operating costs going to security and maintenance?
When I made that suggestion close to 50-years ago I was accused of suggesting Beacon Hill Park become a fairground. Which of course is nonsense. Anyone who has visited great parks in other countries from the Botanical Gardens of Australia to the glorious parks of London and Paris will know that park beauty does not disappear because you can buy a cup of tea or coffee, a soft drink or souvenir – or heaven forbid an ice cream cone.
And I think a tea house atop the Beacon Hill with tougher than average security and cleanliness regulations; with great view windows, enough room for a floor checker board plus a few benches where weary walkers could sit and sip, would pay its way – and enhance the rain or shine pleasure that wonderful treasure already brings to us every time we visit.