Description of Historic Place
The Green Block is a two-storey brick structure that stands at the corner of Broad Street and Trounce Alley in downtown Victoria. This Italianate-style building features two richly-decorated façades, one of which runs along Trounce Alley. A square-domed tower marks the corner of Trounce Alley, and a decorative parapet marks the Broad Street entrance to the second floor offices.
The Green Block is valued as a tangible expression of Victoria’s resource-era economic boom that occurred in the 1880s, reflecting the tumultuous economic growth that was largely due to the exploitation of coal in Nanaimo, timber resources in Southern Vancouver Island and the completion of the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway. When the Hudson’s Bay Company sold off the land that provided access to architect and builder Thomas Trounce’s property, he established Trounce Alley in 1859, a convenient thoroughfare between Government and Broad Streets that also provided additional retail frontage and increased its commercial value. The Green Block, and a mirror image building that originally stood to the south, flanked the eastern entry to Trounce Alley and were built for Alexander Alfred Green (circa 1833-1891) in 1889. Green was the manager of Garesche, Green & Company, which had taken over the Wells, Fargo & Company’s Bank in 1873 and was the largest private banking house in British Columbia in the 1880s. During a major fire in October 1910 that destroyed the Spencers’s Arcade, Trounce Alley marked the northern reach of the damage, the southern building was destroyed, replaced in 1911-12 by the much taller Central Building. The surviving Green Block was spared, and subsequently became known as the Exchange Building, due to the tenancy of the Victoria Stock Exchange from 1928 to 1930.
The Green Block is a fine example of the Late Victoria-era Italianate style, the work of local architect John Teague (1835-1902). Born in Cornwall, England, Teague followed the lure of gold, first in California and then in the Fraser Valley. After some time in the gold fields, he settled in Victoria in 1860, where he lived and worked until his death. Teague served the city as councillor in 1885, and as mayor for two terms, 1892 and 1893. During his prolific career, Teague designed over 350 buildings, mostly in Victoria. He was adept at all the current architectural styles, ranging from Italianate to Queen Anne Revival. For many years he was the architect for the Royal Navy at the Dockyard and Hospital at Esquimalt; his clients included most of the city’s leading businessmen for whom he built commercial as well as residential buildings. Four of his buildings in Victoria: City Hall, #1 Centennial Square 1878-91; St. Ann’s Academy, 835 Humboldt Street 1886; Church of Our Lord, 626 Blanshard Street, 1875-76; and the Pemberton Memorial Operating Room, 1900 Fort Street, 1896; and five buildings in the Historic Naval District, Esquimalt, 1888-91, are designated as National Historic Sites. Teague also designed the nearby six-storey Driard Hotel, 1151 Broad Street, 1891-92 (now a reconstructed façade), probably his finest work and the most prestigious hotel north of San Francisco. The Green Block features distinctive design elements, including a square-domed corner tower, representing how the popular Italianate style could be adapted in eclectic ways for commercial purposes.
In recognition of the material and social values of the historic buildings of Old Town, the City of Victoria has established policies and incentives that encourage their adaptive re-use and improve their economic viability. Rehabilitated buildings such as this play a critical role in revitalizing the downtown economy, in providing commercial space and in environmental sustainability.
Source: City of Victoria Planning Department
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Green Block include its:
- prominent corner location, built to the property lines at Trounce Alley and Broad Street
- continuous commercial and retail uses
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its two-storey height, rectangular plan with flat roof, two main façades with irregular window spacing on the second floor, entry to the second floor from Broad Street marked by a decorative pediment above and at the parapet; and prominent square-domed corner tower
- masonry construction, with brick walls, parged details and granite threshold at entry
- features of the Italianate style, including segmental-arched window openings with inverted-U hoods, pilasters, continuous sheet-metal cornice above storefront, running bands of brick detailing, bracketed upper storey sheet-metal cornice, and a square-domed corner tower, echoed in smaller piers along the parapets
- double-hung one-over-one wooden-sash windows on the upper floor
- interior features, such as a second-storey skylight, central hallway, wooden doors with transoms, and wooden trim