Description of Historic Place
The Metropolitan Building is an Edwardian-era, brick-clad two-storey commercial structure, located at the corner of Government and Courtney Streets in Victoria’s Old Town. Tall, rectangular storefront openings face Government Street; the entry to the upper floor is on the side elevation, facing Courtney Street.
The Metropolitan Building is valued as a representation of Victoria’s development at the turn of the twentieth century, at a time when the city was promoting itself as a health and pleasure resort. The site is located one block north of James Bay, which originally extended farther east and was crossed by a causeway. A stinking tidal mudflat used as a refuse dump, the eastern end of James Bay was one of the greatest detriments to Victoria’s self-promotion. By 1900, plans were underway to replace the bridge with a causeway, and construction began the next year on a granite retaining wall that would hold back the sea and allow the mudflats to be filled. In 1903, the City reached a deal with the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to convey title to two hectares of the former mudflats, along with other concessions, in exchange for the promise to build a grand new hotel on the Inner Harbour: the Empress Hotel. This development strategy encouraged confidence in the lower downtown area, with the result of increasing demand for retail space and renewed construction activity along Government Street.
The Metropolitan Building is also valued as a symbol of Victoria’s burgeoning commercial land market at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was built as a venture for Joseph Rostein and Lewis Albert Rostein (1872-1935), entrepreneurial businessmen and brothers who were American-born members of the Jewish community. Joseph was the secretary of the Victoria Transfer Company; Lewis had his own real estate company and was also a commission agent. In 1903, the Rosteins undertook the development of this building situated close to the Inner Harbour, the Post Office and the proposed grand hotel. Its layout reflects a rational approach to maximizing business opportunities. Prominent retail storefronts face Government Street, a busy source of commercial activity. The less-desirable Courtney Street frontage contains the entry to the second floor offices. Early tenants included the American consulate and the bicycle department of the Plimley’s, one of the first local automobile companies.
The Metropolitan Building is additionally significant as an example of the transition from the Late Victorian era to the Edwardian era, at a time when architectural styles, as well as building technologies, were changing rapidly. It typifies the late persistence of the Romanesque Revival style, as shown in the round-headed arches on the upper-floor end windows and the entry arch to the upper floors. The emergence of the newly popular Classical Revival style is demonstrated in the ground and second floor pilasters, with their expressed bases and capitals. The construction is also transitional, reflecting the typical masonry and heavy timber of an earlier era. It is an example of the work of prominent British Columbia architects Hooper & Watkins, whose many commercial buildings helped define the evolving character of Victoria’s downtown. At this time, the firm’s projects generally reflected a Late Victorian sensibility, soon to shift to the more fashionable Classical Revival style.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Metropolitan Building include its:
- location at the prominent corner of Government and Courtney Streets, in Victoria’s Old Town
- continuous commercial use, with retail space at the ground floor level and offices above
- siting on the property lines, with no setbacks
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its two-storey height, projecting end bays, flat roof, tall rectangular storefronts facing Government Street, and side entry
- construction materials, such as brick and stone exterior walls, interior brick walls, cast-iron storefront columns, and heavy-timber interior structure
- Romanesque Revival features, such as round-arched windows, prominent semi-circular entry arch, ground and second floor pilasters, and rough-dressed stone stringcourses and lintels
- original windows including second-floor double-hung one-over-one wooden sash windows, with semi-circular transoms in the end bays, and the remainder with rectangular transoms
- original wooden door framing at entry to second floor
- name and date plaques at the upper cornice level