Architecture of City Hall

View of Vancouver City Hall in 1936 from Yukon Street
Photograph by Leonard Frank, 1936

City Hall building history

The architectural firm of Townley and Matheson designed Vancouver City Hall, and the Carter-Halls-Aldinger Company built it. The $1 million construction cost was provided by a special bond issue.

Built during the depths of the Depression, this landmark structure envisioned by Mayor G.G. McGeer was both a make-work project, and a symbol of the newly enlarged city, the result of amalgamation with Point Grey and South Vancouver.

Vancouver City Hall opened December 4, 1936, and was designated a heritage building in 1976.

About the design

City Hall's style stands at a transitional point between the vertical, highly ornamented Art Deco style and the simpler, more horizontal Moderne.

The main entry to the north leads through a vestibule into to a double-height lobby. The lobby is remarkable for its sumptuous finishes and period fittings and has been beautifully maintained in its original condition. The floors are a rich cream and black terrazzo, and the walls are clad with highly-polished sheets of marble. Engaged fluted marble pillars rise to horizontal brass banding that caps the walls, with a gold-leafed ceiling above. Mezzanine balconies look out onto the space, which still has its original chandelier light fixtures. Two clocks are set into the marble wall, and the directional signage is original.

Throughout the building, each lock plate of solid cast bronze displays the Vancouver Coat of Arms. Each doorknob bears the monogram of the building.

The stairwells that lead off the lobby are clad with polished marble panels, with black marble baseboards and floor detailing. The stair treads are a different colour of marble. The gold-leafed ceilings are highlighted with centred streamline banding. Octagonal newel posts mark the landings, and elegantly simple solid brass handrails are mounted on the inside walls.

Near the south entry (facing 12th Avenue) is the elevator lobby. The low-banded ceiling is finished with gold leaf, and the walls are clad with polished marble. The solid-brass elevator surrounds and doors are original, and the period fixtures and fittings have also survived. The cast brass building directory on the west wall is also part of the original design. The elevator cabs retain their superb rich inlaid wood marquetry and period light fixtures.

Council Chamber

On the third floor, the ceremonial and formal spaces including the Council Chamber are substantially intact. The Chamber is two storeys in height, with a rear wall balcony, central inset clock, high windows, large brass wall sconces, and beautifully veneered wall panels. The woodwork is lovingly detailed, and is very well preserved. The four large modernistic cast brass suspended chandeliers, with obscure glass insets, still light the Chamber.

There are some other highly luxurious period features, including sumptuous staircases with marble walls, newels posts, treads and risers, and gilt ceilings.

Near the Council Chamber, the City's official mace rests in a display case. The walls and additional display cases offer views of photographs, gifts, and artwork from Vancouver's sister cities.

Visit Vancouver's City Hall

City Hall is located at 453 West 12th Avenue. Visitors can view the lobby, stairwells, elevator, and third floor Council Chamber Monday to Friday between 8:30am and 5pm. Vancouver City Hall is closed Saturday and Sunday.

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