Archive for the ‘CBK Van Norman’ Tag

Fraser Building – 540 Seymour Street

540 Seymour 1974

Here’s a modest building seen in this Archives image when it was in its early working years – just 26 years old. Although it’s only two storeys, it’s still standing today and it would be eligible for a pension, as it turns 65 this year. In the image you can see a sheet music retailer, Modern Music and a Scottish Imports store.

When it was built back in 1948 the retail store included an E A Morris tobacconists store, while the rest of the building had a variety of office tenants, including Traders Finance Corpn Ltd, Precision Housing Co Ltd, J H Read construction structural engineers and a couple of stock broking firms. Precision Housing and J H Read shared an office and they shared with a third tenant, and it’s that tenant that gives the building some significance. CBK Van Norman, the architect, had his offices here, and he was the designer of the pre-fabricated Precision Housing system in the 1940s.

We’re reasonably certain that the Fraser Building wasn’t just Van Norman’s office – we think it was a Van Norman designed building. Although the plans, which are in the Archives, are still protected by copyright (as the building is still standing) they seem to match the building. The building doesn’t currently appear on the ‘Post 40s Register’ of important more recent buildings.

Today it’s had some changes to the store fronts, there are different screens below and above the windows, and the colour scheme has been reversed (at least, from the way it looked in 1974). But for the most part it’s still looking pretty good (for a pensioner).

Photo source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 778-402


Posted January 15, 2013 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

Tagged with

Customs House – West Pender Street

Customs House 1

We successfully lined up two images of this building. It’s another of CBK Van Norman’s buildings, built in 1955 and demolished in 1993. A solid ten-storey reinforced concrete building, it occupied an irregularly shaped site immediately to the south of the Marine Building at the junction of West Pender and Burrard Street. After various design iterations through 1949 and 1950 it was eventually completed in 1955. Aluminum framed windows alternated with granite spandrels and the composition was framed by end piers of Haddon Island stone.

Customs House 2The Federal Government decided to replace the building in the early 1990s, but the replacement building wasn’t completed until 2002. Designed by Architectura for Canada Lands and Public Works Government Services Canada, the 19 storey tower incorporates a number of energy-efficient and green building features and houses several Environment Canada activities as well as Department of Fisheries and Oceans offices. The building recycled some of the black granite from its predecessor, and the lower portion of the building along West Pender is almost a replica of the earlier structure.

It is now named after Douglas Jung, the first Canadian Member of Parliament of Asian decent (although Jung was born in Victoria). Although too late to change the decision on the Customs House, the move to demolish the building led to the creation of a Post ’40s register of buildings that can be considered for heritage status once they are 20 years old.


Posted January 8, 2013 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Gone

Tagged with , ,

The Burrard Building

Burrard Building

CBK Van Norman was one of Vancouver’s most respected architects of the International Modern style. He was born in Ontario in 1906, studied in Manitoba, and worked for Townley and Matheson in Vancouver from 1928-1930 and sometimes with McCarter Nairne from 1930 to 1950. From 1955 to 1968 he practiced exclusively under his own name and designed some important Vancouver buildings, some of them already lost (including the Customs House). Van Norman was also part of the design team for the Royal Centre; his contribution to the design was the buttresses on the corners being used for the air conditioning and other systems.

The Burrard Building, built between 1955 and 1957, is still with us. The architect described the building as offering “a modern functional office space, a prestige address, and a choice downtown location”. With no local firm capable of building it, Van Norman hired the Utah Company of America to build his 200,000 square foot building and then was met with delays as the complicated skin took longer to assemble than expected. The original curtain wall design was switched to allow air conditioning to be installed, and the replacement design involved 18 by 10 foot panels , eight inches thick, attached directly into the steel frame.

Burrard Building 1956 brochureIn 1988 Musson Cattell designed a new skin for the building which changed it from a strongly horizontal oriented tower into a more contemporary glazed box. Interestingly, this actually reflects quite closely what Van Norman showed on a 1956 brochure for the building – in some ways the building today more closely resembles it than the 1950s version as built.

The building is still popular with tenants, and vacant suites are generally leased quickly. Although the site is one of very few Downtown that has no viewcones crossing it – and hence no height limit for a replacement building – leases on the few suites on offer today are for up to 10 years, suggesting the owners are in no hurry to cash in on its redevelopment potential.


Posted January 7, 2013 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

Tagged with ,