We previously identified one important architect’s own-designed office that’s still standing last year. Here’s another that, given its modest size, is even less likely to be still standing. How much longer that continues to be true remains to be seen. This was Townley and Matheson’s office, built in 1941 (although not featured in the RAIC Journal until 1948, and so attributed to that date in some sources).
Fred Townley, born in Winnipeg and brought up in Vancouver, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s architecture department in 1911 and had his first designs built here a year later. Robert Matheson was born in PEI, but the family moved to Vancouver where Robert started work as a carpenter before he too headed to the University of Pennsylvania to study architecture, graduating the same year as Townley. On his return to Vancouver he joined his architect father in partnership, and they designed several buildings still standing today – some featured on this blog. Townley and Matheson joined forces in 1919 and became one of the most active architectural firms in the city. Although both were designers, Townley carried out more of the design work while Matheson was said to manage the business and liaise with their clients. They designed the Stock Exchange tower, several schools including Point Grey School, many commercial buildings Downtown and on West Broadway, houses – particularly in Shaughnessy – and of course the new City Hall on West 12th Avenue.
At the height of their success, as City Hall was nearing completion in 1935, Matheson fell ill and died aged only 48. Townley was forced to take over running the company as well as acting as head designer. Matheson’s name was retained on the business (right through to 1974 after both founding partners were dead). This new office was modest in scale but showed the company’s strength in designing clean, modernist structures – continued in many buildings designed by the firm for the Vancouver General Hospital. Townley died in 1966 having helped design over a thousand buildings, almost all in Vancouver.
Today the building is recently abandoned – last used for many years as part of Umberto Menghi’s il Giardino restaurant. Although that business is reported to be reopening elsewhere, it’s reported that the old premises have been sold, and rumours suggest redevelopment will be proposed, although the 1888 Leslie House (just visible on the edge of the photo) is on the Vancouver Heritage Registry.
Image source City of Vancouver Archives CVA 1399-411