Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Sunday, January 14, 2018

You're in Good Hands with ...Metropolitan

Doing my best to capture the exterior grandness of the 1927 'Wellington Building' on a summer's day-trip to  Ottawa, I snapped the monumentally colonnaded facade (somewhat) through a  rather grimy glass canopy (faithful replica of the original) above the gleaming brass doors.

For a proper look at this grand Beaux Arts building, your best bet is my desk-chair travelling companion, Google's Streetview.

But then this happened. The former Canadian headquarters of the Metropolitan Life Insurance company became the setting for the best up close and personal experience on my Ottawa walkabout last August.
from Sparks Street, west elevation along Bank Street

All my to-ing and fro-ing in front of the building drew the attention of a uniformed figure, who emerged silently, his  demeanour rather menacing. "I'm allowed?" I squeaked.  I was informed that I was safe provided I had no plans to photograph any of the security arrangements for the PM's office across the street. Easy to assure him that was NOT my interest. Though I like to know folks are being kept safe.

getting closer
So instead of being upbraided, I was invited in,  into the lobby of this former wonder of the commercial world, whose rather Byzantine glories have been recently restored. It was fun to hear the story from my conspicuously proud host.

The vaulted lobby ceiling is encrusted with  mosaic murals (almost a million glass tiles) depicting the protective power of the insurance company, the building's former inhabitant. Shamelessly maternalistic images portrayed the protection of the "great Metropolitan mother" (good grief) and her reassurances: "at destruction and famine thou shalt laugh"is one of the quotes emblazoned above the mosaics. Don't think today's insurance coverage extends quite so protectively.

Bank at Wellingtoin
If you'd like to hear the story from Megan Gillis at the Ottawa Citizen, here's an article about the $425 million restoration, with some great still photos and a 45 second video tour (another job loaded onto reporters' shoulders in this new multimedia world.)

What a shock after the business-suit grey exterior!
The rest of the building, considerably toned down from the foyer, will house meeting rooms and offices for seventy MP's. An interior living green wall and solar water heating highlight government's committment to saving the planet.

Like so many grand early commercial structures in the area of the 'Parliamentary precinct' this one was expropriated in the early 1970s.

Although I've read reports complaining about the lack of street life which is leading from government use of former commercial buildings, at least the Federal government has some of my money to devote to these impressive restoration and rehabilitation projects. I'm good with that.

A few photos destined NOT to do justice to the lobby. Go see for yourself. 180 Wellington Street.

Here's everything you wanted to know and I forgot to mention, in Historic Places

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