The Blue Roof Picture

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This is known as The Marine Building, in downtown Vancouver Canada:

The Marine Building
by Murray Forster - from The Greater Vancouver Book

It began with Lt. Commander J.W. Hobbs, vice-president of the Toronto bond-trading house, G.A. Stimson. After the Panama Canal began operating in 1914 Hobbs—who was president of Hobbs Bros. Ltd., ship owners—realized Vancouver had the potential to become a major west coast port, a sea route to Europe as well as a gateway to the Orient. And Vancouver's marine-relared businesses would need offices near the waterfront—near the immigration buildings, the customs house, the Canadian Pacific and the Canadian National steamship terminals.

Hobbs dreamed of a skyscraper—a building that would put Vancouver on the international shipping map. It was conceived by its architects as a great crag of a building, "rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, in sea-green flashed with gold." What resulted is a world masterpiece of Art Deco architecture. Hobbs found a site at the foot of Burrard Street that would give his tower spectacular views of the harbor and the North Shore mountains. He hired a local firm, McCarter and Nairne, to create his vision. McCarter, the engineer, jumped at the chance to design his first skyscraper. Nairne, the architect, inspired by New York City's Chrysler Building, was excited at the chance to create his own dazzling Art Deco showpiece.

He envisioned the 27-metre-long lobby (the "Grand Concourse") as a cavernous Mayan temple filled to the brim with treasures. Junior architects designed a huge array of sea creatures: snails, skate, crabs, turtles, carp, scallops and sea horses swam and frolicked over the walls and polished brass doors. Even the numbers on the large lobby clock were represented by sea creatures. Transportation was an important theme too, so Nairne had his team produce designs of trains, ships, automobiles and aircraft including zeppelins. Vancouver's position as a sea and rail connection was represented by ships and speeding trains. Famous ships like the Golden Hind the Resolution, the Beaver and the Empress of Japan are shown in murals, and the stained glass over the entranceway paid tribute to Captain Vancouver with his ship, the Discovery, on the horizon.

There was a renewed interest in ancient mythology in the late 1920s, and Nairne picked up on that too: the 12 signs of the zodiac are worked into the floor. The original floor was made of corkoid, or "battleship linoleum," manufactured in Scotland by a firm that specialized in producing similar floors for luxury ocean liners. In 1989 the floor was replaced and replicated in marble.

Construction of the 25-storey building by E.J. Ryan Contracting began in mid-March 1929 when Vancouver mayor W.H. Malkin blew a blast from a golden whistle, setting in motion a steam shovel that began the excavation.

And then, midway through construction, came the Wall Street crash. J.W. Hobbs' tenacity was greater than the Great Depression, and everyone pressed on. When the Marine Building opened in October 1930 (at a cost of $2.3 million, $1.1 million over budget), it was the talk of the town. It was, for more than a decade, the tallest building in the British Empire.

Uniformed doormen stood by massive brass dears opening onto the dazzling lobby, and five sailor-suited young women waited to escort passengers in five high-speed (700 feet per minute at a time when the average was 150) elevators. The walls of the elevators were inlaid with 12 varieties of British Columbia hardwood.

The aura of affluence projected by the magnificent new structure intimidated some Depression-battered Vancouverites. But early tenants included the Vancouver Merchants' Exchange—which had contracted for a minimum of 10 years tenancy, The Vancouver Board of Trade, the Bank of Montreal and others. The architects themselves moved in, and were tenants for many years.

Still, almost everyone associated with the structure lost their shirts. Hobbs' dream had turned into a financial nightmare. For several years only the first four floors had tenants. In 1933 Stimson and Co. failed, and the Marine Building was sold to the Guinness family of Ireland for $900,000, little more than a third of its cost. A Guinness executive, A.J. Taylor, was put in charge of the building. He and his wife lived in the lavish two-storey, three-level penthouse. But Mona Taylor was afraid of heights, and the Taylors moved out. (One of the subsequent tenants of the penthouse was an eccentric widow who treated her grandchildren to rides on a Shetland pony that pranced around the balcony!)

The Marine Building is now co-owned by Princeton Developments Ltd., OMERS Realty Corporation and Confederation Life Insurance Company. Paul Merrick Architects made alterations and improvements that respected the fine old tradition of Vancouver's most treasured building. McLeod Restorations Ltd., in a three-year project, performed a complete exterior facade restoration including repair and restoration of the terra cotta and repair, replacement and the pinning back of the brick facade. From the mid-1980s on, nearly $20 million has been spent to restore the building to its original glory.
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