Halifax's Pentagon Building

For more than 100 years, the unique-shaped building stood north of what's now Granville Mall. It was one of many architectural casualties during Halifax's urban renewal in the 1960s.

The Pentagon Building in downtown Halifax was somewhat of a landmark in its day. Erected in 1860 at the foot of Buckingham Street where Granville, Hollis, and Upper Water converged, the odd-shaped building looked from one angle to be a miniature version of New York's Flatiron Building, and another, a standard five-story construction. It stood for more than 100 years, but its unique appearance wasn’t enough to save it from the wrecking ball during Halifax's urban renewal in the 1960s.

The Pentagon Building wasn't the first erected on that site. Its predecessor was a wooden building, possibly of similar shape, that was home to two profitable businesses. The first was the Murdoch brothers' dry goods store, established in 1821 when they emigrated from Scotland. Due to the success of their business, both brothers became men of influence in Halifax: brother Charles was a member of the first board of directors of the Bank of Nova Scotia, and William was a philanthropist, whose financial legacy helped establish the School for the Blind. Also in the building was a drug store operated by local physician, Dr. James (Jas) F. Avery. He, too, was a successful businessman and philanthropist, serving for many years on the Board of Governors for Dalhousie College (and University), the Nova Scotia Bible Society, and several other goodwill organizations. Upon his death in 1887, his obituary in the Halifax Herald remarked that he "was one of the prominent characters in the History of Halifax," and left "considerable wealth." Perhaps Dr. Avery's wealth outshone the Murdoch brothers, since it was he who paid for the construction of the Pentagon Building after the old wooden building burned to the ground.

The Granville Street fire ripped through downtown Halifax on September 9, 1859, destroying over four acres and 60 buildings. Most heavily affected were the east side of Barrington plus Granville, Hollis, Duke, and Buckingham Streets. This was not the first fire in the downtown, and as such, in 1857, a law was passed that required all new buildings to be constructed with fire-resistant stone and brick rather than wood.

Dr. Avery promptly commissioned the Pentagon Building after the fire, and it was completed the following year. Although the architect is not known, its shape was unique in Halifax - with five sides and five stories, the Pentagon Building was aptly named. Its Italianate features were simpler than many of the neighbouring Italianate buildings on Granville Street, which were constructed at the same time, but its round headed windows, low-pitched roof, stone quoins, and decorative columns on the ground floor are all indicative of the popular architectural style. 

The Murdoch brothers were one of the building's first tenants, their flourishing business now something akin to a department store, selling everything from dry goods to bonnets, jewelry, and fancy soaps. Dr. Avery's nephews were also tenants, operating a drug store, Brown Brothers and Co., which made tinctures and pomades as well as remedies. Dr. Avery continued to operate his medical practice and drugstore, Avery, Brown and Co., but on George Street.

While the tenants of the Pentagon Building changed over the years and its facade was painted, it remained a notable building in the downtown for several decades and was admired for its unique shape. But a fire in 1961 signaled the end for the building. Mass demolitions in the downtown were already underway as part of the city's "urban renewal," and plans were afoot for a waterfront highway and interchange. The Pentagon Building was directly in the path of the proposed roadways, so the City of Halifax expropriated the property in the spring of 1962. The Pentagon Building was demolished in August of that same year, and by 1969, the Cogswell Interchange stood in its place.