Francis Rattenbury Fact Sheet

The Architect Francis Rattenbury (1867-1935) is the architect to whom the design of Roedde House is attributed. 

Professional Life:

  • Rattenbury, born in Leeds, England studied for a few terms at Yorkshire College.
  • At the age of 18 he beg an articling for his uncle's architectural firm Mawson & Mawson.
  • He became aware of the potential for advancement and success in Canada, and was encouraged by the new transcontinental railway as well as the influx of foreign immigration. He arrived in Vancouver in 1892, where he established his practice and advertised his services as an architect.
  • His practice initially involved building structures of all kinds, and his application for his AIBC membership (from 1923) states his practice in Vancouver started as early as 1892.
  • His winning entry in the competition for the design for the Parliament buildings in Victoria in 1893 secured his place among BC's most sought after architects. Rattenbury's winning design showcased his skill and adept handling of a broad vocabulary of historical styles, blending neo-classical, Romanesque and Gothic elements. · Rattenbury came to eventually dominate the architectural profession of BC. Using imperial symbolism he delivered large scale, prestigious projects for the cities of Vancouver and Victoria. These include among other the provincial legislature buildings in Victoria, the Empress Hotel in Victoria, the Vancouver Law Courts (now the Vancouver Art Gallery) and an external renovation of the Hotel Vancouver.
  • He built office buildings for the Bank of Montreal in Victoria, Nelson, and New Westminster, as well as courthouses in Victoria, Nelson and Nanaimo.
  • He sketched the plans for his monumental buildings with bold strokes, and was criticized for not paying close attention to small details- which bored him.
  • Rattenbury designed few residential homes in his career besides that of the Roeddes. Those that he completed include the Pat Burns house (Calgary) and Lyman Poore Duff house (Victoria). 

Personal Life:

  • Rattenbury was known by most as an arrogant, boastful, and ambitious man. As a great visionary and promoter, however, he rose to the highest ranks of his profession. Many recognized him as a great talent, yet he made few friends.
  • Rattenbury married Florence Eleanor Nunn in 1889, and over the course of their 36 years of marriage he came to dislike her. Rattenbury divorced his wife in 1925 shortly after he began an affair with Alma Pakenham, a woman 30 years his junior.
  • Alma, who had been married twice before, bore him a son, John, and the couple relocated to England shortly thereafter, in answer to the hostility with which they were met in the Vancouver community. His divorce and the associated scandal proved detrimental to his professional life, while his own distasteful personality and harsh temper did not ease the situation.
  • Alma eventually began an affair with a much younger man who worked as the family's chauffeur.
  • Her young lover, George Percy Stoner, was prone to jealousy and was angered at Alma's persisting marriage to Rattenbury. Stoner murdered Rattenbury by delivering several blows to his head with a mallet. Alma confessed to the involvement of both herself and Stoner, but only the young man was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged. · Overcome with grief after the pronouncement of the sentence, Alma committed suicide. The sentence, however, was never carried out; thanks to a widely supported petition bent on saving him from capital punishment, Stoner was instead sentenced to life in prison. He was released from prison for fighting in WWII and had a general release back to civilian life. 

Ties to the Roedde family and attribution:

  • No document exists confirming Rattenbury's authorship of the Roedde House design. Original architectural plans are not known to have survived, and building permits had not been ititiated at the time. However, the Roedde family's personal connections to Francis Rattenbury, as well as testimonials by family members support the attribution of the home's design to Rattenbury.
  • G.A. Roedde Printers Ltd. (first based at 50 Cordova Street) and Rattenbury's office (New Holland Block, Cordova Street) were both located in Gastown. Gustav Roedde could have also easily leared of Rattenbury services through the young architect's advertisements in the Vancouver Daily World. His ads were published daily as of June 5, 1892.
  • One article from the Vancouver Daily World published practice and encouraged all potential clients to contact him no matter the nature of their commission, as he possessed a wealth of information and a collection of plans for a wide range of structures.
  • With the depressed building economy in Vancouver between 1892-1893, Rattenbury would have likely welcomed the Roedde's residential home commission. Roedde's successful business allowed him the necessary funds to build at the time.
  • Roedde's youngest daughter, Tilly, named 'Mr. Rattenbury' as the architect of the ome, stating that he and her father would often meet to discuss the design of the house. She recalls her mother Matilda complaining that Rattenbury had not given the house a complete basement. Being used to houses with basements from her native Helgoland, Matilda Roedde was uncomfortable now having a house so close to the damp ground.
  • Rattenbury did include a turret in the home's design, however, granting her the ocean views she was accustomed to in her childhood.
  • Several design details in the home; including a general attention to view and appropriate room locations, point to anvolvement by a practiced architect. "Rattenbury-esque" elements such as the octagonal cupola of the turret with a bellcast roof, support the claim to his involvement.

For more information see Terry Reksten's book 'Rattenbury"

 

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