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Commercial Chambers Building Registered Heritage Structure

Commercial Chambers Building, St. John's, NL
Commercial Chambers Building, St. John's, NL
Commercial Chambers Building, St. John's, NL

Statement of Significance

Formal Recognition Type

Registered Heritage Structure

Description of Historic Place

Commercial Chambers Building is a Romanesque Revival, brick masonry building located at 197 Water Street, St. John’s, NL. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

Commercial Chambers Building was designated a Registered Heritage Structure by the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1996 due to its aesthetic, historic, and cultural values.

Commercial Chambers Building has aesthetic value because it is a wonderful example of a Romanesque Revival commercial building. This masonry building features many unique details for a downtown St. John’s structure. The five bay façade has arched windows with the central bay projecting in a tower-like formation. Detailed brickwork is delineated by several stringcourses and pilasters. A diaper-pattern feature separates the second floor from the third floor windows, while the first floor boasts a storefront façade. The central bay is further enhanced by large pilasters, a semicircular arch over the door and granite squat dwarf-columns. A stained glass round-arch transom above the main entrance features a schooner, representing the importance of mariners in Newfoundland. The granite dressing stone providing the base for the columns gives a finished look to the entranceway. High above, at the eaves edge, are dentils, heavily moulded parapet and a repetition of semicircular arches. The words “Erected 1896” are prominently featured at the top center of the front façade.

Interior details are equally as impressive. Most interior features on the second and third floors are original. 19th century details include a central stairwell with original balusters and newel posts. The doors are original, with wooden panels, and they still feature brass mail slots and door knobs. Above the doors are transoms featuring office numbers in an old type-font, and many rooms have large picture windows facing the interior stairwell. High above the wide stairwell is a skylight, reminiscent of a Romanesque Revival barrel vault.

Commercial Chambers Building has historic value because of its associations with the builder, William J. Ellis. Constructed in 1896 the Commercial Chambers Building is a fine and well-maintained example of post-fire architecture. William Ellis established his business in 1890 and was one of the most important reconstruction contractors in St. John’s after the devastating Great Fire of July 8, 1892. By the early 1900s Ellis was one of the city’s largest employers. In addition to the Commercial Chambers Building, his most significant projects were the main tunnel of the St. John’s sewage system, the St. John’s Total Abstinence and Benefit Society Hall, and the “Merchant’s Block” on Water Street. Ellis served as a Member of the House of Assembly for Ferryland from 1904-1909, as Mayor of St. John’s from 1910-1914 and as Minister without Portfolio from 1918-1919.

Commercial Chambers Building has cultural value because it is a symbol of the post-fire reconstruction era. It represents the culture of the time and the resilience of the people of St. John’s in overcoming devastating loss.

Source: Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador property file “St. John's - Commercial Chambers Building - FPT 1474”

Character Defining Elements

All those features of a Romanesque Revival commercial building, including:
-number of storeys;
-flat roof;
-brick and stone exterior;
-five bay façade;
-size, style, trim and placement of wooden windows;
-size and placement of exterior door openings;
-all decorative brick and stone work;
-pilasters at corners;
-inscription reading "Erected 1896";
-arches and cornice at eave;
-arches above windows on third storey;
-diaper pattern in brickwork between second and third storeys;
-scroll pattern above second storey windows;
-first floor store front façade;
-granite columns at main entrance;
-stained glass round arch transom at main entrance, and;
-dimension, location and orientation of building.

All original interior features, including:
-central stairwell with original balusters and newel posts;
-office doors with wooden panels, brass mail slots and door knobs;
-transoms featuring the office number;
-large picture windows facing the interior stairwell, and;
-interior skylight.

Location and History

Community St. John's
Municipality City of St. John's
Civic Address 197-199 Water Street
Construction 1896 - 1896
William J. Ellis
William J. Ellis
Style Romanesque
Building Plan Rectangular Long Façade