The following article appeared in BC Business magazine, September 1977
Caplan Builders – Marketing Luxury Housing in Richmond
The Caplans have done it again. The big day was last June 28 when Jack and brother Dave laid on an elegant party complete with magnums of champagne, catered French cuisine, a jazz trio, six members of the Vancouver Dolphins Swim Club cavorting in an indoor pool and Canadian snooker champ Cliff Thorburn displaying his artistry on an enormous billiard table built in 1889.
The sun smiled from a cloudless sky and the assembled guests chatted and laughed and drank and happily nibbled on the caviar and the pate. They strolled the streets and across the wooden bridges spanning the meandering streams and admired the cascading waterfalls. And for Jack and Dave Caplan it seemed like the perfect day in the perfect setting for their biggest dream come true.
Security is understated by friendly Huntly Wynd gatekeeper.
What was the big bash all about? And, come to think of it, what were a couple of native Montrealers raised by a middle-class family in a blue-collar district doing serving champagne and sophistication in the green flatlands of Richmond, British Columbia?
It was the official opening of Huntly Wynd (as in wined), the fifth and the most ambitious residential development planned and built by the Caplan brothers in Richmond in the last six years.
The party was something special because, quite simply, Jack and Dave Caplan feel Huntly Wynd is something special in the strata development field – a development they feel is perhaps the ultimate in graceful residential living and the delicate art of blending construction with nature in a rural setting just over nine miles from the heart of downtown Vancouver and exactly 4.4 miles from the city limits.
You want statistics? Jack Caplan is more than happy to oblige as he wheels the visitor around the development in an electric golf cart, chattering happily about such things as “vista points” and “focal points” and “major waterscaping areas.”
Peaceful elegance in Richmond
Huntly Wynd is a $13.5 million project set on 10 acres of land at 6600 Lucas Road. Caplan calls it the largest strata complex ever built at one time in Western Canada.
There are 98 units, all containing two bedrooms and lofts and great stone fireplaces with brick chimneys. The fireplaces operate on both gas and wood. Cedar and brick siding and the best cedar shake roofs and leaded windows complement the exteriors. Sliding glass doors open onto artificial turf. Extras such as garbage compactors and dishwashers, waste disposal units and double stainless steel sinks large enough to wash the Christmas turkey are standard.
Outside, there are 400 trees (maples, weeping ashes, redwoods, birches, golden cedars, oaks, pines) and some 3,000 shrubs planted in and around rockeries. The 26 waterfalls, lakes and streams are illuminated by night and by day are so clean and refreshing they would make a fly-fisherman tremble with anticipation and fumble eagerly for rod and reel.
More than 2,000 tons of rock were carted down from Cathedral Mountain near Keremeos in 36 trailer-loads to be used in the landscaping and unit construction.
The overall effect of the landscaping and the graceful way in which the elegant homes nestle in the rustic setting is, simply, spectacular. And, very quiet.
“In fact,” Caplan admits, “it was so quiet here when we started we had to have running water to break the silence. And we had to take some of the bird houses down from the trees because there were just too many birds. Neighbors tell us we’ll be getting migrating ducks visiting the ponds after a while. That’s sort of nice.”
The homes at Huntly Wynd (there are three slightly different floor plans with the sturdy British names of Wyndermere and Ryecroft and Croydon) range from 1935 to 1955 square feet. At a sale price of approximately $67 per square foot they’re on the market for $125,000 to $150,000.
The price, incidentally, also covers such touches as a gatekeeper who politely touches his cap as you drive in, a resident landscape gardener, an elaborate security system and Huntly Lodge – a sort of common-room and clubhouse complete with fully-stocked bar, the huge billiard table, a massive stone fireplace, card tables, leather sofas and armchairs, an inviting swimming pool with whirlpool bath and saunas.
Such luxury is expensive, though, especially in these days of unemployment and a staggering economy. Jack Caplan is the first to admit the fact. But he’s not worried about Huntly Wynd’s future, even though he does admit sales have been slightly slower than anticipated: 11 homes have been sold and 12 have been reserved, meaning down payments have been made – and Caplan bubbles with optimism as he eyes the future.
“The number of enquiries is fantastic,” he says, “and although the initial sales were a bit slow there has been an acceleration and now we’re right on schedule.”
Caplan is also optimistic about Huntly Wynd’s future for other reasons: he says the four previous developments by Caplan Builders Ltd. have all been sold out and that, unlike some developers, Caplan family business has not had a failure.
