I M A G E S:
Henry Birks & Sons Building(1/1893-12/1893)
1240 Saint-Phillips Square [620 Sainte-Catherine Street West], Montreal, QC, Canada
Commercial, Retail store [basement, 4 floors]; stone; composite

Client: Henry Birks & Sons
Architect: E. Maxwell

Description: Edward’s career was invariably shaped by the special relationships he cultivated with his early clients, such as the Bank of Montreal, the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the Henry Birks & Sons Co. The house designed for Mr. Henry Vincent Meredith (165) and his wife Isobel Brenda Allan on the slopes of Mount Royal opposite Ravenscrag in 1892, helped Edward to gain an established position in Montreal. His first major commercial commission for Henry Birks a commission which made it possible for Edward to leave Shepley Rutan and Coolidge in Boston. Edward began discussions with Henry Birks while supervising construction of the Montreal Board of Trade Building (167) for the Boston firm. Henry Birks was born in 1840 in Montreal, eight years after his family had emigrated from England. He found employment at the age of seventeen with Savage & Lyman, then Montreal’s leading watchmaker and jeweller. In 1878, when his employer was forced into liquidation, Birks used his savings, to buy the stock and establish Henry Birks & Company in a rented shop on Saint-James Street. Three years later, in 1892, Birks asked Maxwell to design a new store slated for a prime site that he had acquired on Sainte-Catherine Street at the corner of the Philips Square opposite the Henry Morgan & Co. Edward’s work from the first half of the 1890s, was strongly influenced by the Romanesque/Italian Renaissance designs of Edward’s American employers, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge. A preliminary study of the Henry Birks & Sons building resembles a compressed version of the SRC work and reveals how heavily Edward borrowed from the transitional, half-Romanesque, half-Renaissance, Board of Trade design. The Birks’s building is a tripartite composition marked by round-arched windows and main doorway. Maxwell initially gave much importance to the façade facing Sainte-Catherine Street, while the east elevation, facing Phillips Square, was much more simplified. As the design progressed it became more urbane, acknowledging the presence of the square. The rounded corner was created at the request of the client and the fussy ornament which was evident in the early study was reduced. These ornaments were then evenly distributed across the wall surface as it curved around the corner to greet the square. This proved to be beneficial when the building was later extended to the south and around the corner along Cathcart Street. The construction of the four-storey building started in 1893. The ground floor windows have decorative cast-iron lintels that form a belt-course and allow for maximum display areas at street level. The buff-coloured Miramichi sandstone is laid in alternating narrow and wide courses. At the ends and on the rounded corner, the narrow courses project at the first and second storey levels, providing textural contrast. The ornamental frontispiece, composed of an arch with a bold keystone, flanked by rondells, and framed plaques, marks the entrance on Sainte-Catherine Street. The same motif is also repeated in the second storey windows above the entrance giving uniform composition to the façade. The treatment of the round corner appealed very much to Maxwell. It appears on two buildings he designed shortly afterwards. The first, constructed in 1895, was an office building commissioned by the Merchant’s Bank of Halifax (161), which later became the Royal Bank of Canada at des Seigneurs and Notre-Dame Streets in the expanding industrial working-class district bordering the Lachine Canal. This building is a storey higher. The composition and ornament especially the entrance treatment is very similar to that of the Birks store, the only difference being that the entrance to the banking hall is on the corner. The other was the head office and main exchange for the Bell Telephone Company of Canada on Notre-Dame Street designed in 1895. It was strikingly like the Board of Trade, within view just one block to the south. Round-arched openings, rusticated corners and richly profiled cornices are the features of the Maxwell’s commercial work during the 1890s.

Holdings: Retail store (basement, 4 floors); stone; composite
51 Drawings: 19 ink on linen; 6 ink on paper; 3 pencil on paper; 12 watercolour on paper; 11 blueprints
4 Development drawings: floor plans, section
16 Working drawings: floor plans, roof plans, elevations, sections
30 Detail drawings: foundations, floor plans, elevations, vestibule, entries, structure, electrical, elevator screens, windows, fittings, fixtures, cornice, plasterwork, woodwork, tilework, brasswork
1 Record drawing: elevation
1 Photograph: 1 finished exterior
1 File folder: clipping

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