After a half-century of neglect and haphazard alteration, the interior of the British Columbia Legislature was a monument to faded grandeur.
Over the years, grand rooms had been carved into a warren of cubbyhole offices. Floors were covered in linoleum yellowed by age and sunlight. The roof leaked and the foundation was crumbling. An antiquated electrical system was treacherous.
The architect Alan Hodgson, who has died at the age of 89, was commissioned to restore the building to its previous glory, a task made difficult because parts had never been completed and the original architect’s papers had been lost. Some even thought the aged Legislature, set on an expansive lawn fronting the saltwater harbour in Victoria, B.C., was unworthy of such care and expense.
Mr. Hodgson considered the building “a masterpiece of architectural beauty.” His ambition was to recreate the majestic splendour of the people’s legislature so it could function as an active, though august, place for debate and governance, not simply as a museum.
A seven-year restoration project entailed finding master craftspeople to restore stained glass and replicate ornate wood carvings on doors. Gilt ornament was repaired and Carrara marble polished. When the Legislature was in session, work halted during the day, forcing the architect and craftspeople into overnight labours.
During the renovations, a missing stained-glass window was discovered in the basement. Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Window, commissioned in 1897 for the 60th anniversary of her reign, had been moved during the construction of a library in 1912 and had gone unseen for six decades.
The restoration was a success, honouring architect Francis Mawson Rattenbury’s original vision while incorporating such modern necessities as microphones in the debate chamber.
Mr. Hodgson was responsible for many similar restorations throughout the British Columbia capital, including the Masonic Temple, the Odd Fellows Hall and an Edwardian-era temple-style bank building converted into Munro’s Books.
The architect also renovated a vaudeville hall, creating a new entrance and a lobby for what was to be a civic playhouse fronting on Centennial Square, a major development in the city in the mid-1960s.
At the new University of Victoria campus, on a former airfield and military base at Gordon Head, he won the largest commission in the first phase of development, responsible for creating a six-storey building for the faculty of education. He also handled two expansions to his MacLaurin Building in the 1970s, including a 220-seat recital hall.
Earlier, he had helped design a new residence for the lieutenant-governor to replace the Government House destroyed by fire in 1957.
For all his many awards for heritage preservation, Mr. Hodgson was also a noted exponent of the West Coast Style, designing an artist’s studio and a handful of marvellous private homes in the modernist idiom.
Alan James Hodgson was born in Victoria, on Aug. 12, 1928, to the former Martha (Peggy) Chadwick and Alan Charles Hodgson, a store clerk. As the Great Depression worsened, the young family crossed the Georgia Strait to move in with the bride’s family in Vancouver. The boy’s father joined his father-in-law in selling insurance policies for Prudential.
As a teenager, a young Alan designed and built several rowboats, leading to a job with Yarrows Shipbuilders in Esquimalt, adjacent to Victoria. He worked on the interior of the Prince George, a passenger ship for Canadian National Steamships.
On the dockyards, Mr. Hodgson met the architect Dexter Stockdill, who convinced him to abandon marine architecture for more terrestrial pursuits. The young designer worked for firms in Victoria and Los Angeles before being hired by the provincial public works department. Mr. Hodgson gained his diploma from the University of British Columbia’s new architecture school, although he had not attended classes on campus.
In the interim, he embarked on a continental camping journey with an architect friend, during which the two men made a pilgrimage to the works of the great modernist architects. They also tracked down the sculptor Alexander Calder at his Connecticut farmhouse.
After opening his own practice in 1960, Mr. Hodgson was one of several prominent local architects engaged to revive the area surrounding City Hall. An old market was torn down, streets were realigned and a plan was revealed to turn the city block into an open public plaza with a fountain surrounded by buildings. At the western end of what was to be known as Centennial Square, a revamped civic playhouse with a new entrance, lobby and restaurant designed by Mr. Hodgson was to serve as an anchor.
The project was nearly derailed when city council decided a restaurant in the playhouse should be given a view of the fountain. Mr. Hodgson pointed out the proposal would mean replacing a brick wall with a glass one, necessitating a wholesale change to the design.
“The city is your customer, don’t forget, Mr. Hodgson,” mayor Richard (Dick) Biggerstaff Wilson lectured the architect during a council meeting.
The amateurs on council also offered critiques of the architect’s interior colour scheme of gilt, flax and plum wine.
In the end, the former Pantages Theatre, now known as the McPherson Playhouse, remains a landmark in the Old Town neighbourhood. (The restaurant addition has since been torn down.)
Other notable buildings, out of more than 500 commissions in a career spanning more than four decades, are: an industrial plant for Island Farm Dairies, a college campus at Terrace, B.C. and both restorations and original buildings for several churches.
Mr. Hodgson died in Victoria on June 19. He leaves the former Sheila Hamilton, his wife of 66 years. He also leaves a son, a daughter, four grandchildren, a brother and a sister.
In 1964, he built a family home with office space on a rocky outcropping in the Victoria West neighbourhood. From the street, the L-shaped, multilevel structure disappears into the landscape.
“It is not awe-inspiring,” he once told the Victoria Times Colonist, “but it is comfortable.”
Large windows overlook a natural garden, while an open plan and a tall ceiling are typical of the style.
“It needs lots of dusting and the big windows need cleaning,” Ms. Hodgson said, “but it is a jewel.”