To make the prospects seem brighter Caplan calculates that there are some 15,000 families in BC’s Lower Mainland who are able and willing to shell out up to $150,000 for a residence but there are only about 250 units currently available in this high-flying price range.
“So you see,” he says, summing the situation up neatly, “there’s no oversupply.”
Presuming the Caplans have come up with yet another winner in the dicey field of land development when many others’ ventures have met with disaster, who are they and what is their secret?
Caplan Builders a family affair
There are four principals in the business and they each own 25 per cent: Jack, 45; his wife, Estelle; Dave, 51; his wife, Sally. Dave takes care of the complex financing and generally stays in the background. Estelle, a former X-ray technician from Nova Scotia, is actively involved in interior design, display, conducting tours, advertising and marketing. Sally is a silent partner.
This leaves Jack to do the talking, which he does easily and thoughtfully and at considerable length.
“I’m long-winded, I’m a compulsive talker as you can see.”
So just who is Jacob Harry Caplan?
He’s one of those faintly elusive and often contradictory figures who are difficult to label, to parcel up and neatly pigeonhole and file away for future reference.
He’s an almost-chainsmoker of Craven-A cigarettes, a confessed workaholic who works seven days a week at any hour. He stands five-fit seven (“I used to be five-eight but I shrunk,”) and at 165 pounds is a trifle overweight, Black hair, flecked here and there with grey. Brown eyes. A manner that is, in contradiction, at once easy going but restless and impatient.
He says he’s a romantic but he’s a shrewd and pragmatic businessman. He enjoys a game of bridge and a dip in the swimming pool. He used to ski when he had the time but he avoids golf and tennis because, “they’re too competitive and my work is competitive enough.”
“I really do enjoy working,” he says. “It’s kind of odd, I suppose, but this is where I find my relaxation – when I’m working. If I’m not at work for a day or so I begin to feel really guilty.”
Oddly, even though all the Caplan developments have been in Richmond, Jack still lives with Estelle, their two sons, Mark, 10, and Guy, 9, and a nanny in a three-bedroom townhouse in North Vancouver where they pay $462 a month rent. (He would live in Huntly Wynd if his own restrictions would permit him to: Huntly Wynd is an “adult oriented” development where pre-teenage children are welcome – as guests.)
Caplan is planning to build a home in Richmond sometime, although he still enjoys the daily drive over the bridges from North Vancouver which he calls “my unwinding time.”
Jack Caplan is also a millionaire – “Sure, I call myself a millionaire,” – but, curiously, he has never owned his own home.
Caplan was born in Montreal, in a blue-collar, working-class area near Mount Royal and Park Avenue. He speaks proudly of his family’s history in the building trades.
Cedar shakes and siding, trees and water blend harmoniously at Huntly Wynd.
His great-grandfather and his grandfather were carpenters in Russia before the revolution and his father – “an arch-conservative and anti-communist” – was a carpenter and small contractor in Montreal.
Jack graduated from McGill University in 1954 as a civil engineer, with honors in mathematics and physics, and went to work in the bigtime construction industry in his home town. He and Estelle were married in 1965 and moved to British Columbia in 1967, alarmed by the violence of Quebec separatists.
In 1968 he worked on the development of the Lougheed Mall in Burnaby and in 1969 Caplan Builders Ltd. was formed – the first project a 50-unit rental apartment building.
“I always felt restricted working for other people,” Caplan recalls, explaining why he moved away from a large contractor to strike out on his own.
“I’ve always wanted to do my own thing, even though I know we were taking a bit of a risk at the time. But I’m not a very regimented person, see. I like to work my own hours even though they may seem strange to other people. It’s the freedom that goes with it. I love that freedom, knowing I can come and go as I damn well please.”
A castle on a narrow lane
So why Huntly Wynd?
(The name, incidentally, comes from Scotland’s Huntly Castle and wynd means a narrow street or lane. The two names were put together, says Jack Caplan the practical businessman, because they have a pleasant and “marketable” ring to them.)
And why, in particular, Richmond – a municipality that has in the past been chiefly noted for its flatness, its farmlands, its fog and its dangerous ditches?
Caplan Builders Caplan Ltd. president Jack Caplan
“We chose Richmond for several reasons,” Caplan explains. “One, naturally, was capital cost. Flat land makes a development like this so much more practical. You just couldn’t possibly build a development like Huntly Wynd in a hilly area like the North Shore or on oceanfront property. The cost would be prohibitive and you’d be restricted in your landscaping.
