The Marine Building in downtown Vancouver is one of the world’s most exquisite examples of art deco architecture. When it opened in 1930, it had the distinction of being the tallest building in the British Empire. It was designed by the firm of McCarter and Nairne to evoke in their words, “some great crag rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, tinted in sea-green, touched with gold.”
The level of detail in the building is a wonder to behold. The terra cotta exterior is inlaid with reliefs of state of the art forms of transportation from the 1920s: zeppelins, steamships, and biplanes. The giant brass doors pick up the marine theme with intricately carved seaweed, turtles, crabs and seahorses. The doors open onto a dazzling lobby, where the wall ensconces take the form of plaster ships riding the crests of waves carved into the lobby walls. In the building’s heyday, the five elevators were operated by beautiful women in sailor suits who would escort passengers in what were the fastest elevators in the city.
Where once the iconic building dominated downtown Vancouver, today it is dwarfed and somewhat lost amidst the newer skyscrapers. But visitors to the Marine Building will be as awestruck by its beauty as they would have been when it opened its opulent doors over eighty years ago.
The beauty of the Marine Building has not been lost on Hollywood either with the ornate edifice having been featured in a number of movies and television projects. Most notably, the building has stood in for some of the most famous locations from superhero comic books such as the Baxter Building in two Fantastic Four films and Clark Kent’s workplace, The Daily Planet, in TV’s Smallville.