Our Missing Heritage–The Georgia Medical-Dental Building: what were we thinking?

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On May 28, 1989, we blew up the Georgia Medical-Dental Centre, a building on West Georgia designed by McCarter & Nairne, the same architects behind the Marine and the Devonshire Apartments. *

The Georgia Medical-Dental Building built in 1929
And there goes the Georgia Medical-Dental Building in 1989

The Devonshire was first, designed as an apartment building in 1923. Next came the 15-storey art deco medical building—and the Marine Building was completed in 1930—the only one left standing.


Leonard Frank Photo, 1929
Leonard Frank photo in 1929 showing the Georgia Medical-Dental Building under construction, next to the Devonshire and the Georgia Hotel.

As this more recent photo shows, the HSBC Building now sits where the elegant Devonshire Hotel used to be, and the medical building was blown up or perhaps blown down is more accurate—to make way for the twenty-three-storey Cathedral Place.

Cathedral Place replaced the Georgia Medical Dental Building

I quite like Cathedral Place. It’s nicely tiered, the roof fits in with the Hotel Vancouver across the street, and it even has a few nurses, gargoyles and lions pasted about as a reminder of the former building. Everyone over 35 likely remembers the three nurses in their starchy World War 1 uniforms looking down from their 11th storey parapets. The Rhea Sisters, as they were known, were made from terra-cotta and weighed several tonnes each. The nurses were restored and are now part of the Technology Enterprise Facility building at UBC

But here’s a thought. Instead of honouring a heritage building by sticking fibreglass casts on a new building, why not just keep the original one!

Cathedral Place designed by Paul Merrick
Fibre glass nurse at Cathedral Place

Paul Merrick, the architect who designed Cathedral Place, and who did such a nice job renovating the Marine Building, the Orpheum Theatre, and converting the old BC Hydro Building to the Electra, could have easily designed Cathedral Place someplace else. The Georgia Medical-Dental Building was only sixty after all—hardly old enough for its unseemly demise, but old enough to represent a significant part of our history.

I never saw the Devonshire, it came down in 1981, but I love one of its stories. According to newspaper reports after being kicked out of the snotty Hotel Vancouver in 1951, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars walked across the street and were immediately given rooms in the Devonshire. Walter Fred Evans, a one-time member of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra built the Devonshire, and supposedly Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and the Mills Brothers wouldn’t stay anywhere else.

The Devonshire Hotel, West Georgia, CVA LGN 1060 ca.1925

* McCarter & Nairne also designed the Patricia Hotel, 403 East Hastings; Spencer’s Department Store (now SFU at Harbour Centre); the Livestock Building at the PNE, and the General Post Office on West Georgia.

For more posts see: Our Missing Heritage

© All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, all blog content copyright Eve Lazarus.

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  1. Cathedral Place is Merrick’s best pastiche – brazenly incorporating the verdigris roof of the hotel across the street and sticking the nurses back as a sop to the citizens who suffered the loss of the Georgia Medical-Dental building. I agree with Eve that as a whole Cathedral Place works and has tremendous character, with a lovely garden between the tower and Hy’s down Hornby. McCarter & Nairne, I hope you took pictures.

  2. It was quite the crowd on hand to watch the demolition of the Georgia Medical Building, almost like a parade. I was working as a janitor at Pacific Centre Mall, and the cleaners watched the destruction along with the security guards in the mall, who let us onto the roof of the 30-story TD Tower at Georgia and Granvile. I found it difficult to handle my vertigo, looking down over the edge of the building’s flat-top roof with no railing or safety feature. The building’s collapse lasted about three seconds, before disappearing in a vast cloud of smoke, to the cheers of the onlookers.

  3. The Devonshire was the place to go for an Alaskan King Crab diner. Luckily my wife and I managed to have that diner in the late 70s. The plate of crab was immense and I think we washed it down with a bottle of Blue Nun.
    I attended some dentist appointments in the Georgia medical building and worked for a messenger company that had an office in the Marine Building. Curleys Messenger Service. Those buildings all had a sense of style and grace that we seldom see in current development. Your right that had they been left standing they would still be as useful as the cookie cutter office buildings that replaced them.

  4. Well, normally i am one to decry the disappearance of old buildings, especially one with Art-Deco characteristics….and I was among those who thought the Medical-Dental building should be saved….Bryan Adams, yes that Bryan Adams, also joined in the campaign…but there was a certain reality about the Medical-Dental Building….it was very dark and gloomy inside, with very little charm, despite the early Art-Deco finishings and the wonderful nurses…(the later Marine Building was at least 10 times its superior) I did a story on its pending demise and remember Paul Merrick telling me: the issue should be judged on what replaces it….and i have to confess Cathedral Place is rather a lovely building, and sure, its hokey, but the nurses are there!….and they always remind me of the Medical-Dental building….so i think that’s good…one for Paul Merrick, i actually think it is better…..on the other hand, i thought the loss of the Devonshire (“the Dev”) was awful…i loved the corn beef sandwiches and glass of beer i’d get in their beer parlour, served of course by waiters in red jackets…saw both buildings implode….nothing, however, will ever equal the loss of the Birks Building….the biggest travesty of all….

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