“Then there’s the aesthetic aspect – the beauty of flat land. When the trees grow up the people will forget they’re living on flat land. There’s space and a feeling of freedom and there’s lots of light, even when it rains. There are other practical reasons like increased bridge access to Richmond, the proximity of the freeway and the tunnel, Richmond filling in its ditches, things like that. Here we have the golden opportunity to use land responsibly, not to enclose space but to welcome it.
“Richmond is the best-planned municipality of all and it offers all the recreational facilities – golf courses, tennis, marinas. Richmond is the closest country living to the city. It’s one of the last parts of Greater Vancouver to offer a pastoral way of life.”
Caplan also points to the convenience of the urban lifestyle in “pastoral” Richmond when he says:
“The new Lansdowne shopping centre has the largest number of avant garde boutiques of any shopping centre west of Toronto. That shows you how Richmond is changing its image. I’d say it’s one of the best planned communities in the Lower Mainland.”
And what of Huntly Wynd itself?
Who are the residents? Who are the prospective residents? Who is encouraged to buy and who is not allowed to buy?
What is the big secret the Caplan seem to have discovered?
“Well, you want a certain amount of continuity and at the same time a certain amount of contrast,” Caplan says. “Look at the homes, look at the streams, look at the waterfalls, look at the chimneys, look at the light, the space.”
“And,” he adds, sensibly, “this is where the government goes wrong. They build these developments to accommodate all types of people at all kinds of income levels and it just won’t work. I’m not really saying whether it’s right or wrong. Some day we might all be willing to live together but, right now, birds of a feather flock together. Right?
“I mean, when a person buys a home it’s a lot more than buying a pair of shoes. We’re selling more than just so many square feet. I even hate to call them units, they’re homes. Frankly, if decent and well-designed and beautiful townhouses were available for families with young kids, I’d be the first buyer. I sometimes wish we could live at Huntly Wynd.”
Exclusiveness built in
Who is buying at Huntly Wynd?
Mainly, Caplan says, couples in their early 50s whose families have grown up and moved away. Couples in a high income bracket who have sold the old family home and – somehow – want to start over again.
How do they like it? Listen to Clark Robertson, a Vancouver sales executive who moved in with his wife a while ago.
He says: “You know, we had lived for 22 years in our home in Kerrisdale and that’s where the kids were all brought up. It was quite a transition when we decided to sell and move here. It was a traumatic experience, in fact, and we had very mixed feelings about it. But, honestly, after one week we’d forgotten all about that.”
“I think what we both love best about it is the sense – the feeling – of absolute tranquility. We don’t hear any sirens, any traffic noise at all, not even planes even though the airport is close. My wife and I just feel so relaxed living here we don’t even want to go away on vacation. Somehow we feel we’re already away on holiday while we’re here.”
Huntly Wynd is advertised as “An Adult Development.”
And that’s just what it means: no young children.
“I’ve got nothing against kids, mind you,” Jack Caplan says. “I love them. But… well, it’s just …”
Pets are permitted as long as they are kept under control. And any childless buyers (married or single) are welcome providing the Caplans feel they will get along with the other residents and not disrupt the atmosphere.
And, come to think of it, why 98 units? Why not an even 100?
Jack Caplan explains:
“The figure was determined primarily by exclusivity. It was a marketing decision, really. We felt that to go under 100 units would provide as much privacy as a person would wish but that the whole development would still have an informal and friendly feeling. We just felt that 98 was the magic touch, the same way we felt the name was a magic touch.”
And, continues Caplan the pragmatist: “We don’t just have 98 houses here, we have 98 different emotional situations… with 98 units we can amortize the costs over a greater number of people and still provide a high degree of service at a price about one-third less than a single-family homeowner would have to pay for comparable services.”
That statement may sound a bit cold and unfeeling.
But Caplan makes it sound much softer and friendlier when he points out that the site of Huntly Wynd was once a blueberry patch and that he once even thought of cramming twice as many units in, then rejected the idea for being too impersonal.
So in Richmond stands Huntly Wynd, waiting for visitors and for buyers, an alluring and enticing package put together by the Caplan family of Montreal, ably assisted by such people as architectural designer Brian Barraclough, interior decorator Peter Garrett and landscaper Bob Buemann.
With, behind it all, the philosophy of Jacob Harry Caplan, who says:
“The economy is in bad shape, but I’m 45 now and I can vaguely remember the dirty 30s. Life goes in eras, right? From ’75 on we’ve been going in a different direction and to be successful you have to be innovative.
“I guess I consider myself a schizophrenic individual. I’m a romantic on one hand but everything I do will relate in the end to a dollar profit. I put on one mental cap as a romantic and another for the dollars and cents. You see, the romance has to be checked in the balance with the dollars and cents.”