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Sunday at the Marine Building-27

I’ll have to struggle to keep this article short as last Sunday’s Vancouver Heritage Foundation event covered two of my favourite passions: coffee and architecture. JJ Bean Coffee Roasters hosted the event in their café inside the Marine Building, starting things off right with a gratis cup of coffee and pastry of choice.

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The sold-out event was led by JJ Bean’s owner John Neate, who engaged the crowd on renovating the space as well as all things coffee. Also there to speak were architects Joost Bakker and Brady Dunlop of Dialog, and Maurice Guibord, president of the Francophone Historical Society as well as the Canadian Art Deco Society.

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In 1996, John and his wife bought an existing coffee roasting house on Granville Island, transforming it into the JJ Bean design currently seen in the other 12 shops around town (with two more due to open later this year). JJ is named after John Jr. (Dad was ‘big John’).

Coffee is picked green. The ideal time to process it is between three and six months after picking. Coffee is affected by different soils, varying elevations, and regions. Higher elevations containing volcanic soil produce the best coffees in the world.

When JJ Bean receives green coffee bean samples, they look for three things: body, acidity, and flavour (both initial and aftertaste). Single-origin coffees possess at least two of these qualities. While dark coffee is all about body, light coffee is usually based on acidity.

We sampled a Kenyan coffee grown in the Meru District, 1,750 metres above sea level. As it was a late November pick, it’s at its peak now. John advised to first take a small slurp, preferably taking a breath in through the nose simultaneously. It’s key to find body in a coffee that hasn’t been roasted too dark. Acidity in the coffee world describes the best coffee. Flavour is the deciding factor in a coffee: what does it taste like? John encourages people to sip and savour, trying the coffee black.

Brady Dunlop, Joost Bakker, JJ Bean owner John Neate
[Architects Brady Dunlop, Joost Bakker; JJ Bean owner John Neate]

John’s grandfather was fond of saying “John, you can’t drink coffee with milk and sugar.” JJ Bean offers weekly public cuppings at all locations. This method helps coffee drinkers develop a coffee palate. Check online for scheduled times.

Brady Dunlop has over 35 years of architectural experience and is well known for being the project lead on the award-winning design of Nk’Mip Resort in Osoyoos. Joost Bakker has also won numerous design awards including the Governor General award for designing Richmond’s City Hall. He is also past-president of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation, the Contemporary Art Gallery and sits on the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation board.

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John feels fortunate to work with these two talented people on the design of his coffee shops. A lot of effort goes into the particularity of each shop. Joost appreciates that each shop is somewhat of an adventure. Ideas flow freely much like the coffee poured at the cafés. The first JJ Bean Café design for Brady was the Main Street location, housed in a mid-40’s bank.

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The Marine Building JJ Bean location’s challenge was to replicate some of the Deco elements of the original design, however it’s hard to find good people to renovate on that level. Both architects enjoy creating different pockets and opportunities in which to experience a space. Capturing the essence of the neighbourhood and community is also key.

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A café’s design should be interesting no matter the time of day or year. The challenge at the Marine JJ Bean location was adding a mezzanine. At first, the available space was 1,300 square feet; the team was able to capture another 450 to 500 feet with the aid of structural design teams. Massive five feet in diameter lights were gold-leaf lined and hung to offer great light quality at night as well as something unique to look at from the outside world.

Joost Bakker talking architecture at JJ Bean, Marine Building
[Joost Bakker talking architecture at JJ Bean]

A 1929 crown light designed in Los Angeles was re-wired, throughly cleaned, and redone to keep original elements in the new space. Many accents throughout the space mimic the beautiful Art Deco building next door.

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We learned from Maurice Guibord that the term Art Deco wasn’t used in North America until the 1960’s. Designed by McCarter and Nairne Architects, the building was the tallest in the British Empire at the time and remains the best example of Art Deco architecture in Canada.

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Many films and TV series have been filmed inside the famous lobby. The Marine Building was built in 1929 for 2.3 million dollars, one million over budget. A 25-cent observation deck closed within months; due to the Great Depression, this was too costly for much of the public to afford.

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The building was later sold at a loss for $900,000 to the Guinness family. The lobby had the fastest elevators west of New York City and the architects lived in the building for over 50 years, making them the longest-standing tenants.

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McCarter and Nairne built the Marine to resemble “some great crag rising from the sea, clinging with sea flora and fauna, tinted in sea-green, touched with gold.” Everywhere you look, sea life is evident. This creates a playful environment. Vaulting is a unique feature of the building, copied from Mayan architecture.

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Inside and out, the Marine is loaded with gorgeous Art Deco details. Historic ships line the sides of the entrance arch; many of these ships had islands named after them.

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It’s not likely you’ve noticed the Egyptian condor motif on the outside, dedicated to the unearthing of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.

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That year spawned a huge worldwide trend in Egyptology, thus the architects added a stylish condor to the building. Look for the zeppelin, steam ship, sunburst, Canadian geese and other objects on your next visit out.

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This was a fun, educational, and unique way of seeing the Marine all over again, together with a cup of gourmet coffee and pastry to start off a bleary-eyed morning due to the daylight savings switch.

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[Gift bag with JJ Bean coffee to take home]

A big thank you to the Vancouver Heritage Foundation for inviting me to experience Sunday Morning at the Marine. Visit the VHF website for upcoming historic walking tours and other events.

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