The Marine Building is arguably Vancouver's best example of Art Deco architecture. When viewed from West Hastings Street, the upper terracing and pyramidal roof of the 21-storey building contrast with the graceful swooping envelope of the MNP Tower, together forming one of the city's most impressive architectural vistas. The tallest building in the city until 1939, the 98-metre-high tower no longer even scrapes the top 50 in Vancouver, but in a sea of glass and concrete, its value to the urban fabric is growing with time.
Development of the Marine Building was kickstarted by Toronto's Lt. Commander J.W. Hobbs and Stimson Developers to house commercial shipping interests and the Vancouver Merchants' Exchange. Local architects John McCarter and George Nairne were retained for the project, having already designed the city's first Art Deco skyscraper, the now-demolished Georgia Medical Dental Building in 1928. Their collective vision evoked "some great crag rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, tinted in sea-green, touched with gold."
The building's architectural ornaments highlight Vancouver's economic importance as a major hub for sea and rail trade. A marine theme visibly cascades throughout the exterior, with terra cotta panels at the base portraying the history of the area's transportation and the discovery of the Pacific Coast. Just above the ground floor, a frieze is decorated with waves, seahorses and marine fauna, while the main arch of the Burrard Street entrance is festooned with a ship's prow and Canada geese. The bronze-framed revolving doors are surmounted by a pair of ospreys clutching fish, with clams, salmon, lobsters, turtles, and octopuses among the marine life defining the rest of the metallic entrance.
From its opening in 1930, a sweeping observation deck provided views from the top. But the 25-cent admission price was increasingly difficult to justify during the Great Depression, and the deck was eventually closed to public viewing. In recent years, the Marine Building has found a starring role in some of Hollywood's biggest film and television productions. It moonlighted as the Daily Planet headquarters in Smallville and stood in for the Baxter Building in Fantastic Four.
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