Lest We Impress

CVA 99-3749 - [Georgia] Medical Dental Building [at 925 West Georgia Street] 1929 Stuart Thomson photo

CVA 99-3749 – Georgia Medical Dental Building at Northwest Corner Georgia at Hornby. 1929. Stuart Thomson photo. (Note: The angle from which this image was taken makes the  ground level on the right side of the wooden construction zone fence appear to be lower than the street on the left side. But it isn’t. Photographer Thomson was probably inside the construction barrier of the 3rd Hotel Vancouver shooting from near the top of the fence line; Thomson was the official photographer of the hotel’s construction.)

It is all too easy to impress the present onto the past. Especially in cases where there has been an attempt made by contemporary architects to ‘nod’ to a prior building that once occupied a lot. A good example of this is the Georgia Medical-Dental Building (MDB, hereafter; 1929; McCarter & Nairne, architects), which was demolished by implosion in 1989, and the Shaw Tower at Cathedral Place (SCP, hereafter; 1991; Merrick, architect), which stands on the lot today.

When I recently happened upon the image above, I was initially disturbed by the apparent narrowness of the Medical-Dental Building. It appeared to me to be only half as wide as it ought to be.

At first, I thought that perhaps when work started on the structure, the economic downturn of the Great Depression forced the builder to focus on building just the southern slice; that the northern half would be built later to create the square footprint that I assumed was ‘natural’ for the structure.

But that was not the case.

The next image revealed my error: MDB had an ‘L’ footprint, not the square one that I’d assumed it would have. My assumption was due, in part at least, to my expectation that the older building would have had the same sort of footprint as today’s SCP has.

vpl 12176  View looking east on Georgia from Burrard Street. 1930. Frank Leonard photo.

VPL 12176 View looking east at the Georgia Medical-Dental Building from Burrard Street; this reveals that the structure had an “L” footprint, not a square one. 1930. Frank Leonard photo.

Features in Common and Differences

There was an attempt made by the architect of SCP (Paul Merrick, 1991) to replicate some features of the Medical-Dental building. Common features include:

  • ‘Nursing sisters’ on the corners of the buildings;
  • ‘Step-backs’ at higher floors;
  • Use of materials having contrasting colours (on MDB, use of differently coloured brick; on SCP, use of glass and concrete);

There are many more differences between the past and present occupants of the northwest corner of Georgia at Hornby than there are commonalities:

  • MDB had an ‘L’ footprint, SCP has a square one;
    Bu P179 - [Exterior Georgia] Medical and Dental Bldg. Vancouver BC [925 West Georgia Street and parking garage under construction] 1929 Leonard Frank photo.

    CVA 99-3749 – Georgia Medical Dental Building at Northwest Corner Georgia at Hornby. 1929. Stuart Thomson photo.

  • MDB had an appended, above-ground, 4-storey garage attached to the Hornby arm. SCP has an underground parking garage;
  • There was a single step-back at the 10th floor of the MDB. There are several step-backs on SCP;
  • MDB had 17 floors. SCP has 23;
  • On MDB, there were just the ‘nursing sisters’ as exterior ornaments and they appeared only at the 10th floor step-back and were of terra cotta. The nurses on SCP appear on the northeast corner just a couple of stories up and also higher on the building at the step-backs; there are other exterior ornaments on SCP, including griffins. The nurses and other ornaments on SCP are made of fibre glass;
  • MDB had a blunt roofline with lighter bricks near the roof to contrast with darker brickwork below. SCP has a chateaux-style roof (which, together with the griffins, is probably a nod to the architecture of its near neighbour, the Hotel Vancouver).
IMG_6794

A Griffin and Other Ornaments on Shaw Tower at Cathedral Place (taken from Hotel Vancouver). c2013. Author’s photo.

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6 Responses to Lest We Impress

  1. Daniel says:

    That’s interesting – I’ve only ever seen the southeast view which makes the building look square – I too am surprised to learn it’s L shaped!

  2. bernecho says:

    I cried when the old building came down. I couldn’t go by it without thinking of my dad. When I was very young and we went to Vancouver (from New West; a big adventure in the 1950’s) he always used to recite the names of the ” reah”sisters: diarrhea, gonorrhea, pyorrhea and seborrhea on the building. I wished they had left them off.

    • mdm says:

      Thank you for commenting. I’ve noticed at at this site that there is a chance that at least one of the 5000-lb sisters was saved at “the Hastings yard”. Intriguing. If you look at the image at the top of the post, there is no sign of the two sisters who should be on that side of the building, so perhaps they were removed before the demo!
      http://demolitionmama.blogspot.ca/2010_01_22_archive.html

  3. Matt says:

    The original sisters were indeed saved, and are now installed on the Technology Enterprise Facility III building on the UBC main campus.

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