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Articles

Villa Maria: A Tudor Revival Treasure
by Dr. Elizabeth Pacey

Villa Maria , the former Roman Catholic Archbishop's residence situated on the North West Arm, is now threatened by a proposal for demolition from the property committee of the Waegwoltic Club. Built in 1931 for Archbishop Thomas O'Donnell, the stylish structure was designed by Andrew Randall Cobb, one of the most highly regarded architects of the last century. The demolition of Villa Maria would mean the loss of a twentieth-century Tudor Revival treasure of significant architectural value

Exterior view of the Villa Maria

The Tudor Revival style was first practised in Britain by late Victorian architects who wanted to return to the features and forms of vernacular, medieval architecture. The versatile features of the style, such as tall chimneys, half-timbered gables, cross gables, dormers and projecting oriels or bays, could be used lavishly or sparsely, depending on the size and cost of the structure. Whether the features were fitted to a grand, manorial house or to a modest cottage, the overall plan or form was usually unsymmetrical, to give a less-structured, more organic appearance. As well, varying sizes and shapes of windows were randomly placed to add less mechanized and more rustic details to the design.

In Canada, the Tudor Revival style was introduced in the early years of the twentieth century by architects practising in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. As in Britain, the character of the style was believed to be particularly suited to residences in a semi-rural or spacious urban setting.

In the 1930s a late flowering of the style produced whole neighbourhoods in Toronto, Ottawa, Victoria and Vancouver with a wide variety of picturesque houses dressed in Tudor Revival stylistic features. As a complement to this penchant for domestic Tudor Revival architecture, the federal government officially adopted the popular style as its own national image for a series of customs and immigration buildings, erected at Canada/United States border crossings. Also, in order to convey the dual messages of "Canada" and "park" in its national parks, the federal government developed small-scale rustic buildings with the familiar, half-timbered Tudor gables and rusticated stonework.

Clearly, Archbishop O'Donnell would have been familiar with the Tudor Revival style. In his years as President of the Catholic Extension Society of Canada, he had led the financing and construction of 90 churches throughout the nation. As well, he had spent many years in Toronto and Victoria, where he would have seen an array of examples. He would have known, too, that the Tudor Revival style incorporated Romanesque arches, in the forms of round-headed entrances and windows, rather than the pointed arches of Gothic windows and doors. This symbolism was significant, as the Romanesque arch was used almost exclusively in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Roman Catholic churches, whereas Gothic arches had been preferred by the Anglican Church since the mid-nineteenth century.

As a highly-educated architect and accomplished artist, Andrew Cobb would have appreciated how complementary the medieval style was for a large residence in a semi-rural setting on the shores of the North West Arm. His skill in selecting various characteristic components for his design produced an imposing yet dignified example of the Tudor Revival style. Exterior features, like the projecting oriel with its round-headed entranceways, the varied window shapes, the tall chimneys above the slate roof, the decorative bargeboard on the cross-gable, and the earthy colours of ironstone and sandstone, all combined to create the essence of medieval crafts and traditions. Inside, the oak staircases with tooled and turned balusters, the built-in bookcases with leaded glass doors in the magnificent library, the baronial, forged iron light fixtures and the "Christian" doors with single or double crosses carry on the Tudor theme.

Detail of oak staircase

Detail of bookcases

It is hoped that the general membership of the Waegwoltic Club will not accept the demolition proposed by their property committee, and that Villa Maria will continue to stand as an important representative of Tudor Revival architecture of the twentieth century.

The Griffin, Volume 27 #1, March 2002