Out of the blue, Connie asked me one day, “How many houses do you think are left in downtown Calgary?” A good question…and with that a seed was planted. For days on end, I thought about it and thought about it some more. I vaguely recall seeing some…I think…at least three or four, maybe more. I know some are lived in but I believe others may have been converted to businesses, but still look like houses – do they count? I guess…yeah…sure.
What a great idea for a project and so with that I suggested we walk around the core and document what we could find. Are there many houses left or only a few? Join us and let’s find out!
As it turned out we documented nine houses (plus a tenth that we did not count), some of them lived in, some boarded up, and others still occupied by businesses. They were scattered about, a couple here and a couple there. Most were on the west side of downtown, save for one lonely ramshackle residence in the east.
Let me state that these are not the only dwellings in the core. In fact a great number people call the downtown home, but almost every one lives in condo towers or apartment buildings. Few, a handful as it turns out, live in houses in the transitional sense.
Researching the lineage of these buildings is beyond the scope of this article. In fact there is not much point doing it anyway. One can search and search and search, spending hours and hours at it, and find nothing of interest. The reason for this is most houses, as it turns out, are have unremarkable histories. Ordinary people lived in them leading ordinary lives and because of this those seen in this report, for the most part, will remain anonymous in respects to that. We did however look up the dates each was built.
For this report, we’ll define the downtown core thusly: it’s the land bordering the Bow River in the north, the CPR tracks in the south, 14th St SW in the west and the Elbow River in the east. I think most people would agree this is fair. Had we included the Beltline district across the tracks, this report would have been huge. Many houses still stand there, although even their numbers are thinning.
Surprisingly a few of the buildings we’ll document are not terribly old. This reminds one that downtown Calgary in fact, is quite young, and most towers and skyscrapers seen today date from the 1960s or later. Prior to that, the core was much smaller and was surrounded by a number of residential areas. The houses we see are the left overs, the last ones now standing from those neighbourhoods. Most seen are rather plain and if it were not for their unique setting, we would otherwise not give them a second glance.
The day of our trip was a blustery and cold and I believe the temperate never got above -25c (easily -30c with windchill). With that in mind, we dressed accordingly and ducked into office buildings if we needed to warm up.
We did a thorough grid search of the core and believe we found all the houses located there. However it’s possible we missed some, and if you know of one we overlooked, by all means let us know.
Staring at the west end of downtown….
1) This building dates from 1946. It’s plain and nothing special architecturally and we would easily give it no further thought if it had not been located in the core. It sits next to an old car dealer, which I am sure will be redeveloped soon. It is lived in and appears well kept up. I wouldn’t be surprised however if it was torn down soon. The land it sits on is very valuable and given there are few spaces left in downtown, this would make it quite desirable.
2) This building was not a home but rather a small corner store at one time and is across the street from the house mentioned above. I recall stopping there in the 1970s. Built in 1939, it’s currently a classical music store.
3) This former dwelling now belongs to Designs by Manuel, a jewellery company and is completely surrounded by condos. I’ve seen the work this craftsman does and it’s some amazing stuff. This house is an oldie (by Calgary standards) and dates from 1900. It looks to be well cared for and will likely be around for some time to come.
4) Next up is a brick house just around the corner. It sits boarded up, although I believe, based upon my sometimes weak memory, that is was until recently lived in. It dates from 1911. Its fate is unknown although given it’s pleasant design and solid construction it will hopefully be save in some way. Notice all the huge towers surrounding it and the small garage in the back yard. Of all the houses we’d see this day this one was one of the most interesting to me. I like brick.
Next door is what appears to be an almost identical sister building. It’s occupied by a restaurant and looks so heavily modified that it would be hard to guess it was a house at one time. Only in the back was that obvious. Some might argue it should be included in this report, but we won’t count it since it no longer LOOKS like a house, even though it is (or was) one. Okay…we’ll give it honourable mention.
5) Kitty-corner to the brick house is another former dwelling converted to business use. The occupant is a jewellery firm (I see a pattern here), Jewels by Design . This structure was built in 1910, is in good shape and likely has a solid future.
6) Next up and not far away, is a small bungalow, all boarded up. It’s is, as I understand, due to be demolished soon and no doubt the land will be used for more condos or something like that. We do know this building was constructed in 1941. It is covered in broken glass stucco (aka crushed bottle stucco, broken bottle stucco or beer bottle stucco) which was quite popular at one time.
7) The next building is actually called a “Manse” (or Clergy House, sometime called a Rectory), a house for the pastor and his family, built on the same property as a church. This one was by far the nicest of all houses we’d see this day. I understand it’s no longer lived in and is now used as an office and based upon that it’s future seems reasonably assure. It’s a century old in 2014.
8) This house is currently the closest such dwelling to the centre of downtown. Until this report, it was unknown to this author, not surprising given it’s well hidden by the buildings that surround and tower over it. It swallowed up by them in fact! I doubt the thousands of drivers that pass by it ever notice it either.
It was built in 1950 – amazing to think that the area surrounding was at one time residential. It’s the newest one we’d explore this day too. It does appear lived in and looks to be in reasonable shape. Like that soon to be town down bungalow, it has broken bottle stucco. Give the location, it is amazing that it has lasted as long as it has and I would not be shocked if it was demolished in the near future.
9) This building is around the corner from the one mentioned above. If you look to the left in the picture, you can see the “back yard” of that other house. Its was built in 1911 and is being used as office space for a lawyer.
10) This house is the last in the East Village and was built in 1904. Today it’s surrounded by some senior living towers and a good number of parking lots. This will all change as new trendy condos are being built in this formerly depressed neighbourhood. It looks to be a flop house from what I could see. It too is covered in that delightful broken glass stucco, and also has a partial false front. How much more time does this ramshackle building have? Given what is going on around it, I’d say not long. It’s too old, beat up looking, and probably has no place in this soon to be gentrified neighbourhood.
And so ends our tour. In spite of the bitter cold, we enjoyed searching out the last homes in Calgary’s downtown core. Next year, how many will be left? I’d say half those seen will not be around long.
Update: Silly us, seems we missed one house. I know, we NEVER mess up! There’s a former dwelling, now occupied by a jewellery store (what, another one?) on 6th Ave SW. It’s a fine building too, made of brick, two stories and around a century old.
To see some other reports from downtown Calgary that we’ve done, follow these links…
Calgary then and now – Mewata Armoury.
Superman 3 then and now – opening scenes.
Calgary then and now – Family of Man.
If you’d like to know more about what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: February, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.