Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, January 14, 2018

America Hurrah

I'm still mining my Wellington Street walk for building stories. This sophisticated limestone Beaux-Arts Classical beauty dated 1931/32 is the former U.S. Embassy across from Parliament Hill. The Historic Places description notes that nation's efforts at the time to market its image around the world, with such purpose-built embassy buildings "signifying  the rise and establishment of the United States as a leading world power." Not so clear-cut a mandate in these troubled times.

Here's a Streetview peek which will have to substitute for my own, as I struggled to get good images free of  parking and pedestrians. Here's the austere main entrance, with some hefty modillions above supporting a wrought-iron grille over the impressive sash windows. An Italian palazzo landed in a provincial Canadian town.

As we know, this fine building was abandoned in 1999, as space and security concerns prompted the move to fortress USA on Sussex Drive near the Byward Market.

I was as interested in the banners draping the facade of the spurned beauty as I was in the architectural pedigree of the place - one can get a bit jaded with all the built beauty about.
The motif, the eagle feather, suggested the building's repurposing as a place with relevance to matters indigenous. When I was back at my computer, I tracked down the controversy. Empty since 1998, the building has just recently been bequeathed to the nation's first people as a "performance, artistic, cultural, archival or a working space for Indigenous leaders" - at the time of a Toronto Star piece in June 2017, the plans were none too clear.
And the nation's first folks are none too happy with it either. Here's some press about the unpopular decision.  The phrase "Colonial overtones" has popped up.

Lots of government types eager to get tenants into the building suggest it's just the spot -  geographically significant. A government cheer leader enthused that "if the Parliamentary precinct were a monopoly game, this would be Park Place." True, it is an architectural gem. But a bit of a white elephant. And with no immediately apparent connection to the culture of Canada's first peoples.
American Embassy to the right of building in foreground

Here's a photo from my 1930s 'Dominion Series View Book' of Ottawa sights and sites. The embattled building in a simpler and more peaceful time.

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