Actress Kiernan Shipka, who plays Sabrina, approached the “Academy for Unseen Arts” in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. (Warner Bros. Television/Netflix)

UPDATED: Historic Langley building gets facelift with help from Sabrina series

Langley’s 108-year-old Coghlan Substation is seeing use in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

A bit of Hollywood magic helped restore part of one of Langley’s most iconic but least-known historic buildings.

Langley viewers watching Chilling Adventures of Sabrina may not realize that the Academy of Unseen Arts is just down the road.

The new Netflix drama, based on the Archie Comics character Sabrina the Teenage Witch, sees Sabrina switch from her normal, human high school to an institution that teaches conjuring and the dark arts.

The exterior shots of the Academy of Unseen Arts were provided by the Coghlan Substation, a power station on the B.C. Electric Rail (BCER) line that ran through the Lower Mainland.

Owner Bryant Ross was pleased that the producers provided resources to help clear away an old shed that had covered up part of the building’s facade for more than half a century.

“I’ve been here 30 years now, and it’s the first time I’ve seen the whole front,” said Ross.

The TV show’s location manager, Janet McCairns, said they planned to use the building even before it was settled that it would serve as the Academy of Unseen Arts.

Sabrina showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa sent McCairns an image of an Edward Hopper painting, showing a gloomy old building by some railway tracks.

The Coghlan Substation came to mind for McCairns.

“We weren’t sure at first what it was going to be, we just loved the building,” she said.

To use it, McCairns was interested in seeing the building as it once had been, based on archival photos.

“It had this rather gnarly decaying plywood shed in the front,” she said.

Once that was cleared away, the site was transformed. Working with Southern Rail, the owner of the nearby tracks, gave the crew space and scope to shoot the whole front of the building.

Built in 1910, Coghlan was one of a series of five substations that provided electricity to the trains that traveled between New Westminster and Chilliwack, as well as to surrounding farmers.

• READ MORE: New signs for century-old substation

Since 1987, the building has been owned by Ross, who uses it as an art studio. Over the years it has been used by many well-known artists, including painters Norval Morrisseau, Issac Bignel, and Gerry Meeches, and Northwest Coast carvers Gene Brabant and the Hunt Family.

After the BCER shut down in the 1950s, a glass-making company bought the building. The new owners tore the front steps off the power station and built a wooden shed-like structure along the whole lower front of the building, covering up the former front door and several windows.

“The hard part was getting rid of that shed,” said Ross. He tore down part of it, but earlier this year, the producers of Sabrina came calling.

While they didn’t replace the front steps with permanent stairs, there’s now a solid plywood staircase treated to look like stone or cement. It gives visitors a good idea what the building looked like in its heyday.

Eventually, Ross would like to fully restore the front of the building, as well as making other upgrades.

“There’s still lots to do,” he said.

Windows need caulking, and the aging pitch-and-gravel roof is in need of replacing.

“Hopefully, there’ll be more movies, because that’s what I use to pay for it,” he said.

Multiple film and TV productions have used the structure over the past decade, ranging from Hallmark movies of the week to the CW series Supernatural.

“They ended up blowing it up in Supernatural, with CGI,” Ross noted.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has continued to film there several times, as recently as early November.

McCairns said she hopes the production will keep coming back.

“It’s such a dynamic location,” she said.

Located in the 6800 block of 256th Street, the building attracts a lot of attention from rural drivers and cyclists who find it suddenly appearing out of the trees next to the railway tracks.

Coghlan Station, and the surrounding Coghlan area, was named after BCER employees and Langley pioneers Henry and Nathaniel Coghlan, two brothers who cut more than 20,000 railway ties for the rail company during the line’s construction through the Fraser Valley.

The only other remaining substation from the BCER line stands in Sumas, where it has been converted into a private home.

The area around the building was also the scene of a grisly murder shortly after its construction.

Two Italian labourers working nearby got into a dispute. It ended when one man killed the other, cut off his head, and threw it down the power station’s well.

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mclaxton@langleyadvance.com

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The Coghlan Substation is 108 years old and once provided power to electric trains that took people and farm produce up and down the Fraser Valley. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

(Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

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