img_9115There is probably no better example of Ottawa’s Mid-Century Modern Commercial architecture still in its original state than the Civic Pharmacy building at the corner of Holland and Carling. Looking like a scene from from the hit series “MadMen”, this iconic piece of Ottawa’s history has been a coveted piece of our past since it opened in 1960. Now up for sale at a cool $3.36 Million, this well preserved example of Ottawa’s mid-century heritage is now available to someone who will hopefully maintain this shining example of a much overlooked heritage building.



A photo of the Cvic Pharmacy building as it appeared when it opened in 1960. (Ottawa Citizen)

The Civic Pharmacy Building officially opened with much fanfare on September 17 1960, with most of Ottawa remembering it for its unique multi-coloured “Googie” inspired signage affixed to its corner. “Googie” is a style of architecture that is very unique, and Ottawa is fast losing its examples. “Googie” architecture is a style of modern futurist architecture that evolved through the Atomic Age of the 1950s and 1960s culture, with jets, and the space-age being inspiration to its style.


“Googie” architecture utilized fun colours and a “Jetsons” style.

Googie-themed architecture was a popular choice for commercial buildings of the time such as motels, coffee houses and gas stations, all part of the Mid-Century modern aesthetic.


The original sign, whose letters used to rotate, is still in pretty good condition, but could use a restoration of its Googie inspired rotating letters. (photo: author)

The Ottawa Citizen had a two page spread printed about our Civic building’s Grand Opening Day, which included a mention of its awesome signage. Since the word “civic” is a palindrome (a word which reads the same backward as forward) it was made into a rotating sign, with each letter rotating, and being able to be read from any viewing position. The rotating letters of the sign required much maintenance, and it stopped rotating at some point.


Injectables and biologicals were kept refrigerated. (Ottawa Citizen)

I was lucky enough to meet and chat with the original owner/pharmacist of the building, Wally Cherun, who told me about the history of the much loved sign. It was the first sign of its kind in Canada, and was fully illuminated at night. Wally said a sign guy would oil the mechanics of the rotating letters regularly.


On opening day in 1960, Brylcreem was on sale for 73 cents. (Ottawa Citizen)

In addition to the drug store component to the building, it also housed a 55 seat restaurant that featured imported chandeliers and lamps with copper tiles. The restaurant was a favourite hang out and place to skip class for kids from the nearby Fisher Park High School according to neighbourhood legend.


Listed under the Re/Max website for sale at $3.36 Million, the building has changed on the inside dramatically, with its huge sales floor being subdivided into smaller units, but the that iconic sign that all of Ottawa adores, still remains in much its original state.


The ad for the building states it is for sale at $3.36 million.

I would hope that a building of this historical significance is submitted for heritage approval, as it would be a shame if it was torn down for some new bland condo development. Just the sign itself is a rare example of something that binds all Ottawa residents together with the cherished memories it holds for so many.

I wish I could buy it myself and turn it into a living set piece from MadMen, complete with a cocktail lounge and 1960s style steakhouse. If the Dresden can do it in Los Angeles, I’m sure someone with vision and money could do the same in the Nation’s Capital.

Keep your eyes on this one Ottawa, it is too precious a piece of our past to see it demolished or have the sign unceremoniously tossed into a scrap heap.


Andrew King, March 2017. 



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