Guinness Tower, West Hastings Street

The UK economy in the 1930s was hard-hit by the world economic downturn. Some wealthy investors took the opportunity to find bargains; the Anglo-Irish Guinness family turned their gaze (and a little of their wealth) to Vancouver. In 1931 they paid $75,000 for 4,700 acres of land in West Vancouver known as the Capilano Estate, which they renamed as the British Properties. To access it they built the Lion’s Gate Bridge. Their Vancouver agent, Fred Taylor also helped them pick up a bargain office tower, the Marine Building, which they paid $900,000 for in 1933, although it had cost $2.3m to build only a couple of years earlier.

The building sat on a larger parcel of land, and in the early 1960s they hired Charles Paine and Associates to design an international style office tower on the adjacent part of site. The architect was practicing in Calgary in the early 1950s, and designed a modernist complex in Calgary in the late 1950s for the same developers. Almost nothing has been published about Charles T Paine, who is often described as a ‘British architect’. In 1967, when the construction of the Guinness building commenced, the Vancouver Sun confirmed he had moved to Vancouver. (He had his office on the 17th floor of the Marine Building).

“23-storey Guinness Building will tower over Vancouver harbor after completion in early 1969. Work on $8.9 million office structure at 1055 West Hastings designed by city architect Charles T. Paine is due to start next month.” It appears that the building might initially have been planned to be even more significant. An earlier 1967 article noted “Tenders have been called by one of the Guinness brewing interests, for a downtown 29-storey office tower which will also. have two penthouse and four “basement levels. Specifications prepared by architect Charles T. Paine for British Pacific Building Ltd., one of the Guinness family companies’, indicate a structure that would cost about $10 million. The building is to be erected at 1055 West Hastings on a frontage of about 330 feet near the University Club. Guinness interests also own the Marine Building at the adjacent corner of Hastings and Burrard. Financing has been arranged and as construction permit has been obtained from the city. Tenders will be received until noon, Aug. 11. – The building will Jut 362 feet above the level of the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks between it and the harbor, and occupants of the penthouses will look out above the Marine Building. Entrance to the building from Hastings Street will be through a plaza”. Like the tower, the lobby of the building has a restrained design. It features an enormous ceramic basrelief mural depicting marine life by artist Jordi Bonet.

Paine designed a three-legged observation tower planned for the 1300 block of West Georgia for the Guinness real estate business in 1971. It included a revolving restaurant with seating for 340, a night club, cocktail lounge, coffee shop and souvenir shop. “According to Paine the tower would be the tallest structure in Canada and the observation tower would be the highest on the continent. It would be built on three legs and would be completed in I5 months. Glass-encased elevators would travel on the outside of the structure. Paine stressed the view of the mountains from the observation platform but according to the technical planning board the development “would prejudice Vancouver’s natural mountain setting.” A few years later Paine and Ching designed Oceanic Plaza, on the opposite side of West Hastings, again for the Guinness family development company. In 1981 the Calgary offices – the tallest in the city when they were built in 1957 – were given a makeover by British Properties, and Charles Paine supervised the work.

For many years the Guinness Tower was in the ‘front row’ with an unobstructed view of the north shore. In the late 1980s, when we think our ‘before’ shot was taken, (Jim Muir clarified the date by spotting the Advanced Cab, that stopped operating in the late 1980s), and through to the 1990s it stood alone. James Cheng’s office and residential Shaw Tower (for Westbank) was completed in 2004, and the Fairmont Pacific Rim, a condo and hotel tower by the same architect for the same developer alongside in 2010. Portal Park, alongside the Guinness Tower, has a quirky postmodern design that seems increasingly dated. The park sits over the north entrance to the CP Railway tunnel, which was opened in 1932 to move freight trains across the downtown peninsula, and is now used by SkyTrain. The Guinness Tower is now a designated heritage building, associated with the development of the MNP Tower squeezed in behind the Marine Building and completed in 2015.


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