Description of Historic Place
The Union Bank Building (Royal Bank Building), erected in 1903-04, is a 10-storey steel frame and reinforced concrete skyscraper on a busy street corner in Winnipeg's Exchange District, a national historic site of Canada. The City of Winnipeg designation applies to the building on its footprint.
The Union Bank Building (Royal Bank Building), Western Canada's oldest surviving skyscraper, showcases what in the early 1900s was the latest in structural engineering technology (high-rise reinforced concrete and steel construction) and architectural design (the Chicago Style created in the United States to complement the new materials and methods). This innovative Winnipeg building, planned by Darling and Pearson of Toronto, exuded modernity, stability and entrepreneurial success, and, with its expanse of rental office space, was a tangible expression of the Union Bank of Canada's confidence in the city's, and the West's, financial prospects. The Quebec-based bank, which moved its headquarters to Winnipeg in 1912, invested extensively in the West and also competed aggressively for customers. Its flagship office tower was in keeping with this pace-setting mould, prominently situated on Main Street in the downtown financial hub, richly detailed in Italian Renaissance terra cotta ornament and elegantly appointed inside. Partly occupied until the 1990s by the Royal Bank of Canada, the Union Bank's successor, the skyscraper is a commanding visual landmark in the Exchange District and a distinguished symbol of the city's historic role as a regional financial centre.
Source: City of Winnipeg Committee on Planning and Community Services Minutes, July 18, 1995
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Union Bank Building (Royal Bank Building) site include:
- its strategic location at southwest Main Street and William Avenue, across from City Hall to the north, backing on to the Market Square commercial area and at a bend in Main that greatly enhances the structure's visibility, especially from the north and south
- its intimate association with, including interior access to, the Union Bank Building Annex
Key elements that define the skyscraper's construction and elegantly detailed Chicago Style include:
- the 10-storey L-shaped mass supported by a reinforced concrete foundation and skeletal steel frame, with brick walls, a flat roof and finishes of ochre brick and terra cotta on two sides (east and north)
- the symmetrical, tripartite organization of the principal facades following an Italian Renaissance palazzo model, including an elaborate base, plain middle and finely appointed attic
- the high base, clad in terra cotta tiles and organized in two parts: arcades of Roman-influenced arches around main-floor and rectangular mezzanine openings and a heavily articulated second floor
- the seven-storey mid-section defined by its smooth brick face, grid arrangement of large rectangular windows and bold terra cotta quoins at three corners
- the crowning attic featuring large oval oculi framed by cartouche-like terra cotta elements and a heavy protruding cornice of light-coloured galvanized steel and underscored by modillions and large brackets
- the main (east) entrance with large double doors and a wide transom framed by elegant moulding
- the rich details, including massive brackets and balustrade, arcaded cornice, delicately moulded ninth-floor cornice, terra cotta window sills and stylized voussoirs, elaborate floral decorations between attic windows, flagpole atop the northeast corner, etc.
Key elements that define the heritage character of the building's opulent interior include:
- the grand, well-lit banking hall of the main floor, lushly appointed with over-scale, classically inspired decorative elements, including massive Ionic columns and pilasters, with a high coffered ceiling adorned by moulded plaster elements, often replicating the forms used on the exterior; the large walk-in vault
- the tall entryways to and from the vestibule and office areas framed in black or white marble
- the rich materials in all public areas, including the marble floors and wainscotting in the banking hall, vestibules and washrooms, crown moulding in the vestibule, richly appointed main staircase, brass vaults on many of the floors, etc.
- the circulation patterns and components, including the stairwell from the banking hall to upper-level offices, the entryway from the banking hall to the annex, etc.
- the upper-level office spaces, well-lit and with high ceilings, wood floors, brass elevator grilles and accents, a vault on each floor, the internal mail-slot system on each floor, etc.