Description of Historic Place
The Temple Building is an elegant two-storey Victorian-era commercial building, located at the southwest corner of Fort and Langley Streets in downtown Victoria. This historic landmark is distinctive for its brick walls, rusticated sandstone base, and rounded entry arch with relief ornament in terra cotta. Featured prominently is a name plaque beneath the cornice inscribed “Temple Building” and medallion insets made from terra cotta.
The Temple Building, built in 1893, is valued as one of Victoria’s most architecturally significant buildings and is esteemed architect Samuel Maclure’s finest commercial building.
Born in New Westminster, Maclure (1860-1929) began his career by partnering with Charles Henry Clow, subsequently followed by a partnership with English architect Richard P. Sharp. Originally established in New Westminster, Maclure relocated when that city’s economy started to fail in the early 1890s. His move to Victoria in 1892, and the establishment of his solo practice, began auspiciously with a commission to design this building for Robert Ward & Co. His brother, Charles Maclure, worked for Ward. As his first major commission in his independent practice, the Temple Building demonstrates Maclure’s modernity and the refined quality of his work. Influenced by the work of American architect Louis Sullivan, the Temple Building features high quality relief ornament executed in unglazed terra cotta. Motifs of stylized and natural foliage are present at the cornice level, the prominent entry arch, stringcourses, window heads, name plaque, and medallion insets. The recessed spandrels under the windows, and the tripartite articulation into base, shaft and capital, recall the influence of both H.H. Richardson and Louis Sullivan, demonstrating Maclure’s awareness of, and ability to assimilate and interpret, cutting-edge stylistic movements. The high-quality of the materials and design, including a rusticated sandstone base, slightly battered walls in the 'temple style', pressed brick, elaborate terra cotta and red-granite columns give the Temple Building a very refined appearance.
The Temple Building has further significance for its association with Victoria businessman Robert Ward, who commissioned this handsome structure. A successful entrepreneur, Ward had interests in real estate, insurance, import and export, salmon and sealing industries. Ward also served as a magistrate and long-time alderman, which connected him with Victoria’s elite circles. The presence of the thistle motif throughout the building serves as a reference to Ward’s Scottish background.
The Temple Building is also significant as one of the few major building projects that went ahead during the economic doldrums of the early 1890s. Despite a surging economy in 1891, by the following year there were strong indications of economic recession. A smallpox epidemic broke out in Victoria in June 1892; port activity was curtailed due to quarantine regulations, and all aspects of life in Victoria were affected. By 1893, a full-scale bank panic was underway in the United States, capital from American sources dried up, and investor confidence evaporated. Real estate speculation collapsed and foreclosures were common. Prominently located at the corner of Fort and Courtney Street, the Temple Building was in close proximity to the Law Courts, the Inner Harbour and the Victoria Post Office and Custom House, and demonstrated Ward’s clear confidence that Victoria’s ailing economy would recover.
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 Temple Building include its:
- location at the prominent corner of Fort and Langley Streets, in Victoria’s historic Old Town
- continuous commercial use
- commercial form, scale and massing, as expressed by its two-storey height, built to the property lines, symmetrical front façade with a prominent raised front parapet, projecting front corner bays, central front entry, and a flat roof
- Romanesque Revival features such as: slightly-battered walls; round-arched windows; window surrounds and running bands of geometric and floral ornament, interspersed with human faces; terra cotta roundels; central entry flanked by two polished red granite columns with sandstone bases and capitals; and a pierced balustrade at parapet level above the central entry
- masonry construction materials, as expressed in the rough-dressed sandstone base, sandstone trim such as arch spring blocks, pressed red brick with fine grey mortar joints, unglazed red terra cotta, and common red brick side and rear walls
- other façade details, such as the original Temple Building name plaque and address #17 in a roundel above
- original wooden-sash windows with horizontal transom bars, and divided arched transoms on the upper floor
- interior details, such as an inset mosaic tile panel at entry, oak panelling and ceiling at entry, central stone staircase to upper floor, and second floor arched door assemblies with glazed doors