A Towering Emblem of Old Montreal: The New York Life Insurance Building

February 1, 2016 / Posted by   Heritage Montreal - Collaborator 

Emblem of Old Montreal


How can you not fall under the prestigious charm of the New York Life Insurance Building? You know, that red sandstone building with a magnificent clock tower on the corner of the place d’Armes and Saint-Jacques street. Located in one of our city’s most popular historical districts, this reference point was built between 1887 and 1889 by Babb, Cook & Willard, a renowned architectural New York firm. Let all of us here at Héritage Montréal take you on a virtual tour of this true landmark of Old Montreal!

A Symbol of Prestige, Power and Progress

This eight-story-tall building truly reached heights reached by no other building at the time – some even say that it is the country’s first skyscraper. This building was considered to be an architectural marvel due to its structural prowess, which is consisted of an iron frame and brick load-bearing walls. As architecturally interesting as the exterior of the New York Life Insurance Building may be, you would have had to look inside at the time it was created to find some of the century’s most prized technological advances. It could boast having electricity, hydraulic elevators and even a water reservoir in case of fire.

When construction of the New York Life Insurance Building began, all buildings in sight were built with gray stone, like the old Saint-Sulpice Seminary and the Notre-Dame Basilica, so the architects decided to build an edifice that would truly stand out due to its originality, hence the usage of red sandstone imported from Scotland for the construction of the façade. Even the foundation, the lower part of the building was uniquely stone-set with red granite from Ontario. The end result was quite impressive, hinting at the Italian Renaissance from a decorative point of view. So, during your next visit of the building, take the time to admire the magnificent details of the arabesques and the entrance door, all sculpted by Henry Beaumont. Also, check out the faun mascarons on the third floor. A little piece of history: The mascaron is a mask-shaped decorative detail that was added to bar evil spirits from entering buildings – a rather reassuring detail for an insurance company!, check out the nry Beaumont.ficent details of the the arabesques e.that would truly stand out with its origne


Example of mascarons

The building used by insurance companies and banks for a long period throughout its history, but currently hosts an architectural firm, and contains a penthouse. Let us wish this marvellous skyscraper many more splendid decades, under the care of its mascarons!

Heritage Montreal - Collaborator

Heritage Montreal has worked to promote and to protect the architectural, historic, natural and cultural heritage of Greater Montreal, its neighbourhoods and communities. This private non-profit organization is at the heart of an extensive network of partners, working through education and representation to celebrate, develop and preserve Montreal’s identity and uniqueness.

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