Mahogany panels were salvaged from Vancouver’s first art deco skyscraper.
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The Cardero is one of Vancouver’s most striking new towers. Zig-zags of “origami-like screens” float up and down the 26-storey building, turning it into what architects the Henriquez Partners proclaim is “a modern obelisk” for downtown.
But one of its most unique features can’t be seen from outside: the art deco boardroom on the fourth floor. The drop-dead-gorgeous mahogany panels were salvaged by Drew Ratcliffe’s family during the demolition of the Georgia Medical Dental Building in 1989.
Ratcliffe’s late grandfather, Arne Mathisen, had once owned the building, and when he sold it in 1971 he asked the new owner, Ron Shon, if he could have the boardroom if they ever tore it down.
“They had a handshake deal,” said Ratcliffe. “So sure enough that handshake deal came to fruition in ’89 when the phone rings. ‘Hey, the building’s coming down, come and get the board room.’
“Of course the panels didn’t fit in the elevator, so there was a whole lot of hand (moving). The joys of a family business. We walked it down the stairs. What else do you do on a weekend?”
The boardroom was in the penthouse of the 17-storey building, so that’s a lot of stairs. It went into a garage for a few years before being installed in a building the family owned at the corner of West Georgia and Cardero streets.
Ratcliffe’s family’s company, Arpeg, recently redeveloped the site at 1575 West Georgia St. in concert with Bosa, and the boardroom went into storage again. But it’s been brought back to the new highrise on the site, The Cardero. The mixed-use building has offices, a gym and commercial space on the bottom five floors and condos on the top 21.
Arpeg has an office on the fourth floor, which it developed as part of a new office concept called And-Co, where companies lease space and can use amenities like a wellness centre, a restaurant and the art deco boardroom.
“People would come into our office, see this and then ask, ‘Can we borrow the boardroom for a meeting?’ ” said Ratcliffe. “That really got us started here at And-Co: ‘Well, maybe there is something to this amenity idea.’ Not everybody has this — in fact nobody has this. But people want this. So to come in here for a meeting once a week or once a quarter (is a big selling feature).”
“It was a lot of work, a painstaking amount of work,” said Bahris. “I went through every single wire brush in town.”
The restoration took several months. Originally Bahris and a co-worker hoped to get the panels back to their original glory by a “gentle cleansing by hand” with sodium phosphate. But the more they cleaned the more they realized they had to go further.
“We realized that a finish had been put on in the ‘80s, an orangish disgusting lacquer that wasn’t original,” he said. “It came off, and it revealed the depth and beauty of the real reddish-orangish hues of the Honduran mahogany below. These are big panels, but we thought, ‘We have to redo them all.’ ”
“It’s a meticulous, meticulous restoration,” said heritage consultant Don Luxton, who worked on the project. “This is what I call museum-quality work.”
Indeed, Bahris is such a perfectionist that he sourced period hardware for the room.
“There’s no reproduction hardware in that room, it’s all authentic,” said Bahris. “I took out all the original white brass, which is an inferior brass, and I put actual brass in the room, because the room deserved that.”
It really brings out the beauty of the room, which was constructed in 1932 for Richard P. Baker of Vancouver Properties, which originally owned the building. Luxton said the design is “typical of art deco of the time period.”
“There’s a lot of art deco symbolism packed in there,” he said. “You would see things like sun rays, ziggurats, chevrons. These are the typical art deco motifs that have been worked in. You can read a lot into this stuff. You can read in oil derricks, you can read in stuff that was the technology of the time.
“Art deco was all about technology, speed, but it was all abstracted ornamentation. So often it wouldn’t be completely representational, it would be abstract geometry.”
Ratcliffe went all-out installing the boardroom in its new space. It’s located in the interior of the office, but includes the original windows.
So they added a special touch, going up to the 17th floor of Cathedral Place on the old Georgia Medical Dental Building site and making a video of the view, to simulate what it would look like if the art deco building were still standing.
“When we’re really ready to launch, the original view will be on these screens (behind the windows),” said Ratcliffe.
Asked how much it all cost, Ratcliffe laughs.
“I don’t even want to know. We haven’t finished it. Whatever that number is, the effect of the board room … we’ve had tours, people come in, and everyone comes back to here.”
That said, the designers of the offices initially didn’t think it would work in such a high-tech, ultra modern space as the And-Co offices.
“It’s one of the very few times I’ve had to put my foot down,’” said Ratcliffe. “ ‘Look I know you guys are experts in your field, but we’re going to do this. If we’re wrong, we’re wrong.’ Now the hardest thing we have on-site is keeping people out of here.”
The Georgia Medical Dental Building was designed by architects John McCarter and George Nairne, who designed the Marine Building a year later. The dental building was built for doctors and dentists, and was equipped with its own operating theatre. It opened on Sept. 7, 1929, a month before the stock market crash that triggered the Great Depression.
