Behind This Wall at Hotel Vancouver…

Update: March 24, 2017

This post has been revised since it was first published about 10 days ago. The most significant change has been to its scope. It was originally a very lengthy discussion that wandered into topics well beyond Beatrice Lennie’s sculpture at the Hotel Vancouver. This update has carved off the non-Lennie aspects of the original post and created a separate one.

Snapseed

Two of the six public elevators which flank the wall which probably was home to Beatrice Lennie’s Ascension in the lobby of current Hotel Vancouver from 1939-ca1967. March 2017. Author’s Photo.

Behind the wall shown above, in the elevator court of the current Hotel Vancouver (1939- ), lies, in all probability, Ascension, a work of bas-relief sculpture created by Beatrice Lennie (1904-1987) a renowned and very able local sculptor. Doris Munroe, in her M.F.A. thesis (UBC, 1972, p. xix), described Ascension, installed in 1939, as follows:

The theme with its vertical lines, arches, elongated figures, sun and stars was one of ascent. It was finished in tones of blue steel, brass and chromium which harmonized with the cream marble walls and bronze elevator doors. The hotel was opened on May 25, 1939. At the time of the reconstruction of the hotel in 1967 the ceilings were dropped and the artist believes the mural was then boarded up and faced with a new textured facade.

The poor image reproduced below is the only one I’ve found that shows all of Ascension. But, taken together with Munroe’s evocative description, we can imagine how stunning the work must have been. (Also shown below is part of Ascension from a Hotel Vancouver publicity brochure.)

Snapseed 2

Beatrice Lennie’s Ascension. This poor image of the bas-relief was found in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s clipping file. The source of the image was not noted in the clipping file. I have not been able to find a better image of the work.

IMG_8215

This is from a ca1940 Hotel Vancouver brochure (which touts on its cover that the hotel is “one of the most modern hotels in the British Empire”). There appear to be partial images in the brochure taken from Ascension. Source: Vancouver Public Library, Special Collections (647.94711/V22va).

Ascension and the Artist

In an August 1, 1975 interview for the Vancouver Province, Lennie said:

I used to think your sculpture would outlive you, but they boarded up one of mine, a 12-foot panel in the elevator court on the main floor of the Hotel Vancouver. They covered it with a wooden wall when they lowered the ceiling. It’s discouraging in one’s own lifetime. At the time (1939), the CNR [for whom the hotel was initially built; it later became a CPR property] asked me to do something that wouldn’t be out of date in 30 years.

In another piece published about Lennie, she remarked (with bitterness and some overstatement): “I never go back to see my work because they always do such dreadful things to it” (emphasis mine). To the best of my knowledge, Ascension is the only Lennie work that is ‘lost’.

An article was published, likely in the Sun, shortly after the sculptor’s death in 1987, that recalled Lennie’s body of work and related something of her history and family background in British Columbia.¹  It is interesting that the article noted that Lennie came from a pioneer B.C. family, but there was mention made only of her maternal grandfather, Benjamin Douglas, who arrived in the province in 1862 for the Gold Rush (the Douglas border crossing near Blaine, WA was named in his honour). No mention was made of Lennie’s paternal grandfather, Rev. Robert Lennie, who came to New Westminster in 1884 and established the Baptist church that is still there, Olivet Baptist Church. Lennie also served as ‘the first missionary pastor’ to the small body of believers who would ultimately form First Baptist Church, Vancouver.

CVA 1184-1129 - [Sculptor at work] 1940-48 Jack Lindsay

CVA 1184-1129 – “Sculptor at work.” 1940-48. Jack Lindsay photo. Although the artist isn’t identified by CVA, I’m certain that this is an image of Beatrice Lennie in her studio.

It seems likely that Beatrice, one of Rev. Robert Lennie’s twenty grandchildren, had grown away from her grandfather’s Baptist roots.² But I wonder whether she may have been subconsciously paying tribute to her dad’s dad with the creation and naming of Ascension.

At one level, of course, the naming of her Hotel Vancouver sculpture was a case of word play. Ascension would be located in the elevator court and was one of the last things which guests would see as the elevator doors closed and they were lifted to their rooms.

But at another level, I cannot look at the image of Ascension without wondering about the prominence of stars and halo-like objects, which taken together, seem to me to speak of Easter, the highest and holiest holiday in the Christian calendar.

HV - Main Floor Plan

Hotel Vancouver – Original (1939) Main Floor Plan. Note that eight elevators appear in this plan. The two elevator shafts closest to what was designated as the porter’s area (no. 4 and no. 8) were, apparently, walled up, presumably by ca1967 with Lennie’s Ascension.

According to a concierge at the Hotel Vancouver with whom I spoke in preparing this post, there are other things buried behind that wall. The original hotel drawings called for eight elevators, but part way through its construction, it was decided that six elevators (three on each wall that flanked Ascension) were ample. The abandoned two elevator shafts remain hidden behind the wall, to this day. Along with Beatrice Lennie’s bas-relief work.

Notes

¹The article referenced here was found in the Vancouver Art Gallery library’s clipping file and no attribution was noted. So I’m guessing that it was a Vancouver Sun piece. (For a detailed list of Lennie’s extant work and biographical info pertaining to her, see this excellent site.)

²I didn’t find in my research indication of Lennie’s religious denominational affiliation, if any.

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6 Responses to Behind This Wall at Hotel Vancouver…

  1. Eve Lazarus says:

    Great post, I’m fascinated that the sculpture might still be there–like the mural at the Vogue.

    Just to let you know, I tried to post a comment, but it wanted me to sign into WordPress. Since I’m on WordPress I tried, but it wouldn’t accept my sign in.

    Cheers,

    Eve

  2. geraldine douglas says:

    interesting post as I remember Bea from my childhood early teens her grandfather Benjamin was my Greatgrandfather her mother my grandfathers sister. I do remember staying in the Georgia Hotel at eleven years old just arriving from London uk and looking across at the very grand Hotel Vancouver and my father telling me of Beas sculptures in the foyer. I was yet to meet the amazing Bea sculptor and strong woman of the time!

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