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Tobin Building - City of St. John's Heritage Site

Tobin Building, Duckworth St.
Tobin Building, Interior detail
Ceiling detail

Statement of Significance

Formal Recognition Type

City of St. John's Heritage Building, Structure, Land or Area

Description of Historic Place

The Tobin Building is a wooden, four-storey structure built in the Second Empire style of architecture. Constructed in 1894, it is located at 214 Duckworth Street, St. John’s, NL. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Tobin Building has been designated as a Municipal Heritage Building because of its aesthetic, cultural and historical values.

The Tobin Building has aesthetic value as it is a good surviving example of Second Empire style commercial/residential architecture constructed in St. John's following the Great Fire of 1892. This style incorporates particular exterior design details, including a concave-curved mansard roof, decorative eaves brackets, a symmetrical facade and a traditional storefront. Interior design elements are rather intricate as well; a characteristic of the Second Empire style. Despite many changes in ownership, the building retains its original character. The bay and dormer windows remain unaltered and the structure retains the original wooden shingles and wrought iron cresting. The interior's original tin ceiling and embossed tin walls also remain intact.

The Tobin Building has cultural value as it is a physical reminder of the rebuilding of St. John's after the Great Fire of 1892. The building was constructed in 1894 for James J. Tobin to use as a retail store and a family residence. The first floor was used to sell wines, spirits, tobacco and groceries, while the upper levels were used as the family home. This close physical arrangement of business and home was common in St. John’s, particularly in the downtown area. While many of these dual purpose homes still exist, the family quarters have mostly been converted into apartments or storage space.

The Tobin Building has historical value because of its association with the Tobin family and their contributions to the economic, political and social growth of Newfoundland. Three generations of Tobins who lived and worked from this location made great contributions not only to business but to politics, as well. Michael, who brought his nephew James J. Tobin into the retail business, served as Member of the House of Assembly for Placentia and St. Mary's as did James. James’ son John M. (Jack) Tobin was involved in politics as a Member of the House of Assembly for St. John's East Extern from 1928 to 1932 and as a St. John's municipal councillor from 1937 to 1941. John Tobin also had a lifelong involvement in sports in Newfoundland, as a hockey player and official, as an oarsman, coxswain and coach with the annual Royal St. John's Regatta and as secretary of the Newfoundland Hockey League for 50 years. In the 1940s he began broadcasting his radio program, “Over the Blueline with Tobin,” helping to popularize hockey in Newfoundland. John Tobin was posthumously inducted into the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Hall of Fame in 1977.

Source: City of St. John's, Meeting held 2006/04/25

Character Defining Elements

All elements that define the building's Second Empire design including:
-mansard roof;
-return on eaves;
-eaves brackets and dentils;
-number of storeys;
-wooden shingle sheathing;
-corner board;
-window size, style, trim and placement;
-dormer size, style and placement;
-dormer window size, style, trim and placement;
-size, style, trim and placement of two storey bay on left gable end;
-size, style, trim and placement of windows in bay;
-size, style, trim and placement of exterior doors;
-location and style of porch on left gable end;
-size, style, trim and placement of windows and door in porch;
-cresting on porch on left gable end;
-chimney style and placement;
-original features of the store front including recessed entry, transom window over door, display windows, pilasters dividing windows, cornice and decorative base panels;
-dimension, location and orientation of building; and,
-all original interior features including pressed tin work.

Location and History

Community St. John's
Municipality City of St. John's
Civic Address 214 Duckworth Street
Construction 1894 - 1894
Style Second Empire
Building Plan Rectangular Short Façade
Website Link http://www.downtownstjohns.com/business/archives/000193.html