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In photos: A tour of downtown Victoria's 104-year-old Customs House heritage restoration project

Downtown Victoria's iconic Customs House complex is being seismically upgraded and transformed from a federal office complex to luxury condominiums.  Citified.ca

In photos: A tour of downtown Victoria's 104-year-old Customs House heritage restoration project
MIKE KOZAKOWSKI, CITIFIED.CA
The heritage restoration of the Customs House building at the nexus of Government, Wharf and Humboldt streets in downtown Victoria has been underway since last summer as Victoria-based Cielo Properties works to repurpose the building into luxury condominium residences and ground floor commercial spaces.
 
Most Victorians have been unaware of the complicated seismic upgrading and restorative work taking place within the 104-year-old structure, or the complex demolition preparations for the building’s 1950’s-era faux-heritage addition which will be replaced by a seven-storey luxury residence.
 
Citified was fortunate to be accompanied by Cielo Properties on a tour of the heritage building's restoration process and the pre-demolition state of the modern addition, which we now present to you.
 
Built in 1914, Customs House was constructed on the former foundation of the City of Victoria’s 1898 post office at Wharf and Government streets.
 
“Ottawa’s Federal Department of Public Works assigned their chief architect, David Ewart to the task of creating Customs House,” reads a statement on the Custom House’s history. “Drawing on the inspiration of a summer in Europe and the grand buildings of London, Ewart designed a highly detailed structure in the ‘Empire’ [architectural] style.”
 
In the 1950’s an addition to the building was constructed along Government Street. That addition will be demolished this summer and construction on a seven-storey luxury condominium will begin later this year while the historic Customs House will receive an additional, setback storey atop its rooftop.
 
Customs House 1
 
 
A primary component of securing the exterior shell of the Customs House building is through a ‘vice-like’ process that retains the building’s exterior structural integrity as crews rebuild the interior. The complicated array of steel secures the structure in the event of seismic activity and ensures the building envelope is protected from the work taking place inside.
 
Customs House 2
  
 
Old meets new. Entering the Customs House complex through the service vehicle entry we see the facade of the historic building (at left) opposite the facade of the modern addition (at right). This small space between the two buildings was once an open courtyard which was converted to an enclosed parking area. The area was the sole parking provision for the entire complex.
 
Customs House 3
  
 
Upon entering the first floor, visitors and workers are presented with the sheer complexity of a historic restoration process. Air circulation components are exposed in the ceiling, flooring and wall materials are removed and steel beams hold up the floor plate above. The restoration strips the structure to all but the bare minimum of its structural self. Meanwhile in the second photo crews have cut away a portion of the floorplate to separate it from the exterior facade. This process is repeated floor-by-floor.
 
Customs House 4
 
Customs House 5
  
 
Entering the modern addition, a similar situation can be seen with the building interior stripped to its basic shell. Debris litters the floor and wires hang from the ceiling.
 
Customs House 6
 
 
Here we see a section of the modern addition where interrogation rooms, as they are believed to have been, were situated. Immigration officers would have separated individuals into these rooms to conduct interviews or assess an individuals immigration status. The second photo shows two of these rooms side-by-side.
 
Customs House 7
 
Customs House 8
 
 
A component of the modern addition’s air circulation system. This large fixture of one of the upper floors stands as tall as a grown man.
 
Customs House 9
 
 
A view to the east from one of the modern addition’s upper floors. This level of the building is nearly ready for demolition.
 
Customs House 10
 
 
A view to the south from the safe floor as depicted in the photo above. This view overlooks the Inner Harbour with the British Columbia Legislature visible in the distance.
 
Customs House 11
 
 
Views to the west and south from atop the Customs House.
 
Customs House 12
 
Customs House 13
 
 
An artist’s rendering of a seismically-restored Customs House transformed from an office complex to residences. C
 
Customs House rendering
  
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