BC Pen gate house building for sale

Rav Rampuri and Leonardo Di Francesco carved their niche in the real estate business selling churches. Now they
Rav Rampuri and Leonardo Di Francesco carved their niche in the real estate business selling churches. Now they're trying their luck at selling the old gatehouse of the BC Pen.

Leonardo Di Francesco and Rav Rampuri carved their niche in the real estate game selling churches. Now they're trying their luck at the other end of God's ledger.

Di Francesco and Rampuri, who've sold more than 100 churches in their 17-year career at Sutton Centre Realty in Burnaby, have been hired to sell the old BC Penitentiary gate house building.

The owner, Jim Gee, has decided after 14 years, it's time to move on. His asking price is $3.39 million.

For that, says Di Francesco, the buyer is getting "a piece of history."

Albeit a dark one.

Built in 1931, the imposing structure that looks like a castle housed the prison's administration offices as well as intake facilities for some of the country's most hardened criminals. Some of them arrived at the maximum-security prison on a boat that docked at a pier in the Fraser River. They were then escorted in chains up to the gatehouse for processing before getting assigned to a cell block.

While only one inmate was ever executed at BC Pen, it had a long history of violence and unrest. A riot in June, 1975, resulted in the death of a prison staff member, Mary Steinhauser, who had been taken hostage.

A series of incidents the following year killed three inmates and culminated in a riot in late September during which most of the cellblocks were destroyed and two guards were held hostage for five days. At one point, the army was called in to surround the prison.

The penitentiary was closed on May 10, 1980. Most of the buildings were demolished, making way for townhouses.

The old centre block is now the Gaol Block, converted to medical and physiotherapy offices. The gate house includes a restaurant, Internet company and even a Montessori preschool amongst its tenants. Both structures are on the city's heritage register.

Di Francesco said the building's dark past won't hinder its sale. In fact, they've already received two offers. He expects the successful buyer will be someone looking to add a "trophy building" to their real estate portfolio.

"Evil was here," he said. "But there's nothing to fear. It's all in the imagination."

Still the two realtors, who currently have Hindu and Sikh temples in Burnaby amongst their listings, can't help but let their imaginations run amok as they walk down a dark, narrow passage in the basement. The grey cinderblock walls on one side are interrupted every few feet by heavy steel doors.


"If these walls could talk," said Di Francesco.



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