As distinguished as these
examples are, one of the most significant and lasting cases
of New Brunswickers culturally enhancing our southern
neighbours is virtually unknown, at least at home.
If I told you that at one time the most illustrious
architects in California were three brothers from Albert
County, you would likely be tempted to shrug it off as a
myth. But these brothers from Harvey, the tiny rural village
south of Moncton, are without a doubt the province's
best-kept architectural secret, best known for their design
of a stunning oceanfront luxury hotel far more dignified and
remarkable than any hotel on Canadian soil, and so much
The three Reid brothers, James (1852-1943), Merritt (1855-
1932), and Watson (1857-1943) were all born and raised in
Harvey, in Albert County. The sons of Lucinda and William
Reid, who was a house carpenter, the boys were deeply
influenced by the work of their father. James and Merritt
left home late in their teenage years to train and
apprentice with architectural firms in Boston.
Several years later, both brothers left New England seeking
wider opportunities in the field, with James working briefly
in Toronto and Merritt in Philadelphia and Saint John. By
this time, young Watson had enrolled at Mount Allison in
Sackville, likely gaining some early knowledge of
engineering and architecture through his studies.
In that same year, James found work as a draughtsman in the
American Midwest, finally settling in Evansville, Indiana in
1878, where he purchased a partnership in an architectural
firm. Merritt joined him in 1880 and the two quickly
established themselves as talented, ambitious architects who
would leave a lasting mark on the city.
Throughout the next decade they designed dozens of dramatic
and attractive structures ranging from houses and commercial
buildings, to schools, theatres and churches. Their greatest
work of this era is their 1884 Gothic Revival design for
Evansville's Willard Library Â– a triumph of Victorian
design. With its multicoloured stone and brick exterior,
steeply-pitched slate roof, soaring corner tower and wealth
of gothic-arched windows, the Library is now proudly listed
on the National Registry of Historic Places.
In 1886, a consortium of businessmen including Elisha
Babcock Jr., an Evansville native and supporter of the Reid
brothers, bought a large tract of oceanfront land in San
Diego with plans to develop the area for the burgeoning
tourist trade. They telegraphed James Reid to come to
California to discuss the design and construction of a large
400-room hotel in an area called Coronado.
Reid accepted their offer and the rest of the story is the
stuff of legend: the future Hotel del Coronado would
eventually be known the world over as one of America's most
beautiful beach resorts. It would transform the Reid
brothers into architectural celebrities throughout the
American Pacific coast, and James would chose to remain in
California for the rest of his life. With an enormous
construction task ahead of him, and Merritt managing the
office in Evansville, James summoned his brother Watson from
Canada to assist with the design.
Architecturally, the lavish Queen Anne style was newly in
vogue and this grand Victorian resort flaunted it at every
With its whitewashed exterior of scalloped wood shingles,
steeply-pitched hip roofs with dormer windows, extensive
beachfront verandas, and unmistakable cone-shaped corner
wing, the Hotel del Coronado was described by the California
Architect and Building News upon its completion in 1888 as
"perhaps the largest and most gorgeous in its appointments
of any hotel in the world."
The Hotel has been honoured as a United States National
Historic Landmark and has hosted 10 U.S. presidents, the
Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII), and in 1958 it was
the backdrop for Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon
in Billy Wilder's Hollywood classic Some Like it Hot.
The overwhelming acclaim from the Hotel del Coronado allowed
the firm to relocate to San Francisco in 1889, with Merritt
leaving Evansville to join his brothers the next year. The
move was opportune; work flourished in the growing
California city, such as their commission to design the
18-storey Claus Spreckels Building downtown.
Built to house the offices of the San Francisco Call
newspaper, the 29-storey steel-frame building was topped by
a spectacular 4-storey dome in which the Reid Brothers firm
set up their offices.
Called the "handsomest tall office building in the world"
upon its completion in 1897 by renowned architectural critic
B.J.S. Cahill, the terra cotta domed landmark was the
highest building in the city and the tallest building west
of Chicago at that time. It was the area's first true
skyscraper, and the Beauxarts style edifice was selected for
the American Architectural Exhibit at the 1900 Paris
Even with the burgeoning success of the family design
practice, Watson did not remain in the United States for
long. He returned home to Riverside-Albert in 1890, marrying
his longtime sweetheart from Harvey and serving as secretary
to the honourable A. R. McClelan, a former member of the
Canadian Senate and Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick
from 1896 until 1902.
