Archive for the ‘McCarter Nairne & Associates’ Tag

701 Granville Street (4)

Granville south 1

As we noted in a previous post, the original retail store for Eatons on ‘Block 52’ in Downtown was a couple of storeys shorter than building that has recently been given a comprehensive makeover by owners Cadillac Fairview. The initial 1973 building, designed by Cesar Pelli with local architects McCarter Nairne Associates was in practice a rework of an even earlier design. Back in 1966 noted architect I M Pei was hired by the Fairview Corporation (which was established in 1958 as the real estate division of Cemp Investments, the holding company of the Bronfman family). His design for the retail store was relatively unchanged in the Pelli design; even the semi-circular corner entrance off Georgia was in the original design. The TD tower was quite different (and somewhat taller) with a white concrete grid design similar in some ways to the 200 Granville building on the waterfront, (the only tower from the ‘Project 200’ development that was built).

Our picture (above) must date from around 1974, when the IBM Tower (in the foreground to the right of the picture) was nearing completion, and the transit mall had yet to be built. There’s a sliver of the Birks building showing on the left. The image below probably dates from 1973, when the tower frame construction was well on the way. The construction was steel – not a construction system we see too often these days.

Eatons Granville 2

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 800-450 and CVA 800-441



701 Granville Street (3)

700 Howe (not Granville)

Here are two more images that illustrate how different the 1981 Eatons incarnation of the Pacific Centre Mall departmental store was to the newly reclad and reconfigured building that’s there today. On the Howe Street side the building still offers little relief; it’s a box with emergency exit doors at ground level. The entrance ramp to the underground parking cuts into the sidewalk (and the entry ramp up the street crosses it on the corner in a way that traffic engineers would never allow today).

On the Granville Street side the design wasn’t significantly more pedestrian friendly; there was a narrow black slot window, and then emergency exits (that had to be retained in the redesign). The entire remaining building face was composed of concrete ‘stone’ panels; windowless except for another black slot under a curved metal façade on the top floor.

700 Granville 1

Further north along Granville the previous inset entrance has been filled in, and there are display windows rather than black glass panels.

Granville south 2

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W02.16, CVA 779-W02.19, and CVA 800-848


701 Granville Street (2)

Sears Nordstrom 5

Our previous post looked at the recent changes to the retail box designed in 1973 by Cesar Pelli at Victor Gruen Associates with McCarter Nairne and Associates as local architects. The 2012 building wasn’t by any means how it looked when it was initially designed, or back in 1981 when these images were shot. Construction work was still underway adding the top floors in a McCarter Nairne design that earned it the nickname of “The Great White Urinal”. (The curved top, which was metal rather than concrete, was, when clean, quite shiny – which didn’t help).

The Howe and Robson corner (above), shows the original slot entrance; a more dramatic black and white element. The 1999 reconfiguration opened it up; the contemporary building brightens it even more. The 1999 changes on the Granville and Robson corner were more dramatic – the original design didn’t have any glazing at all; the blank concrete faced the street corner. The 1999 rework opened up the corner a bit, but today’s version is very different.

Pacific Centre 1

There was a semi-circular drum facing the plaza in front of the TD tower. When the building was completed a soaring sculpture by George Norris was installed. It was removed and donated to City of Surrey in 1988, who waited 8 years before selling it for scrap.

Sears Nordstrom 6

The upper four floors of office space have been given an entrance on the Georgia Street plaza, and named as 725 Granville. There was some doubt that the huge floorplates would find tenants – in practice the space was leased before the building work was completed. Lawyers Miller Thomson were the first to sign up, and they were joined by Sony Pictures Imageworks (who moved their entire operation from California to occupy the fifth floor) and Microsoft, who occupy over 140,000 square feet of space on the top two floors.

