“I did the work in a consciousness manner and not with the idea of cutting corners,” Michele Silvestri wrote me from his home in Langley, B.C.
Hamish Laurie, the present owner of 701 Cook, agrees: “Silvestri was a great carpenter.” Many of the existing features are original. The second-floor kitchen re-creates wainscoting with yellow linoleum. First-floor living room walls are warm with wood panelling.
Silvestri began building in 1955. The space at the end of Wheeler Street (part of the escarpment) was available. Most of the work was completed in his spare time while he worked for the Canadian army.
When Silvestri decided to dig a well for water, he ran into problems. He wasted the whole summer of 1956 digging in quicksand. He looked for another lot: 701 Cook Street was available and Silvestri bought the lot from General Enterprises for $1,800.
Silvestri remembers handing over $1,500 in saved $20 bills. The rest was paid over the next two months. The house was actually moved in 1957 or 1958.
It took Silvestri about five years to complete the project: 701 is a two-storey home with two identical apartments, on the first and second floors, each with a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms.
The basement was turned into a suite, as well, and rented. In 1962 Silvestri’s mother and brother arrived from Italy. His father was already in the country. Mother, father and brother moved into one of the suites. Silvestri’s mother and brother remained until 1987, while his father moved on and then died in Calgary in 1984.
Frank Silvestri shared memories of his growing up in the house. There was quite a crowd of kids in the neighbourhood, and then there was the 1958 fire.
He was just a young lad, at the time, and remembers his father planning an underground shelter. A hole was dug in the front yard, but the actual shelter was never completed. Silvestri has an old photo that shows a berm in the yard where the underground shelter had been planned.
Hamish Laurie loves the old house and plans to keep it looking as it was in 1958. He says there are a few problems with the old fixtures, and some minor replacements have taken place.
I enjoyed touring the house. Laurie delighted in showing me a small basement space with a steel door. Silvestri indicated it was a safe used for important papers; perhaps a good thing in a wooden-frame building.
Laurie showed me the fire escape, as well, and the antiques from his family, which help re-create the 1950s style. An interesting picture caught my eye.
“Oh, that’s my grandfather,” quipped Laurie. A picture of George Westinghouse, no less. Westinghouse began his business empire in Pittsburgh, in the early 1900s. He was an inventor, with many patents in his name.
He is responsible for air brakes, and he pioneered alternating current. Everyone has heard of Westinghouse; in fact, we probably have or have had a Westinghouse product in our homes.
Who would have thought that his grandson lives in our midst?
From Silvestri to Laurie, 701 Cook Street appears to encourage hard work, ingenuity and innovation.
Nellie Dale writes regularly about unique buildings and heritage features in Whitehorse. This is part of an ongoing series on some of the people memorialized by benches along the Millennium Trail.