Sleeper Photo Reveals Lost Deco Interior in Marine Building


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Opportunities journal, 1911. UBC Historical Books Collection.

Thanks to a 2012 publication by Michael Windover, Art Deco: A Mode of Mobility (Québec : Presses de l’Université du Québec), I have learned that the mural on the wall shown below (with a deco-style airplane and ocean liner at left; an Americas-centric map of the world in centre; and what appears to me to be a rendering of Vancouver Harbour Commission Grain Elevator #1 – or perhaps the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator – in East Vancouver at right) was the creation of L. J. (Louis James) Trounce (1885-1963).  Trounce was born in Saskatoon and by the 19-teens, had moved to Vancouver, where he founded the L. J. Trounce School of Show Card Writing (which I take to be what we’d call business advertising postcards, today). After serving in the Great War, he returned to Vancouver where he was a local artist (he described his career in these years as “designer”) in the 1920s and ’30s — there is evidence that he worked as an instructor at the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied Arts in these early years (Sun 28 Jun 1926) — and as an advertising man/commercial artist by the ’50s. He was married to Eleanor Kate Trounce (1882-1970).

We are also able to pinpoint the location of the Merchants Exchange more accurately, thanks to Vancouver Public Library’s collection of Leonard Frank photos. Here is Frank’s photo of the main floor plan:

Vpl 12016 First floor plan of Marine Bldg Nov 1931 Leonard Frank

VPL 12016 First floor plan of Marine Building. Nov 1931. Leonard Frank photo.

The Exchange was located, in fact, on the northern wall (in the NW corner) of the Marine Building. Windover describes the location of the mural and clock as being on the eastern wall of the Exchange. All of these details better conform to the location, size and configuration of the windows in the photo shown below. In my original post, I had the Exchange (mistakenly) located where the “Shipping Office” is on the floor plan above.



Interior of the Vancouver Grain Exchange in the Marine Building at 355 Burrard Street. 1930s. Frank Leonard photo. (UBC Rare Books and Special Collections – MacMillan Bloedel Limited Fonds. Identifier: RBSC-ARC-1343-BC-1930-575-1).

This is an amazing photo that has been ‘hiding’ within UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections under a mistaken identity for an unknown period.¹ The building that housed this space (Marine Building) is extant but, sadly, virtually none of the art deco features that appear in the image above remain.

The photo shows the Vancouver Grain Exchange — a division of the Merchants’ Exchange — which, before the Marine Building opened at 355 Burrard Street, was a few blocks east of there at 815 West Hastings. By 1930, however, the Exchange moved into the Marine Building.

In a 2011 article on the Marine Building, John Mackie of the Vancouver Sun noted:

An extensive $17-million renovation was carried out from 1982-89 to update the electrical, mechanical and air-conditioning systems. Heritage activists were not pleased with some of the renovations, such as replacing with marble the lobby’s original multi-coloured ‘battleship linoleum,’ which had been imported from Scotland. The former Merchant Exchange was also gutted and changed into the Imperial restaurant favoured by an elite clientele (the Rolling Stones like to eat there when they’re in town). But the Merchant Exchange’s signature mural of the world was destroyed in the conversion, and its beautiful floor covered up when it was raised so diners could take advantage of the room’s huge windows.”

Vancouver Sun, 31 March 2011


Smirking whale being hunted by Vikings. Tile work in lobby of Marine Building.

There are many aspects of the photo to love. To identify just a few: the mural of the world map (I’m especially partial to the whale figures near the bottom of the mural; they remind me of the smirking whale engraved into the tile in the Marine’s lobby), the swirly light fixtures, the fluted clock (and columns), the plaster detailing on the ceiling, the ‘korkoid’ floor with the ‘compass rose’ in the design, and the metal work on the mezzanine.

As Mackie pointed out, most of the deco features of the former Vancouver Grain Exchange were lost during the ’80s demolition/renovation. The former Grain Exchange  office seems today to be out-of-bounds, under lease by another tenant.


¹The photo was titled “The reception area of the Canadian Transport Company Limited, Vancouver, B.C.?” I checked the address of the CTC; it was at the Metropolitan Building in the ’30s. That was a nice building, but not anywhere near as nice as the building shown in the photo. That is what started me digging. I discovered a photo with many features identical to those in the ‘CTC’ image in a book of Frank Leonard photos, “An Enterprising Life” (by Cyril E. Leonoff), page 155. It was that image which began to reveal the actual tenant (the Grain Exchange) and its landlord (the Marine Building). One other related image was likewise ‘hiding’ at UBC’s site: it shows the same space, but the photographer’s back is to the clock. It is here.

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7 Responses to Sleeper Photo Reveals Lost Deco Interior in Marine Building

  1. Mark Weller says:

    Okay, it would have been nice to keep the Art Deco features, but back in the mid 90’s when I used to work in downtown Vancouver I ate at the Imperial restaurant – and it was magnificent. Best meal I ever had with something like twelve courses and incredible service. The Rolling Stones have discerning taste as well as deep pockets it would seem.

    • mdm says:

      Thanks for sharing your recollection of Vancouver as it was, Mark! We’ll have to agree to disagree over visual beauty vs. the edible variety, however! 😉

  2. mguibord says:

    Awesome. Sigh…

  3. Gordon Poppy says:

    Sorry, I was not able to see the Art Deco interior of the Marine Building.

  4. Barbara Koch says:

    I used to be a courier in the 90’s and this was my favourite Vancouver building to deliver to.

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