Description of Historic Place
The Dominion Building is a thirteen-storey Beaux-Arts style commercial structure on West Hastings Street in Vancouver, across the street from Victory Square. The building is a symbol of early civic pride and an easily recognized Vancouver landmark.
From about 1905 on, Vancouver was in the midst of an unprecedented economic boom. Structures built during the boom period, including the Dominion Building, were of a new scale and design. Despite outward appearances of earlier design, they were among the most advanced buildings of their time. They used steel girders and concrete as basic structural elements and remained, well into the 1940s, the 'modern' buildings of downtown Vancouver. The centre of this commercial district was Courthouse Square, now Victory Square. The new buildings contrasted with the heavy stone construction of the turn of the century and, together, they now present a diverse streetscape.
Designed in 1908-1910 by architect J. S. Helyer, it was, at the time, the highest building in the British Empire with a height of 147 feet, 6 inches, until the nearby Sun Tower (100 West Pender Street) rose in 1911-1912. To a steel-framed Chicago-style high rise, Helyer added classical columns, Sullivanesque detailing above the tenth floor, and a Second Empire curved mansard roof. The interior design was even more unusual: a central core design with a ten-storey spiral staircase.
The project’s progress was covered extensively in the local press. The Imperial Trust Company could raise only half the $600,000 estimated cost and floated an issue of bonds to raise the rest. Citizens were invited to invest in a "building [that] will be a landmark in the city, and object of pride to every loyal citizen." When public response was less than satisfactory, the firm arranged a hasty merger with the Dominion Trust Company, which assumed ownership of the building in late 1908. The building was complete by March 1910, but the anticipated rush of prospective tenants failed to materialize; the central core layout proved inefficient in terms of usable office space. The Dominion Trust Company, like the Bank of Vancouver - which also failed, was symbolic of the hopes that Vancouver residents had for the city becoming a financial metropolis and their eagerness for speculating in real estate. Both of these financial institutions coallapsed with the end of the real estate boom. The Dominion Trust Company was forced to sell its only assset - the building - to the Dominion Bank (no relationship). The Dominion Bank sold the building in 1943 to S. J. Cohen, president of the Army and Navy Department Stores, who intended to convert it into a multi-storey department store at the end of the war. These plans were never carried out. When the Dominion Bank merged with the Bank of Toronto, a branch of the new Toronto-Dominion Bank was housed in this building.
Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
The character-defining elements of the Dominion Building include:
- 'flatiron' appearance and form and impressive scale
- built right to the lot line with no setbacks
- corner location with splayed entrance
- its mix of stylistic and structural elements, which represent the transition between the pre-elevator era and the subsequent reinforced concrete skyscrapers
- architectural elements including: heavy stone base, masonry pilasters which terminate in hooded arches, pattern of fenestration, terra cotta spandrels, mansard roof, corner entrance, Corinthian columns on the Hastings Street entrance, and cornice with dentils
- significant interior details, including terrazzo flooring, central staircase of steel risers and steps and wood handrails, a largely intact period office foyer surrounding the open stairwell on all upper floors, steep narrow secondary marble staircase leading from lobby to second floor, main lobby floor with marble pilasters, brass mailbox and letter chute, wrought iron handrail to stairs, oak doors and trim, and marble wainscotting in corridors
- features of the former bank on the main floor, including a meeting room/manager's office at the rear, with the original door, flooring, wall cladding and decorative plaster ceiling beams along with an intact green-tiled electric fireplace, and, in the former banking hall, light grey marble baseboards, plaster ceiling (mostly hidden by a modern dropped ceiling), two vaults - the large vault, closest to the banking hall, featuring an exterior door and an internal door, and a secondary smaller vault door with a lighter door behind, and a decorative plaster wall that at one time had a clock mounted on the top