To the motorists driving by on busy MacLeod Trail, it’s the Big Yellow house in Victoria Park just off downtown Calgary. Surrounded by parking lots and condo towers, it sits alone and looks terribly out of place and in fact it’s the only house left in the immediate area.
It’s known as the Enoch Sales house, named for Enoch Samuel Sales, its original owner. While it looks abandoned, the building is due to be incorporated into a park. Work better begin soon however, as the structure is succumbing to the elements and time.
Built in 1904/1905, the house was located in a then fashionable part of town, just south of the core and not far from the warehouse district and train station. This put those who lived here in close proximity to everything a person would need at the time. A nearby trolley line provided quick and easy access to any part of town.
Mr Sales was the proprietor of the Sales Clothing Company and he lived in the house until his death in the early 1930s. Outside of his business, we know very little of him, other than mention is made that he was an active civic leader. Research has turned up nothing about his family, or their history.
Kept in the Sales family until the early 1940s, the building was first converted to a boarding house and after that, apartments (exact dates unknown). Near the end, the house was well known for being a notorious party spot. It has sat empty for some unknown amount of time – I do recall it being lived-in at some point in the late 1990s or early 2000s however…I think…but these are vague faded memories at best.
As the years progressed the once upscale neighbourhood in which the house sits became more working class. By World War One, with industry encroaching on the community, many of the wealthier residents moved to other up and coming neighbourhoods further from the core (Mount Royal for example).
By the 1960s and 70s, Victoria Park was one of Calgary’s more neglected and downtrodden communities, home to flop houses and the like and with a high transient population. And it only got worse as the years past and by the late 1990s, it was an awful place with lots of drug use within the community. Today, only a few occupied homes remain but they are further east. Most others have been demolished, with the lots remaining empty or turned in to parking spaces for the nearby Stampede Park.
Today, a renaissance of sorts has happened, a process that started in the early 2000s. Things have come full circle and for the first time in a century Victoria Park is now upscale again. This time however, instead of elaborate mansions, housing is now in the form of condos. The whole neighbourhood is slated for redevelopment – meaning you should expect to see trendy (read: expensive) shops and businesses open up in the area. Some have already.
The city has plans to incorporate the building and surrounding parking lot into a green space and they mention turning the house into a bistro style restaurant. While work was to start in the spring of 2013, nothing has happened so far. When it comes to construction projects, delays are nothing new I guess. In some reports it’s been said the building may be moved from its original location by a few dozen metres, for reasons that are not entirely clear.
The Sales house is last remaining pre-World War One home in the area (actually one of the last remaining homes in the community, PERIOD). When built the structure had a sandstone foundation, which has been replaced with concrete at some point.
The Sales house was built in what’s called a Queen Anne Revival style, after the monarch of the same name who reigned in the early 1700s. Prominent features common to that design philosophy include the large front porch or landing with round support columns, bay windows and angled corners, and patterned roof shingles or siding – all of which are seen on this building.
Of particular note is the window treatment on the top floor – those gentle arched accents with round turnings seen over the window opening. Those little details are what makes this building so special.
Amazingly, the building appears very much as built (at least on the outside) and pictures this author has seen from a hundred years ago show it looking near the same as it does today. A photo from the 1970s shows a large hedge in front – it also was painted the same yellow colour we see today. I have not been able to find any interior shots of the house but one could imagine that at one time anyway, it must have been equally stunning as the outside.
Also somewhat surprising, the building is for the most part graffiti free and shows little in the way of being vandalized. Odd since it sits in an open public parking lot in a still somewhat seedy part of town.
Today MacLeod Trail (northbound) passes by the house, but when it was built, that street was located further east in a neighbourhood called Ramsay. Now the house is just off that major thoroughfare and can be seen clearly from it, but I doubt many of those driving by pay it much mind.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: December, 2013.
Location: Calgary, AB.