Causeway Tower & Garage
Sperry Beacon Tower
Imperial Oil Service Station
Imperial Oil Tower
Victoria Tourism Information Centre
Links and documents
1930/01/01 to 1931/01/01
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The Causeway Tower & Garage consists of a reinforced concrete structure located on the north side of Victoria's Inner Harbour, built into a natural escarpment. The lower two storeys are exposed and face the water to the south, and are below street level. A one-storey pavilion stands at street level, capped by a soaring Art Deco tower.
One of the familiar landmarks of the Inner Harbour, this structure symbolizes both the romance and reality of twentieth century transportation. Originally designed as a service station for the Imperial Oil Company, the visual prominence and pivotal location of this structure epitomize the importance that automobiles were beginning to assume at the time of construction.
The Imperial Oil Company Limited was founded in 1880 by sixteen independent refiners in southern Ontario; the company's early products included axle grease and kerosene. By the turn of the twentieth century there were approximately 200 'horseless carriages' in Canada, and 'automobile gas' was supplied by horse-drawn wagons. Canada's first gas station opened in 1907 in Vancouver. By 1910, there were about 6,000 cars in Canada, a number that increased in a decade to more than a quarter of a million. In order to service this demand, oil companies developed networks of refineries and service stations, where automobiles could be fuelled and serviced. By the late 1920s, Imperial Oil was massively expanding its operations through the province, with Townley & Matheson acting as the Company's architects. This was the flagship of a number of service stations that Imperial Oil built in the Victoria area. It opened on June 19, 1931 and functioned on three levels. The lower two levels were reached by a ramp wide enough to accommodate two vehicles abreast, and housed repair stations with a total capacity of 120 cars. The gas station and pumps were located at street level, at the base of the tower. Additional facilities were provided for boat moorage, and the wharf for the Black Ball ferry to Seattle was later built at this location. The expanding scale of Imperial Oil's operations during the Depression era illustrates the relative prosperity on the West Coast, as opposed to the Prairie provinces, where numerous cars were removed from the road or operated as 'Bennett Buggies'.
The eighty-foot tower is valued as a symbol of Victoria's enthusiasm for the new age of aviation. At the time, there were plans to turn the Inner Harbour into a seaplane landing facility, and it was confidently predicted that aerial transport would supersede surface transport in the future. Aviation was dramatized by Charles Lindbergh's solo flight from New York to Paris in 1927. The direct model for the Causeway Tower and Beacon was the two billion candlepower Lindbergh Beacon that topped the Palmolive Building in Chicago, dedicated in 1930 by its inventor, Elmer A. Sperry. His beacon was a high-intensity arc lamp searchlight used to mark the new night airmail routes, and a ten million candlepower unit was installed on top of the Causeway Tower in anticipation of increasing seaplane traffic.
The Causeway Tower is additionally significant as a sophisticated essay in Art Deco, displaying the stepped-back massing, vertical emphasis and geometric friezes that were characteristic of the style. The gas station and pumps originally had red pantiled canopies, a nod to the popular Spanish Colonial Revival style that harkened to the free-wheeling California lifestyle popularized in the Hollywood movies of the era. The utilitarian south façade demonstrates the original working nature of the Inner Harbour.
The Causeway Tower & Garage were designed by the Vancouver firm Townley & Matheson, one of the most significant architectural firms in Western Canada and leading practitioners of the new modernist styles. Their best-known project, Vancouver City Hall (1935-36) displays many of the stylistic elements of the earlier Causeway Tower. This progressive structure also demonstrates that in 1931, the residents of Victoria were able to appreciate the addition of a modernist structure alongside the venerable landmarks of an earlier era, symbolizing the acceptance of a new modern vision. The Causeway Tower has been a landmark ever since.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Causeway Tower & Garage include its:
- prominent location on the Inner Harbour
- commercial form, scale and massing, with two large lower floors topped by a smaller pavilion with a square tower
- elements of the Art Deco style including the stepped-back massing, vertical emphasis, geometric metal grilles and cast-in-place geometric friezes
- reinforced concrete construction, used for structure and cladding
- original steel sash window on the street level south façade
- original Sperry Beacon
Local Governments (BC)
Local Government Act, s.967
Theme - Category and Type
- Developing Economies
- Trade and Commerce
Function - Category and Type
- Tourist Facility
- Commerce / Commercial Services
- Service Station
Architect / Designer
Townley & Matheson
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Victoria Planning Department
Cross-Reference to Collection