Luckily for Albert County, Watson was offered several
notable local design commissions during his stay. These
included McClelan's home Â– known as Victoria Manor Â– built
in 1893, the Albert County Courthouse of 1904 and the
Riverside Consolidated School completed in 1905. Both
Victoria Manor and Riverside Consolidated School are
designated provincial historic sites, and there's little
doubt the courthouse will soon be bestowed the same honour.
Riverside Consolidated School is a vital example of
progressive educational development in New Brunswick and
this is strongly reflected in the building's architecture.
The school is as vibrant as ever and is the oldest
consolidated school still in continuous use in the province.
In a relatively short time, Watson Reid had a huge impact on
the architectural landscape of a distinct corner of our
Unfortunately, this would be short-lived. He decided not to
remain in New Brunswick after his wife's death in 1908.
Following this tragedy, he moved himself and his family to
Vancouver where he practiced architecture until 1936.
Hitting their full creative stride by the end of the 19th
century, James and Merritt would go on to complete scores of
mansions, theatres, commercial buildings and
wonderfully-crafted skyscrapers throughout the Pacific Coast
Â– Portland, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego and Spokane,
although the bulk of their work was built in now bustling
Their clientele included some of the most prominent
businesspeople at the time, and the Reid brothers'
progressive architectural spirit is reflected in the scale
and eclectic range of their buildings Â– often pushing the
technical limits of the day as much as the aesthetic
For example, in 1890, the brothers won the commission to
design the soaring headquarters of Portland's Oregonian
Known as the Oregonian Building, it held the distinction of
being the first steel-frame building west of Chicago. The
development of steel engineering allowed for taller
buildings, a less bulky treatment of the exterior walls, and
the assumption that the structure would be fireproof.
In selecting the architects, the newspaper's management said
they desired "architectural talent ... of the highest order"
and chose the Reids based on "their standing in the
Built in a modern Romanesque style with rough-faced red
Arizona sandstone, buff brick, terra cotta details, and huge
arched entrance doorways, the Oregonian Building was topped
by a 4.25-metre diameter corner clock tower, gracefully
illuminated at night.
The Reid brothers also created renowned San Francisco Bay
area attractions such as the Temple of Music, Cliff House
and the Fairmont Hotel.
The classically-inspired Temple of Music band shell at
Golden Gate Park was donated by their former patron Claus
Spreckels and opened in 1900. At the official dedication,
Spreckels addressed a crowd of 75,000 and proclaimed: "This
noble pleasure ground will doubtless be the chief scene of
the open air festivities of the people of California and
indeed of the whole Pacific Coast for all time to come."
As one of the most famous musical backdrops in North
America, the Temple of Music has hosted such performers as
John Philip Sousa, Luciano Pavarotti and the Grateful Dead,
among thousands of others. Though seriously damaged and
later repaired, it survived the cataclysmic 1906 San
Francisco earthquake but was finally closed after the Loma
Prieta earthquake in 1989.
The Reids' legendary neoclassical Cliff House restaurant and
resort overhanging the Pacific Ocean on a spectacular rocky
perch opened in 1909 after both of its ornate predecessors
were destroyed by fire. Today the recently restored building
is preserved as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation
Finally, one of the brothers' most remarkable survivors is
the elegant Fairmont Hotel, which was nearing final
completion when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck.
Although it withstood a serious fire as a result, the Beaux-
Arts style hotel was one of the few structures in the Nob
Hill area to survive the quake and continues to serve as a
popular hotel to this day.
Upon their deaths, the Reid brothers were remembered as
among America's foremost architects, having produced an
outstanding body of work that fused function and style.
Their impact lives on, not only in the landmark Hotel del
Coronado, but throughout the United States and yes, even in
distant Albert County, here in New Brunswick.
A century ago, the Reid brothers were arguably the most
celebrated living New Brunswickers, even if their star shone
brightest among the luminous lights of California. That a
few of their wonderful designs live on in their home
province is a treat to be sure.