Monday, February 22, 2010

Snider Plaza: Standard-Life Phase III

[Edit November 2010: I hear that this project will not be going forward.]

Tomorrow, Tuesday 23 February 2010, the City of Ottawa's Planning & Environment Committee (agenda) will be considering an application to alter the zoning at Laurier, Bank and Slater, to accommodate the third phase of the Standard-Life buildings in addition to the ones at 280 Slater Street and 333 Laurier.

Here's an overhead shot from Bing Live Maps. The tall red-ish building at the top is 333 Laurier, and its fraternal twin to the North (below it in the photo) is 280 Slater.

The parking lot between it and the buildings along Bank are to be part of the proposed new 18-storey building, and the facades of the heritage buildings are to be incorporated into the new development. More on that later. The block at the corner of Bank and Laurier, once a furniture store and now owned (or at least occupied) by a forestry workers union, is not part of the development.

Here's an aerial shot from 1926 that includes the site. At the centre of the shot is the Jackson building, and the block south of it (to the lower-right) is the subject block. It's certainly changed a lot since 1926.

The site used to include the Odeon Theatre, which was destroyed in the nearby 1958 explosion, as described in the Jackson building post. This heritage plaque on one of the buildings reproduces an Ottawa Journal cover and photos of the fatal damage to the Odeon theatre.

There are two other plaques on the site, one of which includes this 1878 survey map. Snider Plaza is at the far right, roughly where that angled building is.

Today, or more specifically in early December 2009, there are two heritage buildings along Bank Street, separated by the former Odeon's space, called Snider Plaza after the painted black-and-white ad on the far building. Across the street is the Jackson building.

In the near building, affectionately (not!) referred to as 152-160 Bank Street, are three storefronts, with apartments above. The GNC store at 160 succumbed to the reconstruction of Bank Street back in 2007, with witness marks of its former neon sign. The zoning by-law amendment sign sits in its window. The Blue Gardenia Cafeteria next door at 156 Bank is also closed, though its sign also remains...

...though it was removed sometime in December, as shown in this late-December 2009 photo. The bylaw amendment signs moved into its windows.

The Money Mart store at 152 Bank doesn't seem to have been particularly hard-hit.

Next door is the plaza, which was used as a patio for various events, featuring the Ugly Iguana Cajun Cantina in the summertime. Gates close it off on the front and rear.

The rear of 152-160 Bank Street has some interesting character to it, if you excuse the flat red wall. The wooden doors at the third storey, for example. This will all be gone and only the front of the building will make it into the new development. At the back of the Plaza is a brick wall with a decorative gate, whose posts have decorative horse-head shaped heads.

According to one of the plaques, the wall was constructed of bricks from the facades of the former buildings at 144 and 148 Bank Street.

Looking from inside the plaza across Bank Street, the back of the placard is less inviting than the Bank Street Promenade advertisement on the front.

The centrepiece of the plaza is this large stone fountain. The heritage storefronts across the street are also visible.

The north side of the plaza is bordered by the South wall of the corner building. Those two green arches were recovered from the facade of the original Heagle Building, which was at 148 Bank Street, and rebuilt in 1960 following the explosion. The intent is the current development will re-use these arches in the Bank Street frontage of the new building. At the right of the wall near the bottom are the three heritage plaques, and in the background are the Jackson building at left and the relatively new Telus building at right.

At the top of the wall is an old painted advertisement (signed by J.F. Belanger) for photogapher G.A. Snider, one of the original tenants of this building. Pigeons were occupying the roofline when I took this photo.

One of the plaques carries a good description of this building:
The corner building, designated as a heritage building by the City of Ottawa, is a good example of late 19th century commercial architecture. Built in 1891 by William Cousens, its first tenants included a grocer, a shoe store, a florist, and a photographer, G.A. Snider, whose advertising sign is still visible. The Facade illustrates the importance of a corner site through the use of high quality masonry construction and decorative brick, stone and terra cotta. Its exuberant mix of Queen Anne and Italianate styles typifies the expansionary mood of the 1890s.
Looking down from the next block over, we can see a streetcar and the Jackson Building in the foreground, with the corner building and its former corner tower, and the marquee for the Odeon Theatere further back, which reveals this photo was taken before the 1958 explosion.

As you can see, the tower is no longer there. Nor, of course, is the Odeon Theatre. In the background of this photo (looking South-West at Bank and Slater) you can see the completed Mondrian building and the first two Standard Life towers.

The top of the building is decorated with a distinctive cornice. Lower cornices were removed and replaced with flat store signs some time ago. In the background, the Jackson Building's exterior is far less decorated than it used to be.

Around the back of the building are some other interesting features. On the ground floor is an entrance with a curved mosaic tile wall. The rear wall is undecorated, though there are plenty of windows.

This drawing shows the ground floor site plan of the new building. Note the label at the bottom right, which labels a hashed line as "Extent of existing heritage facades to be retained". In between the new building and the first two phases will be an alleyway for loading trucks.

The three-storey parking garage under the new building will attach to the existing parking garage, and will use the same entrance on Slater. It will replace this surface parking lot, which extends all the way from Slater to Laurier. Again you can see the Mondrian at the rear and the first two Standard Life building phases at right.

Along Slater is a row of trees separating the sidewalk from the parking. This barrier also helps to prevent people from driving right over the sidewalk! At far left is the Jackson building, then the Telus building, with the BMO building and l'Esplanade Laurier at right.

Here's what the proposed new 18-storey building will look like. Definitely not the same as the first two Standard Life buildings. It's pretty big, and like the recently-built Mondrian and under-construction 150 Slater, it will be clad in glass. At the ground level, it will be broken up into separate elements to keep the pedestrian scale. The new building sections will be set back from the heritage facades to give them prominence.

The cornice above the storefronts on the corner building will also be restored, though the signs of the new retail tenants will likely populate the windows of the buildings, so don't expect this clean rendering to be a spitting image.

As it's north of Gloucester, height is not a concern, and it does a decent job of respecting the heritage facades, though it's a bit of a pity that most of our otherwise intact retail heritage buildings survive only on the surface. I guess the plaza will go, too.

You can view more of the details in the application documents posted on (that is, until the application is processed and the documents removed!)


  1. Snider Plaza and the paved lot behid it was also the site for the Centretown Movies Outdoor Film Festival for its first two years (2001-2002?). I remember huge crowds over 600 people for movies like Star Wars, Indianna Jones and Wizard of Oz. Centretown Movies was kicked off when Standard Life turned the site into a parking lot (after committing to the city that they would not do so when they demolished the previous building).

  2. Thanks for the extra info! I didn't have as much time to research this one as I did for Jackson and Lorne, so keep the juicy details coming!

  3. I wish Diamond Bar-B-Que was still there. Ottawa needs a good barbeque joint

  4. Awesome post. I love learning more and more about the history of my neighbourhood.

    The Blue Gardenia actually moved further north on Bank St. I have no idea if it's still there. The GNC was in trouble before the Bank St. reconstruction - the ceiling caved in before the construction began and it was closed for many months, reopened for a few months and then closed again. I'm sure the opening of Popeye's up the street didn't help.

    The Ugly Iguana cantina closed two summers ago. The ripped out the building last summer. It's a shame that the courtyard is usually locked up. There's really no place in the area to go and sit and enjoy the surroundings or read a book, aside from a small plaza on the other side of the Standard Life phase on Laurier.

    Thanks for posting more info about the development. We got a letter inviting us for input into the construction, but opted not to get involved. I'm hoping that this development will mean more ground-level commercial that is open in the evenings and on weekends!