Nairne’s grandson, Colin, said George Nairne used to complain that the doctors and dentists were quite cheap, which makes Ratcliffe chuckle. His grandfather was a cardiologist who formed a syndicate to buy the dental building in 1954. In 1966, he bought out the syndicate.
“My grandfather was … frugal,” he said. “So he buys this building, and the lobby had too much open space, and not enough rental square feet. The first thing he did was he got rid of the hand-operated elevator, because labour was too expensive. Then he goes to work on the main floor retail. At the time (the first floor) was all travertine (stone). So he strips that all out to do retail.
“The next thing you know, all the family has coffee tables made out of that. To this day, I still have one of them. My kids are, ‘Dad, what is this crazy thing?’ ”
The city is hoping the exhibit will encourage more residents to go downtown and visit its businesses in the process while celebrating “the reconnection of our communities in the aftermath of the pandemic.”
“This project directly supports free, accessible delivery of arts and culture programming to the community while enhancing the downtown core,” said a January 24th report for council.
The city can apply for up to $100,000 and must do so before the end of March 2023.
Craft comes in all forms: fibre, wood, pottery, glass, metal, paper and more.
From the 13th century onwards, practitioners were traditionally associated with a Guild, the decline of which corresponded with the Industrial Revolution and mass production. Craft as an ideology came about during the 19th century British Arts and Craft movement as an antithesis to modernity.
According to the Washington, DC-based James Renwick Alliance for Craft, “Craft is a particular approach to making with a strong connection to materials, skill and process. Art is most traditionally thought of as drawing or painting that is a visual depiction of a personal expression.”
The trouble starts with questions around the relative value or hierarchy of that which is utilized (craft) to that which is admired (art).
For our most recent Umbrella magazine, the Quinte Arts Council dedicated the winter issue to celebrating the Art of Craft and how the lines between the two often blur in innovative and exciting ways.
We profiled 12 Quinte-based craftspeople who express their art through their craft.
The first is blacksmith Amy Liden, of Liden Forge in Picton, Ont.: Think of any medieval movie with swords and there’s most likely to be a blacksmith; often a hulking sweaty man pounding away on an anvil. Based on representation in popular culture, it would seem blacksmithing is a male-only profession. It’s not.
While women smiths are a minority, the Holkham Bible of the 1300s includes an illustration of a woman forging a nail. And this year, 30 percent of students in the Artist Blacksmith program at the Haliburton School of Art and Design are women – the same program Amy graduated from in 2016.
Liden’s background is in fine art, graduating from OCADU in 2013 with a major in Sculpture and Installation. It was there she discovered metal as a sculpting medium. “I love how malleable metal can be,” says Amy. “I love being able to manipulate such a structural and rigid material just by changing its temperature. I think its versatility allows me to challenge myself creatively to push the limits of what has traditionally been done with blacksmithing and fabrication.”
After Haliburton, Amy moved to “The County” to apprentice with local master blacksmith Bruce Milan at Island Forge.
“I was drawn to pursue blacksmithing as a career after working with Bruce,” she says. “He showed me how to work with clients and how to apply my creativity to projects to support myself financially. Blacksmithing is steeped in history: the first evidence of smithing dates back to 1350 BC in Egypt.”
In her practice Amy strives to incorporate traditional blacksmithing techniques and design principles into her work.
“I love utilizing the forge itself to apply heat to the steel, using the anvil and hammer to forge scrolls and a variety of shapes, and the leg vise to bend and twist bars,” she says. “ I think it’s these skills that help me stand out in the community of metal fabricators.”
Amy opened her Picton-based Liden Forge last May and has been focused on commission-based custom work. And while she feels incredibly supported by her community, she recognizes she is still an anomaly:
“As a young woman blacksmith, I’ve been faced with doubt in my capabilities, but I feel like that has also driven me to keep pushing myself. I’m constantly trying to expand my knowledge so that I grow with each project and can keep taking on bigger and better projects.”
The Winter 2021 issue of Umbrella magazine is out now.
Episode 63 of The Tideline, with Tara Thorne, is published.
Josh MacDonald is a veteran of stage and screen, familiar to Halifax audiences through films and shows like Diggstown, Spinster, Little Grey Bubbles, and Sex & Violence. As a screenwriter his works include the horror film The Corridor and the coming-of-age story Faith, Fraud and Minimum Wage, which was based on his play Halo. He’s got his playwright’s hat on when he visits the show this week to discuss #IAmTheCheese, his adaptation of Robert Cormier’s 1977 bestseller. On January 30, he’ll discuss its evolution along with the show’s director, Ann-Marie Kerr, as part of Eastern Front Theatre’s Early Stages Festival.
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