In this then and now post we look at a circa 1970s “Party House”, at the west end of downtown Calgary and we return to that location to see if anything has changed since. And of course it has, a lot – like you didn’t already know that – and much of what was seen in the old photos, like the the row of houses, is now history. New condos have taken their place but in spite of this development, some buildings remain and these help us determine exactly where the old house once stood . Wow, the place sure is different today…it’s yuppy heaven!
Looking at downtown today, it’s hard to imagine that as late as the 1980s (and perhaps even the 1990s) there was a large residential community at its west end. Comprised of old houses built in the period 1910-1940 (for the most part), by the time the original photos were captured, the area was quite run down and depressed, and was comprised of rental units, flop houses and the like. And is the case with neighbourhoods like this, where the rents are cheap, there was always at least one party place amongst the other dwellings. Most of the “tenants” at these sort of crash pads were short term or temporary in nature. They had no home and roamed around settling down here and there for a week or two before moving on.
Money was always tight at these places, but in spite of that someone always had enough dough for beer (or let’s be honest, drugs). The nature of the place meant it was all communal – who ever bought it shared it and you were expected to do so as well. The same was said for food, for your vehicle (if you had one), your girlfriend some times, and nearly anything else you had that others in house didn’t.
While we don’t know for certain what went on at the house seen here, looking at it it’s a good bet that it was one of those party places described above. The records nailed to the garage, the old truck parked in back, and the fellow seen emerging from it tell us that this residence, at times, could be wild and raucous in nature. That makes it terribly inserting to us!
Let’s take a look at the first old picture. This is the only photo that can’t help us determine exactly where the house was. All that is seen, the row of houses, the garage, the albums tacked to it, the old truck I am certain and perhaps even the fellow in the hat, are all history. If we were to look there today all we’d see is the backside of a condo building. It’s interesting to think that people still live where the Party House once stood. In fact more people live downtown now then in the 1970s, but few live in houses – it’s all condos, condos, condos and a few older apartment buildings.
Of interest in the first photo (and another further down) is the 1953-56 era Ford pickup. My stepfather had one just like this at one time, at least I think it was close to his one, only his was more junky and beat up! “No Parking”! I doubt many would want to park anywhere close to the place. I wonder what treasures are hidden inside that garage?
The second photo affords us a look at the neighbourhood from a better angle. A couple blocks away, we can see a prominent apartment building along with some others towers just above the garage. All those are still there (check our photos) and they help confirm our location, even if most are now blocked by those aforementioned condos.
The view down the alley is still recognizable, but for our now picture, we had to move a bit right to get a better perspective. We are otherwise at the right spot, confirmed using other old pictures showing the Party House garage from different angles and in relation to other buildings still extant today (triangulation if you will).
Note the nice MGB in the alley in that second old picture. I recall in the 1970s, these tiny British sports cars (MGs and also the Triumph TR series) were quite popular in Cowtown, before giant F350 grocery getters became the norm. Cars produced in the UK, at the time, suffered from reliability issues and I don’t know the last time I saw one. I bet it’s been decades.
In the next set of old shots, we see the view from the garage looking south. Note the late 1960s era AMC Javelin (ed: correction AMX) in grey, which was that company’s version of a muscle car. Also keep an eye on the two buildings seen in back – both still exist but are blocked by a C-Train station – we did not attempt to do a “now” shot in that direction because of that. The small apartment building can be recognized by its balcony spacing and the utility room on the roof. The second building is known as the Kerby Centre and it too is instantly recognizable (note the keystone accents in particular). These further helped us line up our shot earlier.
I tried to make out some of the record covers tacked to the garage. I spotted a Doors album and some from the Beatles but that’s all. My mom had an old sewing machine (a Singer?) like the one seen.
Shooting our photographs, we were rather taken aback by just how much the downtown Calgary scene has changed in a few decades. The inner core is quite young and most buildings in it date from the 1970s or later – most replaced residential dwellings! When the original photos were captured, the city’s population was less than half of what it is today!
Are the condos we see now worse than the old run down houses that once occupied this same area in the 1970s? Some would argue yes and some no. I hate progress but understand it’s necessary in some cases. Still, the yuppy condos and their Bimmer and SUV driving occupants make me cringe in a way. Is this what it’s all about? The lifestyle seems hollow to me. Anyway, off my soapbox.
The exact date of these photos is not known but based upon the skyline, the mid-1970s is a good bet. Many of the building seen in behind were built just prior to that time.
Interestingly, there is a single lonely house still extant in the same neighbour where these photos were captured. It’s located about a block away and is lived in. Refer to the post Nine Houses.
Thanks to James Tworow for use of these old pictures. We had a blast doing this report. If you have an old photo showing a street scene, especially kitschy ones like he supplied, and would like us to visit that spot to see what things look like today, by all means send it to us. Photos must yours or be in the public domain, and can either be scans or paper originals (which can be returned). There is contact information below
To see some other then and now reports where we’ve explored downtown Calgary, follow these links…
Calgary then and now – Mewata Armoury. (Just down the road from the Party House.)
Superman 3 then and now – opening scenes. (Filmed in downtown.)
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: March, 2014.
Location: Calgary, AB.