The history of the Cunard Building dates back to 1914, when the Cunard Steamship Company commissioned the construction of new headquarters for the company. Cunard's expansion had meant that they had outgrown their previous offices, which were also located in Liverpool, and the site chosen for construction was at the former George's Dock, in between the Liver Building and Port of Liverpool Building. The building was designed by architects William Edward Willink and Philip Coldwell Thicknesse and was inspired by the grand palaces of Renaissance Italy. It was constructed by Holland, Hannen & Cubitts between 1914 and 1917, with Arthur J. Davis, of Mewes and Davis, acting as consultant on the project.


In 1934, the Cunard Steamship Company merged with the White Star Line to form Cunard White Star Line, which became the largest passenger steamship company in the world, helping to make Liverpool one of the most important centres of the British trans-Atlantic ocean liner industry. The Cunard building subsequently acted as the central headquarters for the newly merged firm, with both administrative and ship-designing facilities located within the building. Many ships and liners were developed and designed within the Cunard Building, including the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth. Given that Liverpool was a major trans-Atlantic port and due to the building's proximity to the River Mersey, the lower floors of the Cunard Building were allocated to provide space for cruise liner passengers, both prior to and after sailing. Within the building there were passenger related facilities including separate waiting rooms for first, second, and third class passengers, a booking hall, luggage storage space, and a currency exchange. The building also provided facilities for both land and sea based Cunard employees. During the Second World War, the sub-basement level of the Cunard Building was utilised as an air raid shelter for workers in the building and also for those from adjacent premises. The basement levels also served as the central Air Raid Precautions headquarters for the City of Liverpool during the war. Additional reinforced steel joists were fitted to further strengthen the basement in case of a direct hit on the building.
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