The Marine Building July 11, 2019
In The Beginning
The Marine Building is one of Vancouver’s precious treasures. It makes a dramatic and exciting backdrop as you look west down Hastings. It is one of the world’s great art deco buildings.
Construction started in the spring of 1929, with a lavish ceremony. The groundbreaking ceremony, reported in the newspaper that “His Worship Mayor W.H. Malkin blew a blast on a golden whistle and with it set in motion the steam shovel that will excavate the site for the new Burrard Street Marine skyscraper.”
Sixteen months later, on October 7, 1930, the Marine Building formally opened. At the time, with 21 floors and 97.8 metres high, Vancouver had never seen anything like it before.
Uniformed doormen stood beneath a huge arched entrance framed in glittering polished brass. The portico, featuring an Art Deco flock of Canada geese, with the rays of the setting sun over them, can still be seen there today. Not to mention the intricately carved marine life – lobsters, crabs, prawns and starfish – seen crawling over each other among the seaweed.
The Great Entrance
The great entrance to the Marine Building is amazing. Seahorses and pufferfish still swim along outside the building between the second and third floors. Boats and ships move past, biplanes and a Zeppelin fly by in intricate carvings. A train chugs past. It’s one of the great instances of architectural art in Canada.
The lobby, too, is a masterpiece. There are five elevators, their doors of solid brass intricately and interestingly designed. There was a time when five uniformed young women stood beside them, each carefully chosen for her beauty. The elevators were the fastest in the city at 700 feet a minute, at a time when 150 feet a minute was the norm. Above the elevators (their interior walls intricately inlaid with 12 different kinds of hardwood) small plasterwork ships burst out of the waves. And at one end of the lobby, the sun’s rays stream through a big stained window.
The Starfish Clock
On the east wall of the lobby is a clock with unusually shaped numbers. When the big hand is on the starfish and the little hand is on the crab, it’s six o’clock.
The lobby floor has 12 inlaid signs of the zodiac, and was once made of a material called Corkoid, imported from Inverness, Scotland. The original corkoid has now been replaced with look-alike material.
The Great Depression
The great Wall Street crash of 1929 occurred midway through the construction of the building. And by the time the building opened, lots of companies had gone out of business, so many of the offices suites stayed empty.
By 1931, only a year after the building had opened, its owners attempted to sell it to the city as the new city hall. Unfortunately though, that deal fell through.
In 1933, the building was sold to the British Pacific Building Co. (owned by the Guinness brewing people) for $900,000, which represented a loss to the original owners of 1.3 million dollars. That was an astounding loss, when you consider that it’s the equivalent of over $25 million in today’s dollars!
A.J.T. Taylor, who was managing director of British Pacific, moved into the building’s penthouse with his wife. They had a lavish apartment overlooking the city. However, Mrs. Taylor discovered that she didn’t like heights, so they soon moved out.
It seems appropriate that the building’s longest-lasting tenant was the architectural firm that designed it: McCarter and Nairne. They moved in as soon as space was available, and stayed until February of 1980, nearly 50 years.
Vancouver is filled with amazing sites and history. If you are looking for more examples of amazing art in Vancouver architecture check out this post. From Gastown to Whistler, our city has an amazing history. And to capture the amazing regional sites, be sure to check out my gallery.