Image sources: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 779-W02.17, CVA 779-W02.10 and CVA 779-W02.18


701 Granville Street (1)

Sears Nordstrom 3

This is the most recent ‘before’ image we’ve posted. We hadn’t even shot it when we started blogging here less than four years (and 500 posts) ago. Despite the relatively short passage of time, the building looks very different. It also evolved quite a bit over the years before our 2012 image, above, as we’ll show in the next few posts.

In 2012 Sears were heading into their final closing sale in Downtown. They had moved into the space occupied by Eaton’s when they acquired that company in 1999 after T Eaton & Co filed for bankruptcy in 1997. An initial attempt at re-launching the Eaton’s brand failed, and the long lease that Sears held on the Pacific Centre property saw them rebrand as Sears, although they didn’t fill all the floors. Sears never seemed to be particularly successful, despite having little lower cost competition Downtown, and eventually Cadillac Fairview, the building’s owner, made them an offer to buy back the remaining period of the lease, and started to plan for a new use for the building. (Sears had previously been the retail tenant in the Harbour Centre, where Eaton’s had also previously been located (before Harbour Centre was developed) when they took over the Spencer’s Department store in 1948).

When Sears closed there were seven floors of store space and a basement. Cadillac Fairview already had a taker for some of that space: Nordstrom’s the Seattle-based retailer wanted to enter the Vancouver market, and wanted a large floorplate space Downtown – but only three floors. Although Cadillac Fairview  had considered demolishing the building, the idea of repurposing the steel frame of the 600,000 square foot structure allowed a much faster build-out. Nordstrom’s occupy nearly half the above grade structure. The basement floor has a new access from the street and is a continuation of the underground mall section of Pacific Centre that was completed in 1973. The top four floors had two light-well spaces pushed into the centre of the building and office space created.

Sears Nordstrom Granville 1

The original design was by Cesar Pelli, working at the time for Victor Gruen Associates in Los Angeles (although Gruen had returned to his native Austria when the mall was designed). The local architectural partners were McCarter Nairne and Associates. Pelli’s buildings had simple, dramatic black and white elements. The TD tower (and the slightly later IBM Tower) were clad in very dark brown glass that looked black much of the time. The retail box was clad in white concrete ‘reconstituted stone’ – described a year after completion as showing ‘a predilection for austerity’. It started life at five storeys, but two more were added in the early 1980s. The recent reconfiguration and recladding of the building were designed by James K M Cheng.

The building is now much more open and glazed (with 1,700 new panels of glass), with an attempt to break down the bulk of the box and to reflect the design of other Nordstrom stores that frequently feature cream limestone. Over 91 per cent of the previous building has been re-purposed or recycled – over 6.8-million kilograms of material. The concrete panels were taken to Langley Airport to create roughly 6,000 square metres of new roadway. Other concrete went through a crusher and was ground down to gravel and sand. Gypsum was extracted and reused as new stock and wood went into a chipper and was reused as biofuel.


Post Office – West Georgia Street

Georgia St Post Office

Here’s the city’s fourth post office building, completed in 1956 and designed by McCarter, Nairne and Associates (the same architects who designed the Marine Building). This image was shot somewhere between 1960 and 1980 – although we think it was earlier rather than later in that range, judging from the vehicles – possibly 1965 if we’re reading the plate on the Oregon registered Mercedes correctly.

Post OfficeThe building is likely to see some fairly dramatic change in the near future. Recently sold by the Post Office for over $150m to the BC Pension Fund, a proposal to redevelop (by adding more structures above the 1950s building) is being considered. That won’t necessarily be dramatically different from the original intent for the building – today there’s a truncated two-storey office on top. but the original design was for a much more substantial office slab tower.

When it was built the structure was said to be the largest welded steel frame in North America. That’s an important distinction – there are many bigger buildings, but if it has a steel frame, it’s usually riveted, not welded. The repurposed building could see retail, office, hotel and residential uses, and the current parking area on West Georgia would become a plaza (presumably with the opportunity for some outdoor seating).

Image source: City of Vancouver Archives CVA 780-56


Posted 14 May 2015 by ChangingCity in Downtown, Still Standing

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