This is the second part of a series in preserving Chilliwack’s heritage. To see last week’s story, click here.
When Frank Holzapfel got the keys to his new locale on Yale Road downtown Chilliwack, he knew it would need a remodel.
The space was claustrophobic, dark, and lacking love.
But he’d coveted the spot from the time he first opened Supreme Tattoo across the street, 17 years ago. So, when it was vacated and listed earlier this year, the now-established business owner took that leap of faith. It didn’t take long to realize his first love offered more than a great location.
While going through the necessary paperwork at City Hall, Holzapfel had a chance encounter with a city employee that turned his initial idea of a modern overhaul into a veritable archaeological dig.
“He told me, ‘Peel that place back like an onion. The beauty is right there,’” Holzapfel recalls.
And that’s what he did. For three months, he and his crew of artists dug away, lifting layer after layer of previous business owner’s ‘modern’ remodels. There were countless levels of flooring hiding original fir tongue and groove planks. There were three to five layers of drywall to tear off before revealing the original plaster walls.
Maybe most incredibly, a dropped t-bar ceiling that took metres of height off the room. When they removed that, they found the plaster walls lead to a coved ceiling — and three dramatic, large skylights that once would have brought light to the entire space.
In short, they found the original 17 Yale Road East. The store was home to John McMaster’s Men’s Wear Store, which carried everything from Stetsons to ready-to-wear suits. It opened in 1939 and was the go-to place for decades to come. The skylights were installed to ensure “a maximum of daylight” (Chilliwack Progress, Aug. 30, 1939). Following that, it was Al Jeffrey’s Men’s Wear, for forty years.
The floor was the only thing that wasn’t salvageable. It had become so thin as they tried to recover it, that they decided to put in new flooring. But they didn’t leave it looking new. They literally gave it the gears, ratcheting it with chains and spikes to create grooves and marks that would give it an old, authentic feel. Once they were satisfied with the look, they sealed it with an early American stain.
But he couldn’t cover it up completely. One of the coolest finds while restoring the building was a hatch-door to a three foot crawl space. The crawl space was filled with old posters and local historic artifacts. He’s preserved those and plans to give some to the Chilliwack Museum and Archives. And he spared the door, too. It still leads the way to the crawlspace, a dark fir square of history saved.
“Just kills me when I see people destroying heritage,” he says. “Keep the flavour. Heritage is everything. Our country is brand new and we have nothing.”
But not entirely nothing. There are bits of history, like beautiful floors and boxed in skylights, hiding in buildings all over the downtown, Holzapfel says. It’s going to take more business owners like him to make the decision to preserve it that history, to keep these buildings alive for years to come.
“We are not the owners of this history,” he says. “We are caretakers.”
Not all the history inside Supreme Tattoo is hyper-local, but it’s true to the era all the same. The chairs in the reception area are from a movie theatre in Lynden, WA. A filing cabinet in the back of the shop is from the Burnaby Library. The antique dressers that sit at each salon chair are antiques. Even the power supply at their tattoo machine building station is from 1942, and a beauty of its own.
And there’s history that’s less obvious. Holzapfel walks outside his shop and shows the spot in the ground that used to house a lamp, back when the crosswalk at Yale and Young would have been right at Building 17. A small circle where the lamp was cut off is still there. And that lamp, long gone from its original home, now lives on in the garden of local house.
There’s even history that’s hidden and awaiting restoration. The entrance way, for example, once included a parabolic arch. That dates back to the McMaster store days. But it’s not gone — it’s been framed over, along with the original McMaster sign. Getting that arched entrance restored is next on his to-do list.
He’s hoping his efforts will have a carry-over effect for other buildings.
“I hope it’s contagious,” he says.