Updated: Jun 10, 2020
My wife recently surprised me with the gift of a 1978 Robert Inwood print of Malone Manor. For 88 years, it was one of Nelson’s most prominent heritage homes. But fewer and fewer people even remember it existed.
The house was at the corner of Front and Cherry streets. This is the description given in Nelson: A Proposal for Urban Heritage Conservation, which listed its street address as 1102 Front Street (formerly Water Street) and its legal description as Lots 1-4, Block 80. It was alternately numbered 63 High Street.
Standing between the Front and High Street thoroughfares on the narrow neck of land which connects Nelson with Fairview, this house is one of Nelson’s most well known residences. It was built by John Burns in 1898 for John J. Malone and exhibits such prominent Queen Anne features as asymmetrical composition, complex roof lines and pitches, decorative shingles, a dominant square tower surmounted by a pyramidal roof and finial, bracketed verandahs supported by paired columns, and decorative barge boards on the facade with an inset row of turned dowels.
The Queen Anne style was well suited to the social needs of entrepreneurs or mine owners who had amassed considerable wealth and wished to display their newly found positions of affluence. Malone, for example, came to Nelson in 1890 and in 1891 with James Clark he established the Tremont Hotel, one of the chief hotels in Nelson during its early days. A few years later, he constructed the Malone and Tregillus block with Alfred Tregillus. By the turn of the century, he had acquired extensive mining stock and in 1905 he took over the Nelson Brewing Company with William Gosnell. His business interests led him into politics. In the first city elections he became an alderman, running on Houston’s platform, and from 1914 to 1916 he served as mayor.
At a glance, I wasn’t able to find any newspaper coverage about its construction.
Malone, along with wife Lydia and daughter Edna, only lived in the house for about nine years. In 1907, they sold it to the Lyonnais family: Frank, a purser on the SS Kuskanook, lived there with wife Edith, sons Dolphin and Clarence, and daughter Stella. Its street address was given as 1104 Water in the 1913 civic directory. The photo below shows the family outside the house.
Bill Barlee wrote a feature story about the house for the Summer 1975 issue of Canada West magazine. Although he didn’t provide much information about its history, he did offer some insight about the state it was then in:
The extras which denoted gracious living are still there; the beautiful stained glass windows, marble fireplace, embossed brass door handles, old wood panelling, false tower, laid stone sidewalks and other accoutrements of the well-to-do.
A caption reads: “One of the many beautiful stained glass windows in the house. The stained glass is of exceptional quality and in remarkable condition.”
But by then the house, although still in the Lyonnais family, was vacant. Stella (Lyonnais) Derkson lived in California and, according to the Nelson Daily News of Aug. 13, 1979:
[With] recent inhabitants not the least interested in maintenance of the building, it has deteriorated dangerous. Holes gape in the original shingle roof. Broken windows reveal the classic turn-of-the-century fireplace and doorways. Verandahs front, back, and side slope even more toward the waiting moist earth. The place is uninhabitable.
But a group of 11 people, including former alderman N.E. Morrison and then-sitting alderman Perry Long, saw the home as worth saving. They recommended the city pass a bylaw declaring the house historic, to prevent it from being torn down.
Stella Derksen, however, asked council not to designate it a heritage building, although she promised to restore it. Aldermen Long, Ruth O’Bryan, and John Neville voted in favor of heritage status. Alderman Hank Coleman, Bill Freno, and Ernie McLachlan voted against, with Mayor Mac McAdams breaking the tie: it would not receive any municipal protection.
Two views of the house in the mid-1970s. Al Peterson photos
In 1984, Stella Derkson died and willed the house to her niece, Norma Skene, who placed it up for sale. The Nelson Daily News of May 31, 1985 carried this photo of her and daughters Bev and Susan visiting the then-boarded up house with real estate agent Ted Burns — the grandson of the original builder.
The caption said: “Although it has fallen into disrepair in recent years, real estate agent Stuart McDonald says it’s still structurally sound, and it’s currently on the market, probably for someone with a passionate love of restoring Victorian homes.”
But it wasn’t to be. The Daily News of Nov. 3, 1986 recorded its sad fate:
The following day this ghostly photo appeared:
In 1987, a new home was built on the property, fronting on High/Cherry Street, rather than Front Street. Trees have grown up on the Front Street side of the property, making it difficult to tell where the Malone/Lyonnais house once stood.
After selling his house, J.J. Malone built another one out of brick at 514 Hall Street — now the home of Pitchfork Eatery, pictured below in 1977. (Nelson: A Proposal for Urban Heritage Conservation says the Malone family never lived there, but we know from both the 1911 census and civic directories that they did.)
It was here that Malone lived during his mayoralty. He moved to Princeton in 1920 to run a brewery there and his old home was divided into suites and rented out. C.E. Clark owned the building until about 1960 and then Seto How acquired it.
In 1976, How’s son Don bought it from his mother, who planned to sell it to a developer who wanted to demolish it. He’s spent more than 40 years caring for it. Since 1992, it’s been rented out to a long list of businesses, including the Nelson Star, Shambhala, Oso Negro, and Dragons and Dragoons comics.
Bob Inwood recalls drawing the Malone house on his 30th birthday — April 8, 1978. He drew it en plein air, “sitting on the ground in front of it for a bunch of hours. I think I only took one photo (slide) of it prior to its destruction to illustrate a talk I was giving on the architectural styles of Nelson’s residential stock way back then.”
The sketch was one in a series Inwood created for heritage calendars published by Pigweed Press of Winlaw. Ernie Mason purchased most of originals. My print is No. 99 in a signed series of 100. Inwood says he never bothered to reprint it since the house burned down. It’s untitled so someone coming across it today might not recognize the scene, even if they recognized Inwood’s name.
He also found what appeared to be the blueprints for the Malone house in a period house plan book (pictured below), published by the Palliser company of Connecticut between 1878 and 1887.
“I met with the person who purchased that house shortly after they moved in — they were interested in restoring it! I had the opportunity to compare the floor plan of the Malone building to the floor plan in the Palliser book and they were nearly identical. Certain window configurations and the exterior finish detailing are a little different, but the basic form is dead-on.”
Inwood adds: “It was, of course, tragic that the building was lost to fire before the new owner could carry out his renovations … It was probably the best/only example of a High Victorian residential building in Nelson. Most of the other stock is of the later, more reserved Late Victorian styling.”
Inwood says the sketches he did of the Malone house and others started his interest in Nelson’s heritage architecture. Later he became the co-ordinator of Nelson’s mainstreet project, which overhauled Baker Street in the 1980s.
Updated on March 26, 2018 to add the images from the Palliser book and on Sept. 25, 2019 to add the photos from the 1970s and on June 10, 2020 to add the details about the 1979 effort to grant the home heritage status.