Wednesday, April 7, 2010

1 Lombard Place - The Richardson Building

Around Downtown
Place: The Richardson Building
1 Lombard Place Map

Opened: Nov 14, 1969
Architects: Skidmore Owings and Merrill (New York);
Smith Carter


Top: 1906 ad, Winnipeg Morning Telegram
Bottom: Progress of the West Yearbook 1933 (source)

The Richardson Building is headquarters to James Richardson and Sons Ltd (also see). The grain trading company was created in Kingston, Ontario in 1857 by the company's namesake who was actually tailor by trade, but began trading the grain he sometimes received from farmers in-lieu of payment. 

Though the 'working centre' of the company became Winnipeg's Grain Exchange Building, it wasn't until 1923 that the corporate offices were transferred from Kingston. This meant that a new corporate headquarters was be needed for the growing firm.

Top: July 19, 1929, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: October 12, 1929, Winnipeg Free Press

James Richardson and Sons Ltd., by this time run by James' grandson, James A. Richardson, zoned in on the city's most prominent intersection for their new home. They operated from an office building near Portage and Main and bought up parcels of land as they became available. 

On July 19, 1929 the company unveiled plans for their new headquarters at the intersection. "Modern but not modernistic" is how the architect, Winnipeg's Arthur A. Stoughton, described it. He said particular attention was paid to how the building would look at night. The tower and clock would both be lit for dramatic effect.

At sixteen-storeys, it would be the tallest building in the city. The height was limited by the city's "building height bylaw" of the day which restricted a building to being no taller than 1.5 times as wide as the street it abuts. (Winnipeg Free Press, Aug. 31 1929).

October 12, 1929, Winnipeg Free Press

The original cost estimate for the building was $2 million. That rose to about $3 million as the final details were worked out and the building permit issued.

On October 12, 1929 demolition work began at Portage and Main. Contractor Carter-Halls-Aldinger aimed for completion by Autumn of 1930. Before the month was out, however, the stock market crashed, setting off what would become known as the Great Depression. Building plans were immediately postponed.

Top: April 30, 1968, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: February 23, 1967, Winnipeg Free Press

The land sat underutilized for nearly 40 years, as it wasn't until February 23, 1967 that James Richardson and Sons re-announced the construction of their new headquarters.

It was a new era and that called for a new building design and a taller structure. Skidmore Owings and Merrill  of New York designed the new Richardson Building which, at 32 storeys or 400 feet tall, would be the tallest in the city and cost $29 million. 

In addition to the office tower, the development would eventually include an attached hotel, (announced in August 1968), parkade and underground shopping mall known as Lombard Place.

Top: Demolition ca.1967 (source)
Bottom: Construction ca. 1968 (source)

Under local architect Smith Carter, lead contractor Poole Construction and Joe Thompson as chief engineer, demolition of the site began in spring 1967. The foundation work soon followed, which required the sinking of 64 caissons to a depth of 85 feet below ground level.

Once the tower construction began in the summer, a new floor was added every 5 days. (For more construction photos see the U of M Winnipeg Building Index.)

'Topping Off' c.1968 (source)

On November 4, 1968 a 'topping off' ceremony was held. A gold-painted bucket full of balloons was hoisted to the roof level to symbolize the last load required for the exterior construction. That date was within two days of the target set back in Spring 1967. Engineer Thompson admitted that it was a combination of good management and good luck ! (Winnipeg Free Press, November 5, 1968.)

Floor plan, January 10, 1968, Winnipeg Free Press

Here are some additional construction stats and milestones taken from Free Press stories of the day:

- The foundation required 4,800 tons of concrete and 50 tons of steel.

- The tower's frame is of reinforced concrete rather than steel.
Construction required 39,000 cubic yards of concrete and 3,900 tons of reinforced steel. (WFP Jan. 10, 1968).

- The main construction crane, with a 130 foot boom, was assembled inside the core of the building and jacked up periodically until it reached the top floor.

- On average, 350 men worked on the tower's construction at any one time for a total of 3 million man-hours. Nobody was killed or seriously injured on the job.

- Hoisting the 16,000 lb back-up generator to the top of the building, (heating, cooling and much of the mechanical systems are located on the top floor - level 32 - rather than the basement), took place on Dec. 18, 1968. At the time it was the heaviest lift ever to take place in Western Canada.

- The 31st floor, between the Richardson corporate suites on 30 and the mechanical level, had an observation deck that went around the entire building.

November 28, 1969, Winnipeg Free Press

As the interior construction was still taking place, the first, and largest, tenant moved in.

Air Canada had five floors (2 to 6) and took four days to move a majority of their office contents from their old digs at the Canada Building, 352 Donald near Ellice. Their 600 employees reported for work 9 a.m. on Tuesday, August 4, 1969.

The other large tenant was
James A. Richardson and Sons Ltd and their subsidiary companies such as Richardson Securities and Pioneer Grain. They also had five floors, (26 to 30). Their offices moved in stages during the latter part of September 1969. Other initial tenants included: McDonald, Currie and Co. (Aug. 1969); Price Waterhouse Co. (Sept. 1969) and the Bank of Commerce (Nov. 1969).

November 15, 1969, Winnipeg Free Press

The official opening of the Richardson Building took place on November 14, 1969. For such an anticipated building, the ceremony itself received little fanfare in the newspapers aside from a number of panoramic shots of the city from the observation floor. Former company president (1939 - 1966) Muriel Sprague Richardson declared the building open.

Portage and Main

In 1990 the Richardson Building lost its status as Winnipeg's tallest building by 4 metres,when the opening of the TD Centre (now Canwest Global Place) opened.

Portage and Main
Portage and Main

In recent years the plaza around the Richardson Building has received some artistic attention. 

In 2000 Leo Mol's 'Tree Children' was installed near the front entrance. In 2007, to mark the 150th anniversary of James Richardson and Sons Ltd., the company commissioned Seal River Crossing by Peter Swatzky. New lighting for the plaza area and to illuminate the exterior of the building were also added. 

1 Lombard Place Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
1 Lombard Place Winnipeg Building Index


  1. why is the observation floor not open to the public anymore?

  2. Not sure. i contacted them but nobody got back to me. I guess they had more valuable uses for the space that an observation floor, which is too bad.

  3. Thanks for this. I've never been inside but I always look at the Richardson bldg when I'm at the corner of Portage and Main, and now I live in Taipei with the second tallest skyscraper in the world.