In 1879 Charles Barry, Junior, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects, awarded the Barclays the commission for the new Municipal Buildings at Greenock. It was then by far the most ambitious project of the kind undertaken in Scotland, with a central public hall and an internal carriage drive closely modelled on English precedents, and one which escalated during construction when the Municipal Buildings in Glasgow threatened to put it in the shade. In deference perhaps to the assessor’s known preferences, its facades were more Renaissance than Greek with domed corner towers, pedimented attic pavilions, and a 250-foot tower crowned by a Corinthian peristyle, all liberally enriched with granite-shafted columns and caryatid figures. It took the firm into the premier league and enabled it to ride out not only the severe recession of the 1880s.
It remains uncompleted, however. A local businessman called Robert Cowan refused to sell his building in front of the tower for less than his own price, preventing completion of the right hand façade of the southern elevation. During the Second World War, a large building housing a drapery business constructed on Cowan’s property at the corner of the Municipal Buildings was badly damaged and was demolished, leaving the blank brick corner area still known as “Cowan’s Corner”. This was later set as a garden for the blind. The original blank brick of Cowans Corner was covered in 2008 to reduce the visual impact on Cowan’s Corner as part of the continuing work to improve the look of the town centre.