Vancouver’s Most Interesting Buildings – Through the Decades: 1900s – 1950s
Vancouver has a long history of being an architecturally significant city. There are many building scattered throughout the downtown core as well as the surrounding suburbs that empashize the different architectural styles that have been important throughout the city’s history. This series of blog posts will focus on a particular building for each decade, all the way from the 1900s through to the future – the 2030s!
This first post will guide us through the 1900s to the 1950s.
1900 – 1910: The Hotel Europe
In June 1886, Vancouver was struck by one of the most catastrophic events in its history: the Vancouver Great Fire. Almost 90% of the buildings in town burned down to their grounds, causing many casualties and leaving many families without a roof on their heads; even the famous Gassy Jack’s pub was totally destroyed by the flames.
The city faced a $1.3 million dollar loss; so, when the time of reconstruction came, the city council decided that the entirety of Vancouver had to be rebuilt using fireproof materials (e.g. bricks).
It was during this period that Angelo Calori, an Italian immigrant, decided to open one of the first hotels in town: the Hotel Europe.
Construction began in 1908 and terminated in 1909, making Hotel Europe one of the first hotels in Western Canada to have running water, electricity, and, most importantly, a completely fireproof structure.
The hotel was, eventually, bought by the city of Vancouver in 1983 and, thus, converted to an apartment complex for low income people.
I particularly like this structure as it is heavily inspired by the world-famous Fuller building (also known as the Flatiron) in New York City, with its “Renaissance Revival” architectural style.
Today, the Hotel Europe is still there where it was originally built more than 110 years ago and it’s one of the most iconic buildings in Gastown…too bad that it cannot be visited.
1910 – 1920: The Seymour Building
When I was attending Greystone College on Seymour Street, I couldn’t help but notice this massive white building right in front of my school; every time I looked out of my class’ window I was amazed by this wonderful Neo-Gothic architectural style that reminded me of the beautiful Woolworth building in New York City.
The Yorkshire Guarantee and Securities Corporation Ltd Building, later known as the Seymour Building, was built in 1912 and completed in 1919 due to delays caused by WWI, and it still exists today as one of the last Neo-Gothic edifices remaining in Vancouver. Designed by the Vancouver-based firm of Somervell & Putnam, the distinctive 10-storey granite-faced office tower stands at 525 Seymour Street in the heart of downtown Vancouver, where the bustling cityscape around the historic block has changed radically over the last century.
With its 10 floors, the Yorkshire Building was once planned to be the tallest in the city but was surpassed by the Sun Tower in 1912 (more than 7 years before its completion). Its elaborate granite facade was a symbol of progress and gave the whole downtown area a fresh and modern look.
Today, the building is leased out as an office space on a per-unit basis and has changed hands numerous times over its long lifetime. The building is proclaimed by its current owners as prime downtown office space, and the careful restoration and upkeep of the exterior and interior heritage details are a major selling point for those looking to rent a unique space for their business.
I personally think that the Seymour Building is a handsome structure that stands as a testament of timeless design and fine detail work in a city with a modern cityscape made of steel and glass.
1920 – 1930: The Marine Building
I consider the Marine Building to be one of the most exquisite examples of Art Deco today. This 22-storey construction is considered by many to be one of the most well-preserved and significant edifices from the 1920s. Its story is quite interesting and goes all the way back to the 1910s, when the Panama Canal was officially opened, making it possible to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The opening of the canal made Vancouver one of the busiest and richest harbours in North America; this fact attracted many investors from all over Canada, one of them being J.W. Hobbs – a man who believed that Vancouver deserved a brand new skyscraper to increase the city’s importance in the world. He was profoundly fascinated by the elegance of the Fisher Building in Detroit and thought that, in order to become an important city, Vancouver needed a building of the same league and style as the one in Michigan; so he hired the architect firm “McCartner Nairne and Partners” and invested 2.2 million dollars into the project. Construction began in 1929 and ended in 1930 during the Great Depression which condemned the building to remain mostly empty. They even built an observation deck on the top, but nobody, during those times, could afford the 25 cents admission ticket. Due to the terrible economic recession, Hobbs found himself in debt, so he sold the building for nine hundred thousand dollars to the Guinness family of Ireland to repay his creditors. Despite this terrible start, the building today has been assessed to be worth more than 90 million dollars, and its beautiful hall is still open to everybody to enjoy.
1930 – 1940: City Hall
Since I live in Fairview, every time that I have to take the skytrain, I have to pass right in front of this marvelous Art Deco building that serves as city hall; its massive white structure is visible from all over Vancouver and it is still used today as the city’s council home.
Located on 12th Avenue, the building was ordered by the Vancouver Civic Building Committee and designed by architect Fred Townley. The building is highly recognisable by its iconic twelve-storey tower with a clock on the top that is lit during the night.
Until 1929, the original Vancouver City Hall was located on Main Street, in downtown, but that building was too small to accommodate the council of a growing city. It was more than clear that a brand new Town Hall was needed, so, after being elected mayor in 1934, Gerry McGeer created an opposite committee to select a new location for a city hall. The committee chose Strathcona Park on W. 12th Avenue as a site, and City Council approved the selection in 1935, making Vancouver the first major Canadian city to locate its city hall outside its downtown.
Constructions began in 1935 and terminated in 1936, when the building officially opened its doors to the city’s council. The cost of the whole structure was 1.1 million dollars and that’s partly due to the fact that most parts of the interiors were decorated with statues and ceilings covered by gold leaves.
An additional wing was added to the original structure in the 1960s and, since then, the building was never altered again. Nowadays this stunning edifice is still home to the Vancouver’s city council and is loved by many Vancouverites.
1940 – 1950: The Vogue Theatre
Each time I stroll around Granville Street, my attention is captured by its façade that is beautifully crafted in the Art-Moderne style, which emphasizes sleek lines and fluid contours. The theatre has two symmetrical façades, constructed in textured concrete with elaborated iron screens. One of the defining features of the Vogue is its large neon sign which is topped by the silhouette of the Goddess Diana (the Roman Goddess of the Moon).
The Vogue, as the name may suggest, first opened as a theatre pretty similar to the ones on Broadway St. in New York but, since then, has evolved to host many different events and special occasions like the Vancouver Film Festival or the Vancouver Jazz Festival.
Even today its beautiful neon sign is still shining on Granville St. for many to enjoy.