Sunday, 8 May 2011

"Creature Comfort" at Cathedral Place

Cathedral Place is named because of its proximity to Christ Church Cathedral. To understand the origins of the decorations on the current tower at Cathedral Place, which has been named The Shaw Tower at Cathedral Place, you need to know a little history.

The Georgia Medical Dental Building, pictured above, was built in 1929 on the corner of Georgia and Hornby Streets. It was an art deco building designed by McCarter, Nairne and Partners (who were also responsible for the design of the Marine Building). The Tower had 17 floors with an exterior facade decorated with terra cotta and masonry. Most of the tenants were doctors and dentists, thus the Medical Dental building title, and it was Vancouver's first comprehensive medical dental building. At about the 10th storey level were three 11 foot terra cotta statues of Nursing Sisters in WW1 uniforms, one on each of the corners along Georgia and Hornby Streets. These statues were designed by Joseph Francis Watson, a sculptor and architect who worked with McCarter and Nairne, and were chosen to reflect the medical use of the building and to honor the WW1 nurses that McCarter credited with saving his life when he was badly injured while serving overseas in WW1. In the 1980's when the building was found not to be up to the earthquake standards of the time, it was gutted and then brought down by a controlled explosion. The demolition took place on Sunday morning May 28, 1989 and lasted 10 seconds. The streets around the building were closed off and a large crowd gathered to witness the event.


The three terra cotta nursing sisters were the only items from the facade that were saved. The Vancouver Museum took the least damaged head from the three statues, (which had deteriorated through time and neglect), repaired and patched it and holds it for display. A fibre glass replica of this head, shown below, is now on display in the lobby at Cathedral Place.

The original statues were too badly damaged and too heavy to be remounted on the new building. They had been molded in terra cotta and filled with concrete and weighed about 5000 pounds each. The least damaged statue was repaired and used as a model to build fibre glass replicas (500 pounds each).
"Requiem for the Medical Dental Building" contains some interesting details about the building and pictures of the nursing sisters and front entrance way. The article compares the Nurses' statues to "twentieth century gargoyles" and suggests they were "placed there in 1929 to remind us that it is now the wonders of modern science, not the mysteries of medieval superstition and magic, that will save us from evil spirits...".

The Shaw Tower at Cathedral Place, a 23 storey office tower, was opened in 1992. It was built in a post modern style, the facade includes limestone, granite and blue green reflective glass. Paul Merrick headed the design team. The decorations on the exterior of the building, which  were done by Ital Decor Ltd. include replicas of the Nursing Sisters (about the 3rd storey level), gargoyles placed much higher up the building (perhaps going unnoticed by many) and beautiful relief sculpture. Highlights of the molding and placement of the decorative details can be viewed in this slideshow. In 2003, 3 more replicas of the nursing sisters statues, called the "Sisters of Mercy", were mounted on the UBC Technology Enterprise Facility III.

The Nursing Sisters, gargoyles and some of the other decorative details were used in the ink and watercolour work "Creature Comfort". I found the contrast between the noble stance of the nurses and the menacing look of the gargoyles very compelling. The Shaw Tower's roof in blue green glass is to me a modern homage to the copper roof on the Hotel Vancouver, just across Georgia Street.

ART SHOW @ Knox Fellowship Hall, May 29, 2011 from 11 am to 3 pm 

My painting friends and I will be having an art show and sale at Knox Fellowship Hall on Sunday, May 29, 2011. Knox Fellowship Hall is located beside Knox United Church at 5600 Balaclava Street,
one block east of Blenheim just north of 41st Avenue. There will be a variety of media (watercolour, acrylic, oil), subjects and sizes of original work and light refreshments will be served. Hope to see you there. Here are some of the paintings I will be showing:

Thank you for reading this post, please feel free to leave a comment.

1 comment:

  1. This is an absolutely fascinating post. I didn't know any of the history, having moved to Vancouver in 1999, and only recently developing an interest in its architecture. Part of that interest is growing because of your web site. I do hope I can drop in to the art show. Perhaps, a reminder on one of my posts the day before would help me to remember - I'm memory challenged right now with a crazy schedule! Thanks again, for this post. Very soon, I'm going to backtrack and catch up with the others.