Description of Historic Place
The Sun Tower is located at 100 West Pender Street in the Victory Square area of Vancouver. It is an impressive seventeen-storey commercial building, designed in an eclectic combination of architectural styles. It is the anchor of a group of visually-related commercial buildings extending south along Beatty Street.
Built in 1911-1912, the heritage value of the Sun Tower is found in its distinctive landmark architecture, its association with Louis D. Taylor and the Vancouver World and Sun newspapers, and as an example of the expansion of the City’s business district to this eastern fringe of downtown.
The architectural value is seen in its elaborate version of the Edwardian Commercial Style and its innovative construction. An eight-storey, L-shaped base runs 100 feet along Pender Street, 120 feet south on Beatty Street, and 110 feet along the former Canadian Pacific Railway spur line; it is surmounted by a nine-storey hexagonal tower capped by a distinctive Beaux-Arts dome and cupola. The architect was the talented and prolific William Tuff Whiteway. Nine sculpted terra cotta caryatids below the cornice (which gave their name to the former Nine Maidens Restaurant) were designed and created by renowned Vancouver sculptor Charles Marega. Impressive details are found throughout, from the curved marble staircase seen from the entrance to the brass key plates on the office doors.
The structure is comprised of a steel frame with brick-and-terracotta cladding. The contractor was J. Coughlan & Sons of Vancouver, a prominent local firm that was responsible for many steel-framed buildings at the time – and also assumed a mortgage on the building. When completed in 1912, it was known as the World Building and it claimed to be the tallest building in the British Empire. It remains a highly visible landmark. The architectural arrangement of a ‘mounted tower’ slightly predates the same arrangement at the famed Woolworth Building in New York (1911-13) and the Smith Building in Seattle (1914).
The Sun Tower has value for having been commissioned by publisher and populist politician Louis D. Taylor, who bought the World newspaper in 1905. Taylor served as Mayor of Vancouver for eight terms between 1910 and 1932. As famous as Taylor was for his successes, he was equally renowned for his failures. He lost the newspaper and the building in 1915, largely because of the success of his political enemies, because the paper was over-financed and perhaps in part because it was located outside the urban commercial core.
Subsequent owners also add to the building’s value. The large U.S. based Bekins Moving and Storage owned it for a dozen years from 1924. The illuminated ‘Bekins’ sign on the dome was a familiar Vancouver sight. An ancillary four-storey warehouse was across the street at 137 West Pender. The Sun newspaper, which took ownership and occupancy in 1937, emphasized the landmark status by installing neon signage and a large, illuminated globe on the exterior. Despite having moved to South Granville in 1964, the Sun left its legacy in the building’s name and with the urban memories of rumbling presses in the basement, clattering typewriters above, and lively debates among familiar Vancouver newspapermen. Since that time the building has been used for rental offices, including a number of key Vancouver businesses among its tenants.
The Sun Tower also has heritage value for its location in a marginal part of the downtown and for stimulating the development of a ‘new business district’ along Pender Street. Despite a construction boom at the time, most of the adjacent buildings were warehouses and residential hotels, with only a few office buildings (e.g. the six-storey Duncan Building across the street at 119 West Pender) and other higher-end uses. The building has urban design value for anchoring the neighbourhood, as well as for terminating the impressive wall of masonry buildings along Beatty Street.
Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
The character-defining elements of the Sun Tower include its:
- prominent corner location at Beatty and Pender Streets
- dual role as an anchor to a business district (Pender Street) and an important streetscape of masonry-clad warehouse structures (Beatty Street)
- eight-storey, L-shaped base surmounted by a nine-storey polygonal tower and capped by a distinctive Beaux-Arts dome and cupola
- many exterior architectural features, particularly along the Pender and Beatty Street elevations, including (from bottom to top) the ground-floor terra cotta arches, pilasters, and columns; the rusticated brick treatment of the next four floors, featuring square-headed windows in pairs, with stone sills; the ornamental terra cotta arches and pilasters above that; the nine terra cotta caryatids (by sculptor Charles Marega); the brick walls, pilasters, paired windows, and stone sills of the two-stage tower; the cornices; the hexagonal dome, with its copper roof pedimented dormers, and ornate oculi; and the cupola, with its open arches and square dome
- one-over-one wood sash windows
- location of the main entrance on the corner of the building, including its curved, marble staircase and brass railing
- east (lane / railway spur line) elevation, with its plain brick walls, rhythm of ‘punched’ windows, metal tie rods in the brick façade, fire escapes on the base and tower, and the loading bay
- interior features that have been identified, including the marble staircase that wraps around the elevator core, with marble treads, cast-iron balusters, and tile wainscoting; the cast-iron newel posts; the multi-coloured geometric floor tiles; and the brass key plates inscribed ‘W’ on the doors