Description of Historic Place
The Electric Railway Chambers is a tall, elegant office tower constructed of steel, concrete and brick in 1912-13 and located in Winnipeg's Exchange District, a national historic site of Canada. The City of Winnipeg designation applies to the building on its footprint and the following interior elements: main-floor lobby, including mezzanine and offices.
The Electric Railway Chambers is one of Manitoba's finest buildings, an exquisite example of the Sullivanesque Chicago Style, a style characterized by its height, steel frame construction and abundant ornamentation, and which came to symbolize the wealth and sophistication of cities across North America. Designed by Charles Frost of Chicago and supervising Winnipeg architects Pratt and Ross, the terra cotta-clad building was erected as the corporate head office of the Winnipeg Electric Railway Co., a regional force from 1892 until 1953 in the lucrative business of providing power and streetcar service. The Chambers holds a strategic and highly visible location in the Exchange District, a nationally recognized collection of more than 100 buildings recalling Winnipeg's major position as a Canadian centre of finance and trade in the early twentieth century. The building also has a very high level of architectural integrity in its exterior facades, intact office spaces and main public spaces.
Source: City of Winnipeg Committee on Planning and Community Services Minutes, August 24, 1987
Key elements that define the strategic and important location of the Electric Railway Chambers include:
- the west and south facades visible from various vantage points, including from Portage Avenue, Notre Dame Avenue, Fort Street, etc.
- the main entrance opening onto Notre Dame Avenue
Key elements that define the building's Sullivanesque Chicago Style and its function as corporate headquarters of the Winnipeg Electric Railway Co. include:
- 11-storey height and flat roof and tripartite division of the primary facades into base, column and capital
- piers and columns of complex profile leading from the ground floor to Venetian arches at the top of the building
- regular grid-like fenestration and clear expression of the structural system
- a heavily projecting and elaborately decorated cornice
- facing materials, including granite on the lower two levels and terra cotta made to resemble granite on the upper levels
- large main-floor and smaller second-floor Chicago-style windows with heavy, elaborately decorated framing, and upper-floor windows, paired and outlined with richly detailed surrounds
- elaborate surface decoration throughout, including sculptural lions atop the piers, twisted columns at the upper level, etc.
- thousands of white lights that illuminate the engaged columns and arched sections at the top of the west and south facades
- the plain north and east walls, faced with buff brick, with a few windows at the upper storey, and the light well on the east wall, filled with windows
Key elements that define the building's high levels of integrity in materials and finishes, especially in major public spaces, include:
- the lobby, including its two-storey height, cross-vaulted and beamed ceilings, use of marble and other expensive materials throughout, and wealth of exquisite finishes and details such as the decorative frieze, foliated capitals, elaborate metal grilles, lion newel post, etc.
- the main-floor hall with its two-storey volume, coffered ceiling outlined with classically inspired edging, octagonal-shaped columns faced with polished marble and topped with foliated capitals, etc.
- the main-floor mezzanine with its bronze grille-work balustrade and boardroom with column capitals and ceiling edging as seen in the banking hall
- the upper floors with spacious hallways sheathed with marble, original openings into office spaces, service and washroom areas with metal doors and marble walls, etc.