The Marine Building

It was 1.1 million dollars over budget in the making. A big deal, particularly in 1930. But the 2.3 million dollar Marine Building opened to great fanfare – uniformed doormen! Women in sailor suits showing off five high-speed elevators! – and has only grown in stature since.

These days, the Marine Building, situated at Burrard and Hastings, sits atop the majority of Most Iconic Buildings in Vancouver lists. UK Poet Laureate and architecture buff, Sir John Betjeman, called it: ‘the best Art Deco office building in the world.’


Major James Skitt. Matthews. 1947. City of Vancouver Archives


The twenty-one floor Art Deco building was designed by the architectural firm of the Victoria born John Y McCarter and the Scottish born George C. Nairne. Both architects had served in World War I overseas. Though the Marine Building came in over budget, McCarter & Nairne was known for its focus on economic efficiencies. As a result, they kept busy with government contracts during the Depression. After almost 50 years as tenants in their own building, McCarter & Nairne moved down the street in 1980.

Celebrated California Arts and Crafts artist Ernest Batchelder did the incredible tile work. Giles Holroyd took the lead on the plasterwork. Viewers were originally charged 25 cents to look at the building lobby from its Mezzanine Observation deck, but the price was deemed unaffordable during the Depression.


Major James Skitt. Matthews. 1931. City of Vancouver Archives


Some highlights of the Marine Building include:

1. The unique exterior shape. The building was meant to look like ‘some great crag rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, tinted in sea-green, touched with gold.’

2. Stained glass depiction of Captain Vancouver’s ship on a sunrise sail at the Main Entrance arch.

3. Namesake marine life carved round the building – geese, lobsters, starfish, seaweed …

4. Terracotta cameos that include explorers Captains Cook, Quadra and Drake.

5. A Terracota transport theme with trains, biplanes and zeppelins.

6. The Marine theme continues in the lobby with plasterwork ships in roiling waves.


Marine closemarine front doorslobby tileselevator


7. Building-crowning friezes of Neptune surrounded by seafoam, sporting trident and crown.

8. Bronze entrance and elevator doors.

9. Elevator walls with meticulously designed patterns featuring 12 types of inlaid hardwood.

10. A lobby filled with stained glass and modeled after a Mayan temple.

11. A beautiful etching of the zodiac signs on the lobby floor.

12. A penthouse with wild rumours around its historic goings-on.


A Life in Films
Not surprisingly, the Marine Building has been a popular site for Hollywood North. You might have seen it as Daily Planet Headquarters in Smallville, CC Jitters Coffee Shop in The Flash, Richard Kester’s Office in Lucifer or a bank in Watchmen.

McCarter and Nairne’s creation was particularly prominent as the Baxter Building in the Fantastic Four movies. In this clip, Victor von Doom spends a lot of his fighting time in front of the Marine Building.




Sheri Bakes


Polygon Gallery

Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton