Segal Building

This landmark heritage project has involved a complete exterior restoration and rehabilitation of one of Vancouver’s most significant buildings. Located at the corner of Granville and West Pender Streets in the heart of downtown, this is one of Western Canada’s premiere examples of an Edwardian era “Temple Bank.”

Originally the headquarters of the Merchants Bank, it was designed by the architectural firm of Somervell & Putnam in 1915. It was the regional main office for the Merchants Bank of Canada until 1922, when the bank amalgamated with the Bank of Montreal, which two years later commissioned architect Kenneth Guscotte Rea to design a large addition consisting of a new central entry complete with a colonnaded concourse and three mirror image bays to the south of the original building. Rea mirrored the original so that the entire ensemble remained consistent in its Classical Revival design and details.

Significantly, this building sits in the very centre of Vancouver’s Edwardian era downtown, adjacent to the recently rehabilitated London Building (also by Somervell & Putnam), and close to the Rogers Building and the Bank of Commerce (now Birk’s). Once the Bank of Montreal relocated in the 1990s, this building sat vacant for years with its fate uncertain and its grand banking hall a daunting space for any proposed re-use. A saviour was clearly needed to rescue this building from its abandoned fate.

Dr. Segal, a Chancellor Emeritus of Simon Fraser University, has for the past two decades spearheaded Simon Fraser University into the downtown core of Vancouver, played a leadership role in the creation, development and renovation of Harbour Centre, Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, and now the new Segal Graduate School of Business. This project is the latest in a series of three successful downtown campuses completed by Simon Fraser University and it continues the SFU tradition of high academic standards and quality built educational facilities. All three downtown campuses are within walking distance from one another with the Segal Graduate School of Business perfectly located within the financial district of Vancouver.

Dr. Segal purchased and donated the building to SFU with the “vision” of preserving and transforming the significant landmark bank building and rehabilitating it into one of the premier business schools in Western Canada. Premier Gordon Campbell and the provincial government donated $7.5 million dollars at the fundraising campaign start up celebration. Another $11 million dollars was raised by the business community and “friends” of SFU during the campaign that Dr. Don Rix, another well known philanthropist, was chairman for. The original conceptual watercolour renderings by Paul Merrick of Merrick Architecture were given to key donators / contributors of the project with the Granville Street exterior façade sketch given to Joseph Segal in honour of his continuing involvement in the BC business community and of his generosity to SFU.

The proposal by SFU was to insert into the historic building, a Graduate School of Business specializing in research for emerging areas such as biotechnology management, technological entrepreneurship, international financial markets, organizational change and managing for sustainability. It also partners with businesses to create responsive and relevant executive education and graduate management programs tailored to meet today’s industry needs. Many members of parliament were present at the grand opening ceremony including The Honourable Lance Finch, chief justice of British Columbia and Dr. Segal who unveiled a commemorative plaque in which Michael Stevenson, the President of SFU, announced “With the opening of the Segal Graduate School of Business, SFU is achieving a new level of leadership in business education and establishing Vancouver on par with other major North American cities that benefit from downtown business schools”.

While the Segal Graduate School of Business was the third heritage rehabilitation project for Simon Fraser University, it differed in principle from the first two projects. It retained a large portion of the building structure as well as significant interior architectural features of the main banking hall space such as the marble pilasters and sills, coffered plaster ceiling, existing bank vault doors, decorative fire hose cabinet and directory, cast bronze stair newel posts, cast iron elevator frames, hot water radiators including cast bronze grilles on the original 1915 side, and an original clock. Harbour Centre and the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue retained significantly less heritage features. A Heritage Revitalization Agreement was written between the City of Vancouver and SFU giving heritage incentives for exterior and interior aspects of the building as well as density bonusing. The building has been fully seismically upgraded and a large effort was undertaken to conceal, integrate and minimize new structural components into the existing heritage interiors and exteriors. The newly renovated building has been designated as a municipal heritage site.

There had been a number of intrusive alterations that were reversed in the exterior restoration. The large plate glass banking hall windows with their ornate cast iron window frames have been retained; one window that had been altered with the insertion of a fire escape was fully restored including its cast iron frame and stone sill. The original colour scheme was re-instated and the exterior presented as it was when completed in the 1920s, including a restoration of the original Classical Revival front door surround. The exterior features were restored using andesite from the original quarry on Haddington Island, which has now been opened again for business. All existing double hung wood windows on the upper levels have been refurbished and remain operable with new laminated glazed units installed in the existing sashes.

The interior work was equally complicated in scope and detail. The existing banking hall on the ground level has a floor to ceiling height of approximately 35’ and is one of the last “temple” bank spaces remaining in Vancouver. The original plaster coffered ceiling and decorative plaster mouldings above the pilasters of the banking hall were refurbished/ retained or newly added, and previously demolished portions of both were rebuilt to match the existing. Colour sampling of the original surfaces revealed a monochromatic cream tone which matched the stones surfaces for a monolithic appearance, and this was re-instated in the final design. For functional reasons, a new “u-shaped” floor level was strategically inserted within the high volume of the original banking hall allowing views to the coffered ceiling and still respecting as much of the high ceiling “temple bank” volume in the concourse and 2 side areas fronting Granville street. The new Level 2 is located 16’ above the ground level and allows the occupants to experience a higher and new view of the banking hall space. It also provides a proximity to the existing decorative coffered ceiling never before experienced inside this space.

Most interior partitions are glazed, allowing the main banking hall to remain as open as possible and letting in natural light via the large exterior windows while also maximizing views to the decorative coffered ceiling. Interior detailing is sympathetic towards the original building’s character utilizing decorative metal railings with wood handrails, wood columns, wood transom and wood doors incorporating stained and textured glass. The intent was to restore, refurbish and renovate the building in a simple, elegant manner while respecting its heritage and design, plus incorporating all of Simon Fraser University’s programmatic, acoustic, audio-visual, seminar and banqueting requirements.

This landmark heritage project has been featured in Architecture BC, Award Magazine, Canadian Property Management, and a featured “pullout” section of the Vancouver Sun in May of 2006. The project received a 2006 City of Vancouver “Honour” Heritage Award, the highest honour for heritage projects in Vancouver, an AIBC Special Jury Award for the Lieutenant-Governor of BC Awards in 2006 and a 2007 Heritage BC award for Outstanding Achievement. Providing a classic, timeless, quality building as a setting for teaching and learning, it cultivates an attitude of enthusiasm and success.

The Segal family has generously provided Simon Fraser University with a home for its graduate management programs and in appreciation for this gift, the building will now hold the family’s name in its permanent title — The Segal Graduate School of Business.

Source: Heritage Vancouver