The Marine Building is one of Vancouver’s most treasured buildings, a gorgeous example of Art Deco. So why did we destroy our other one?
The Devonshire Apartments, the Georgia Medical-Dental Building and the Marine Building were all designed by McCarter & Nairne architects.* The Devonshire was first, designed as an apartment building in 1923. Next came the 15-storey Art Deco medical building—and the only one left standing—the Marine Building completed in 1930.
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 23-storey Cathedral Place.
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. Last I heard they were stored at the Museum of Vancouver.
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!
Paul Merrick, the architect who designed Cathedral Place, and who did such a nice job renovating the Marine Building, converting the old BC Hydro Building to the Electra, and fixing up the Pennsylvania Hotel on Hastings, could have easily designed Cathedral Place someplace else. The Georgia Medical-Dental Building was only 60 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 its story. 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.
* 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.