Vancouver History Blog

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The Marine Building in 1947. Photo by Leonard Frank, City of Vancouver Archives #Bu P346

The Marine Building

[By Lani Russwurm] The Marine Building at 355 Burrard Street is widely considered the best piece of architecture in the city and among the finest examples of Art Deco architecture anywhere. It’s also the star of our Art Deco & Chocolate Tasting walking tour, which takes place every Thursday and Saturday at 10 am. Its elegant design and over-the-top marine-themed ornamentation make it a completely unique and gorgeous work of public art.

The Marine Building replaced an old mansion from the days when this area was known as “Blueblood Alley,” where rich folk settled before the West End and Shaughnessy Heights were developed. Construction began on 13 March 1929 and the building opened on 8 October 1930. It was supposed to cost $1.5 million, but ended up costing $2.3 million. The Great Depression also kicked in during construction, and the developer, a former rum runner, went bust. Desperate to fend off creditors, he offered it to the City for $1 million for a new city hall, but ended up selling it to the Guinness family (of beer fame) for a paltry $900,000 in 1933.

There’s much more fascinating Marine Building history, but we’ll save it for the tour. To tide you over, we’ve put together a gallery of archival images of the Marine Building for you to enjoy.

The Marine Building at night, 1936. Photo by Karl Haspel, City of Vancouver Archives #300-8.

The Marine Building in what looks like a film noir movie still, 1936. Photo by Karl Haspel, City of Vancouver Archives #300-8.

As good looking as it is, the Marine Building has tough competition from the scenic backdrop in 1931. Take from the 2nd Hotel Vancouver by J. Fred Spalding, City of Vancouver Archives #371-1157.

As good looking as it is, the Marine Building has tough competition from the scenic backdrop, seen here in 1931. Photo taken from the 2nd Hotel Vancouver by J. Fred Spalding, City of Vancouver Archives #371-1157.

Looking down West Hastings from Cambie Street. in 1930. Photo by Leonard Frank, City of Vancouver Archives #Str P20.

Looking down West Hastings from Cambie Street. in 1930. Photo by Leonard Frank, City of Vancouver Archives #Str P20.

Here's the view from the Marine Building looking towards Cambie on West Hastings in 1946. Don Coltman, City of Vancouver Archives #586-4591.

Here’s the view from the Marine Building looking towards Cambie on West Hastings in 1946. Don Coltman, City of Vancouver Archives #586-4591.

The Marine Building has witnessed some history over the past 88 years. Here it is through the charred remains of the CPR's Pier D, which was destroyed in a spectacular fire in 1938. Photo by Stan Williams, City of Vancouver Archives #Can P61.2.

The Marine Building has witnessed its share of history over the past 88 years. Here it is through the charred remains of the CPR’s Pier D, which was destroyed in a spectacular waterfront fire in 1938. Photo by Stan Williams, City of Vancouver Archives #Can P61.2.

The Marine Building looking over the British aircraft carrier HMS Glory in 1945. Photo by James Crookall, City of Vancouver Archives #260-1537.

The Marine Building looking over the British aircraft carrier HMS Glory in 1945. Photo by James Crookall, City of Vancouver Archives #260-1537.

The Marine Building looming over onlookers following the Greenhill Park explosion in 1945. The Greenhill Park was a 10,000 ton freighter with combustible cargo that exploded in Vancouver Harbour, killing 8 longshoremen and injured 19 others. Seven fire fighters were also hospitalized. The blast blew out windows for blocks away and many people initially feared the Japanese were attacking. It remains the worst disaster in Vancouver's waterfront history. Photo by Don Coltman, City of Vancouver Archives #586-3601.

The Marine Building looming over onlookers following the Greenhill Park explosion in 1945. The SS Greenhill Park was a 10,000 ton freighter with combustible cargo that exploded in Vancouver Harbour, killing 8 longshoremen and injuring 19 more. Seven fire fighters were also hospitalized. The blast blew out windows for blocks away and many people initially feared the Japanese were attacking. It remains the worst disaster in Vancouver’s waterfront history. Photo by Don Coltman, City of Vancouver Archives #586-3601.

Damage cause by the Greenhill Park explosion, 1945. Photo by Don Coltman, City of Vancouver Archives #586-3598.

Damage caused by the Greenhill Park explosion, 1945. Photo by Don Coltman, City of Vancouver Archives #586-3598.

The lobby of the Marine Building, 1972. Photo by Art Grice, City of Vancouver Archives #70-21.

The lobby of the Marine Building, 1972. Photo by Art Grice, City of Vancouver Archives #70-21.

The Marine Building employed young women to operate the elevators into the 1970s. Photo by Art Grice, City of Vancouver Archives #677-915.

The Marine Building employed young women to operate the elevators into the 1970s. In the early days they wore sailor suits. Photo by Art Grice, City of Vancouver Archives #677-915.

The Marine Building stood out on Vancouver's skyline well into the 1960s. Photo by Leslie F Sheraton, City of Vancouver Archives #2008-022.112.

The Marine Building dominated Vancouver’s skyline well into the 1960s. It was the tallest building in the city until 1967. Photo by Leslie F Sheraton, City of Vancouver Archives #2008-022.112.

Downtown Vancouver as the city was scrambling to get ready for Expo 86. Canada Place was under construction, and the Marine Building was now dwarfed by lesser office towers. City of Vancouver Archives #1376-511.

Downtown Vancouver as the city was scrambling to get ready for Expo 86. Canada Place was under construction, and the Marine Building was now dwarfed by lesser office towers. City of Vancouver Archives #1376-511.

Architect's drawing of tile frieze detail for the lobby, 1930. By McCarter & Nairne, University of Calgary #MCA447-188.

Architect’s drawing of tile frieze detail for the lobby, 1930. By McCarter & Nairne, University of Calgary #MCA447-188.

An early architect's drawing of the Marine Building on Burrard Street, before the design was finalized. McCarter & Nairne, University of Calgary #MCA447-10.

An early architect’s drawing of the Marine Building on Burrard Street, before the design was finalized. McCarter & Nairne, University of Calgary #MCA447-10.

Architect's drawing of the Burrard Street entrance to the Marine Building, 1929. McCarter & Nairne, University of Calgary #MCA447-63a.

Architect’s drawing of the Burrard Street entrance to the Marine Building, 1929. McCarter & Nairne, University of Calgary #MCA447-63a.

Architect's drawing of terra cotta details of the Marine Building, 1929. McCarter & Nairne, University of Calgary #MCA447-104.

Architect’s drawing of terra cotta details of the Marine Building, 1929. McCarter & Nairne, University of Calgary #MCA447-104.

1 Response

  1. Megan Balmer

    Thank you for reminding us of our city’s wonderful architectural heritage; it behooves us to protect it for the future.