Vancouver Feature: Marine Building Opens Amid Wall St. Woes

Vancouver had never seen anything like it, a skyscraping wedding cake animated with flying geese, swimming fish and hovering zeppelins. The Marine Building was — and still is — a masterpiece of Art Deco architecture, but it was a financial disaster from the day it swung open its magnificent gilded doors.

Inside and out, the Marine Building looks like a vintage Hollywood set, a drama of antique seafaring, new (to 1930) technology and swirling undersea life. Even today, it is a giddy concerto of inspired plasterwork, inlayed exotic woods, stained glass, sculpted terra cotta and gleaming brass.

But halfway through its construction, Wall Street fell, plunging the world into the Great Depression. So after all the fanfare, the Vancouver’s architectural masterpiece sat half empty. Prospective tenants were frightened by its grandeur, even though the rents were comparable to other office space in the city. Its five 700-feet-per-minute elevators (each with its own uniformed female driver) sat idle.

The owners, the G.A Stimson Company, were desperate. They tried to sell it to the city as a new city hall — unsuccessfully. By 1933, they had to get out. They sold the building to British Pacific Building Co., owned by the Guinness brewery (whose stout drinkers seem to have seen them through hard times very nicely), for $900,000, a million dollars less than construction costs, and less than many Vancouver bungalows cost today.