Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Showstopper Space

Yesterday I showed you one former bank on Sparks Street that has been converted into government space. This is another example, one that I've shown you the exterior of before. The Bank Of Montreal established this Beaux-Arts beauty here in 1930 as a main branch for the bank in the city, right across from Parliament Hill. The bank left these quarters in 2005, and has since established a new main branch a short walk away. The government has made the building into a conference and reception center accessible from both Wellington Street and Sparks Street, and named it in honour of our first Prime Minister. The Sir John A. Macdonald Building was first opened for Doors Open last year, but I missed getting in, so this year I made sure to stop in. It is definitely a showstopper inside.

The stairs that lead down to the Sparks Street level also lead to the vault, which today is used as a conference space. The vault door itself is still there, and it is thick.

One final space I wanted to show was the bank manager's office back in the day, and this fireplace is in it. 

The building is a beauty, inside and out, and generally speaking, Doors Open is the only time the public will get in. I can definitely see its value for receptions and conferences, so it was well worth the effort for the government to transform it into this new use.

This final view takes in the building from the Sparks Street side. I will return to the Doors Open series after the beginning of the month, as I still have other sites to cover.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

A Library In The Bank

This is a regular location for Doors Open, located on Sparks Street, a block south of Parliament Hill, which features prominently in its current use. Built as the main Ottawa branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia in the Beaux-Arts style, it dates to 1924. The building is now one of the annex spaces for the Library Of Parliament, which has turned the interior into an archive, blending older architecture with new infrastructure. It's usually only accessible to Parliamentary staffers, so Doors Open is ideal to have a peek inside.

The visitor first comes into what was the manager's office, and is now a conference room. Period photos of the bank were placed on the table.

Within the interior space, we see the floors of newer infrastructure that house documents on both sides around the open area below. All of that is designed in such a way that it doesn't interfere with the building itself. Staffers were on hand to answer questions about what's done here most of the time.

This staircase leads down to what is today a staff lunch room, but which was, back in the day, the bank's vault. Tomorrow I'll show you a building a short walk away that was once a bank, but is also now converted for government use.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Czech Embassy

I have switched out the header image yesterday for one taken last August, at the Rideau Canal's Ottawa locks during Colonel By Day festivities.

Near the Embassy of Hungary in yesterday's post is another embassy, for the Czech Republic. First built in 1879 in the Victorian vernacular style, with additions added on in 1913, this house has been home to the Liberal Federation and the University Club. In 2000, it took on the embassy status it retains to this day. The embassy has been a regular feature in Doors Open for the last few years.

Apparently Lex Luthor was there that day. Or was that Captain Picard?

This room also had art hanging as an exhibit, in a very modern style.

The architectural style of this place really appeals to me.

This bust was on the top of a cabinet in this room. It depicts Vaclav Havel, the writer, dissident, and politician who shepherded the transition from the partitioning of the former Czechoslovakia into two nations as the final president of that country, and then as the first president of the Czech Republic. This bust was to be presented a few days after this event to the University of Manitoba by the Czech ambassador, as the note beside it explained.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Birkett Castle

Birkett Castle, as it's been called from its earliest days, returned to the Doors Open circuit this year. It dates back to 1896, built on behalf of its first owner, Thomas Birkett, who was the mayor of Ottawa at the time. It is done in a Baronial Gothic style. It has served several purposes after Birkett's day, including as the Japanese embassy and the headquarters for the Canadian Boy Scouts. Since 1994, this is the embassy for Hungary.

A good deal of the interior decorating details are Hungarian, such as the maps, tapestries, china, or a bust of King Stephen I in the entrance. The woodwork in here is incredible.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Grant House

Grant House is a building I have not featured in the blog before, but I imagine it has been in the background of shots at some point. It stands across from the City Hall and provincial courthouse precinct downtown, and was part of Doors Open. It dates back to 1875, and takes its name from its first owners, James and Maria Grant. James was a doctor who ran his practice from here. The design is in the Second Empire style, and the house counts First Baptist Church, at the right, as a neighbour. The building behind it, Performance Court, is much more recent, an interesting design that took the place of a parking lot and was finished in 2014. It houses numerous offices, including embassy missions for New Zealand and South Korea, and the glass partially encloses Grant House at the back in a way that makes the older building stand out. While Performance Court is 21 stories high at its peak, it  transitions down in width the lower you go, so the effect is that it doesn't overwhelm Grant House.

After Doctor Grant's day, the house was a university club, and a restaurant for many years prior to the building of Performance Court. Grant House is a focal point for ghost stories, as it is said that the place is haunted, though one wonders if there have been any incidents since the new developments. Today it serves as home to the Beckta Dining and Wine Bar, a fine dining establishment that relocated here after Performance Court was finished. Dining rooms are set up in the rooms of the old house, which looks beautiful inside, seating intimate groups of six up to several dozen. A main kitchen can be found on the second floor, with a bar at the back side of the main floor. When I got in, it was shortly before their Doors Open hours were at an end, and a guide was speaking with several people in the room adjoining the bar about the history of the house.

I wanted to get a couple of shots from the back of the house, which as you can see here is now enclosed within the atrium of Performance Court. It's a curious mix of older and new, but it works well. 

Here are more interior views of dining rooms, as well as a look in the kitchen, where chefs were at work for the evening hours of the restaurant. Grant House looks like it is in very good hands.