A couple of weeks ago my friend Tom Carter and I climbed to the top of the Sun Tower, one of my favourite buildings in Vancouver.
It’s also one of our most familiar landmarks, and at one time the tallest building in the British Empire when mayor, L.D. Taylor had it built over a century ago to house his newspaper—the Vancouver World.
The building has a unique L shape with eight stories that runs along West Pender and Beatty Streets, topped by a nine-storey tower, capped by a Beaux-arts dome and cupola.
We took the lift to the 17th floor, climbed up a couple of flights of stairs into the dome, and then up a ladder to the cupola. Even with all the high-rises that have popped up around to overshadow it, the view from the cupola is breathtaking.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the Sun Tower is its copper roof. Turns out it’s not copper at all, just concrete painted green.
Designed by William Tuff Whiteway in 1911, details include a marble staircase and nine topless maidens created by Charles Marega, who also sculpted the two lions at the Stanley Park end of the Lions Gate Bridge, the George Vancouver statue at City Hall and the Joe Fortes Memorial Fountain at English Bay. The “caryatids” support a cornice line halfway up the building, and so shocked the city’s elite they hindered leasing of the building.
LD Taylor still holds the record as the most elected mayor in the City of Vancouver. He won nine elections, lost seven, and served eight terms between 1910 and 1934. He looks like a nerdy little man in his trademark red tie and owlish glasses, but he was actually a flamboyant risk taker. In 1905, he bought the World, one of four daily newspapers in Vancouver, from Sara McLagan, the sister of noted architect Samuel Maclure, and rode the real estate boom so that The World carried the most display advertising of any daily in North America.
The newspaper was a huge success for LD, but his mega building couldn’t withstand the crash of 1913 and LD sold after only three years.
In 1918, the building attracted masses to watch Harry Gardiner “the human fly” scale the tower and climb through one of the top floor windows.
For a time the building was owned by Bekins, a Seattle-based moving company, and in 1937, became home to the Vancouver Sun for the next three decades. Laura Anderson tells me that Artists E.J. Hughes, Paul Goranson and Orville Fisher once had a studio in the tower, and Sun photographers set up a lair in the dome, but today, instead of the clattering of typewriters in the offices and the rumbling of presses, the basement holds a sleek new gym.
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