Club’s San Francisco Architect Had Canadian Roots

Union Club History #2

This is the second in a series of historical bulletins which sketch the origins and history of the Union Club by members Douglas Franklin and Martin Segger.  They draw from the research for our nomination document seeking national heritage commemoration.

Club’s San Francisco Architect Had Canadian Roots

Francis Mawson Rattenbury, according to the minutes of March 13, 1911, reported to the Union Club Board of Directors that the selection committee, headed by himself, recommended architect Loring P. Rixford of San Francisco as winner of the international design competition and that he be appointed architect for the new club building on Gordon Street.  Rattenbury, the Leeds-born architect who at 23 had won the competition to design the British Columbia Parliament buildings, had exhibited a more than passing interest in the design of the new Club.  And with good reason.  Ultimately he was to be responsible for three other major monuments in the James Bay harbour precinct: the Empress Hotel and waterfront causeway (1907), the CPR Steamship Terminal (1923) and the Crystal Gardens Swimming Pool (1924), the latter two in partnership with Percy Leonard James.  A long-time member of the Club, Rattenbury had designed a 1902 addition which doubled the size of original 1885 clubhouse one block away.

The Club board minutes, 1909 through 1912, document Rattenbury’s close management of the project, from the architect’s offer to back the syndicate putting up the funds to buy the Badminton Club property on Humboldt Street from Senator W. J. Macdonald, Rattenbury’s further offer to research and produce the conceptual design program for the new buildings, his presenting the guidelines for the architectural competition, the adoption of his suggested changes to Rixford’s winning design, his attendance with Rixford as progress on design and construction was reported to the board through the 1911 construction process. The construction contract was let to the Seattle firm, Sound Engineering and Construction Company; the high-quality exterior glazed terra-cotta came from the California works of Gladding, McBean & Co.  Furnishings were supplied by two local companies: Messrs. Shallcross, Macaulay & Co. and Messrs Turner, Beeton & Co.  At the point of tendering completion, the minutes record Rattenbury and Rixford reported to the board total projected expenditures for construction and furnishings, $351,919.65.

Loring Pickering Rixford (1870-1946) was a native of California, but someone having roots in Canada. He was born in San Francisco to Gulian Pickering Rixford and Caroline Covey.  Gulian Rixford was born in Vermont but graduated from McGill University in Montreal as a civil engineer. Loring’s mother was a Canadian, born in Stanbridge, Quebec.  Loring studied architecture at the University of California in Berkley and under Bernard Maybeck.  Upon graduation in 1894, he was employed in the office of architect Albert Pissis.  Two years later, in 1896, he travelled to Paris, France, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.  At that time, the Ecole des Beaux Arts was one of the world’s pre-eminent centres for the teaching and learning of architecture.  Paris itself was being transformed according to the plan of Baron Haussmann and others into the epitome of Nineteenth Century urbanism, with its grand boulevards and monumental public buildings.  The Ecole was undoubtedly at its apex in teaching eclecticism within the disciplines of building design and urban planning.  Indeed, this institution gave its name, the “Beaux Arts Style,” to a generation of monumental architecture and grand-scale planning in many countries.

After spending five years at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, Loring P. Rixford returned to California and, in 1909, was appointed chief architect for the City of San Francisco. Among his designs in that city were the Bohemian Club and Denman School, while he also built the Carnegie Library in the State capitol of Sacramento.  Rixford’s designs reflect the dominant idiom of Classical and Renaissance motifs favoured by architects of the Ecole des Beaux Arts. Dignified monumentality and the rational planning of spaces are characteristics of the Beaux Arts Style.

Next article: The Union Club and the early development of civil society in Victoria.

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