Doors Open Vancouver invites public inside city landmarks

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      Like a “great crag rising from the sea”, as its architects imagined, the Marine Building in downtown Vancouver once towered over the rest of the British Empire.

      Opened in 1930 as the city emerged as a major international port, the 22-storey skyscraper is an iconic landmark at the corner of Burrard and West Hastings streets.

      With its opulent design, the Marine Building is hailed as one of the best examples of the art deco style that was popular between the two world wars.

      On Saturday (June 24), the office tower will be opened to the public as part of a free festival organized by the City of Vancouver.

      Called Doors Open Vancouver, the event provides people the opportunity to visit some of the most interesting buildings in the city.

      Civic historian John Atkin is one of the advisers for the program, and he will also provide guided tours of the almost 100-metre-tall Marine Building in the afternoon.

      “It’s a great initiative because it gets you out exploring your city,” Atkin told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview about Doors Open Vancouver.

      Local historian John Atkin will offer tours of the historic Marine Building.
      Another Believer

      As an example of the learning opportunities, Atkin noted that many people may find it hard to imagine that the Marine Building was once on the edge of the city

      “That was the end of the city,” he said. “And so the key thing was it was the marker for all of the steamships and passengers that came into Vancouver. You came around Stanley Park and you saw the Marine Building.”

      The exterior of the Marine Building.

      Doors Open Vancouver will feature 12 city facilities and four privately owned buildings, including the Marine Building.

      Among the private spaces is the bell tower of Holy Rosary Cathedral (646 Richards Street), where visitors can witness how the ringing of a set of eight church bells is accomplished.

      Also in the mix is the glass-enclosed Scotiabank Dance Centre (677 Davie Street), designed by deceased architectural great Arthur Erickson and used for lessons, rehearsals, and performances.

      The city is focusing on aboriginal culture in its celebration of the 150th anniversary of Canada this year. Fittingly, Doors Open Vancouver includes Skwachàys Lodge, an aboriginal hotel and art gallery at 31 West Pender Street.

      Designed by the late architect and Chinatown activist Joe Wai, Skwachàys Lodge integrates Victorian and aboriginal building designs. It has a smudge room and sweat lodge in the rooftop garden for traditional spiritual purification.

      Doors Open Vancouver developed from an idea that came out of the Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force, which looked at ways to deepen the sense of belonging of city residents. It had its inaugural event in the fall of 2014.

      Krisztina Kassay works in corporate communications at city hall, and this is her first year as manager for the event.

      “It’s really a way to get citizens more engaged in how the city works,” Kassay told the Straight in a phone interview. “People are actually quite curious about the city and what we do at the city.”

      Skwachàys Lodge has added a strong indigenous presence to the block west of the Millennium Gate on West Pender Street.

      Of the 12 city facilities that will be opened, Kassay said that the administration office of the board of parks and recreation at 2099 Beach Avenue is probably the least known to Vancouverites.

      According to her, the heritage building completed in 1962 is a “beautiful hidden gem”, expressing the West Coast modernist post-and-beam style.

      Doors Open Vancouver offers something for everyone.

      People interested in engineering and hard infrastructure can go to the False Creek Energy Centre (1890 Spyglass Place) and the Fire Protection System Pump Station at David Lam Park (1400 Homer Street).

      Animal lovers can check out the Vancouver Animal Services Shelter (1280 Raymur Avenue) and the Vancouver Police Department Mounted Unit, located on Pipeline Road across from the bus loop in Stanley Park.

      Scotiabank Dance Centre was designed by Arthur Erickson and helped accelerate Vancouver's rise as a major international centre for modern dance.

      Behind-the-scenes guided tours are also available at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library (350 West Georgia Street). Discover where 3-1-1 calls are received at the call centre at 1800 Spyglass Place. At the same address, visit CityStudio to learn how collaborative, innovative ideas are born to make Vancouver more livable. And see where Vancouver firefighters train, at 1330 Chess Street.

      Visitors can marvel at the magnificence of the Orpheum (601 Smithe Street), home of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. As well, Vancouver City Hall (453 West 12th Avenue) will also open its doors, along with the National Works Yard (701 National Avenue), where street signs are made, among other things.

      Follow Carlito Pablo on Twitter @carlitopablo.

      Doors Open Vancouver takes place on Saturday (June 24) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit the website.