The Devenish Apartments are an amazing piece of architecture and they have been a well known Calgary landmark for just over a century now. Made of stunning deep-red brick and contrasting grey sandstone, the building stands proud and looks just as good as it did when it was built in 1911. It’s once luxurious apartments are now home to a number of businesses.
During Calgary’s’ first real boom period (1909-1913 – one of many it would have over the years), the city’s population grew by leaps and bounds, doubling in only a few short years. With that came a severe housing shortage and to address that demand, large apartment buildings were constructed in the belt line district (the area directly south of downtown). Many of them were not for the masses, but rather homes for the up and coming upper middle class and the Devenish was no exception. At the time of construction, there were just under sixty apartments here.
Named after the developer who financed it (Oscar Devenish), this building was for its time quite modern. Amenities included telephones, central heating, shared laundry facilities and common sun rooms. Stand out design features included an airy and open style of construction, quite a contrast to the cramped closed-in feel that many other buildings of the era had (the large windows for one help here).
The Devenish Apartments were designed by architect Alexander Pirie, who was also the man behind several other buildings of note in town, including the St Regis Hotel (a favourite watering hole of my folks in the 1970s). The building has a rather electric mix of styles, with its castellated turrets, recessed entrance ways, large balconies and a number of parapets (now gone). Not only does it have a uniqueness of style, it’s also clearly well constructed and the craftsmanship and pride of the workers is quite evident.
The building continued to be used for apartments well into the late 1970s and early 1980s. By that time, the prestige had sort of worn off. Never really updated over the years, it became just another old drafty, musty, dated apartment building (albeit a stylish one). Designated as a provincial historic site in the early 1980s, the building was at that time converted to commercial and retail space. Home to a number of businesses today, most notable is a wedding dress shop whose wares grace a glassed in area that was once the lower east balcony.
The neighbourhood in around the Devenish Building is quite a happening area, and has been for some time. For a period in the 1960-1980s however, it was rough, run-down and depressed. A renaissance of sorts has taken place since then and the area is again vibrant, funky and alive (and expensive).
It’s not clear when the first picture was taken, however it’s probably quite early in the buildings history. Our picture, taken from the same corner as the first duplicates the shot well. And while the building looks much as it did, some notable changes have been made to it over the years. The highest sections of the turrets are gone as are the parapets. Those aside, the building retains most of it original personalty – amazing given how long it’s been here. Most old buildings it seems get re-clad or somehow changed and modernized, which generally ruins their look. Not this one, and it’s just as stunning (even with those modest changes) as it was a century ago. Inside, I understand it’s a nice mix of the old and new.
The first image is from a scanned postcard supplied by one of our readers (John Williams). If you have an old image showing a street scene or building that you’d like us to explore to see what it looks like today, by all means, contact us!
The building is located on the corner of 17th avenue and 8th St SW overlooking Tompkin’s Park, (it self a former trolley loop), and is in an area bordered by trendy shops and restaurants.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.