Friday, January 7, 2011

The Queen in the Harbour

Today was sunny and cold and a little windy. But I really enjoyed my walk. I find it invigorating to walk along the cobblestone streets of Gastown when the sun is shining and I know I am where this gorgeous city started.

Harbour Block is located at 73 Alexander Street and was built in 1926 by Edward Baynes and William McLeod Horie who are thought to have also designed it. The interesting note there is the contributions that Baynes and Horie made to the building of Vancouver. The men established their construction in Vancouver in 1893 and it still exists today as Alfred Horie Construction Limited.

This is actually a late edition to Gastown where most of the buildings were designed and built prior to 1912. During the 1920s the Port of Vancouver was expanded and the name Harbour Block suggests that this structure was intended to benefit from that expansion.

Built originally as a warehouse this structure has been home to some notable tenants. Usually small wholesalers, manufacturer's agents and service providers were the tenants but T. Skinner and Company - a metalworking firm that is still active in Vancouver - was a long term tenant. As was Coast Bindery. In the 1980s the use of the building changed from commercial to residential.

At the corner of Georgia and Hamilton Streets is the Queen Elizabeth Theatre and Vancouver Playhouse and today I am talking about the theatre.

A  Montreal-based consortium that later became ARCOP (Architects in Co-partnership) was the design team that designed and built the theatre between 1957 and 1959. Originally this was intended to be part of a multi block civic complex with a proposed convention hall and a land bridge connecting the two.

When this was built it was the latest in the International Modernist style. The glass wall on the south side of the theatre shows the elegance and simplicity of the interior.

The Queen Elizabeth Theatre was built at a time in our history when Vancouver asserted its role as a cultural centre for this region.

The city's ambition to be on the world's cultural map was shown when the city launched an international competition for just the right design.

This fountain is indicitve of civic spaces created during this era and building the theatre and playhouse in the city's centre was also reminiscent of the Modernist philosophy of putting culture in the center of urban life.

The colored lights at the bottom of the fountain were of course turned off since I was there in the afternoon but imagine what it must look like at night when it is lit up and reflecting on the glass curtain wall behind it.

 Back to Alexander Street. 157 to be exact.

This building's historical significance lies partially in the architect who was responsible for it - Mr. William Marshall Dodds in 1913. Although Dodds designed many buildings in Western Canada this is the only commercial building in Vancouver that is credited to him. Dodds is also credited for introducing the Classical Revival style, such as this, to commercial buildings in Calgary.

An unusual aspect of this building is that there are windows on all four elevations - only three levels are still visible.
This building is in an ideal location since it was near to the Port of Vancouver as well as the tracks of the Canadian Pacific Railway. (There also used to be a deep underpass to the west that ran under the rail tracks and led to the north Vancouver Ferry Terminal.)

I hope you find the beauty around you.

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