Here’s instalment number four, where we put feet to pavement and document all the houses left in Calgary’s downtown core. Yes, I said houses, so single family dwellings, or ones that were formerly so but perhaps re-purposed, not in outlying neighbourhoods, but in the very centre of the city. The heart, the nucleus, amidst all that hustle and bustle, the traffic, and surrounded by tall office and condo towers.
The house count is seven, the same as it was last year. When we started the series years ago (never thought it go this far), there were nine. Fully expect when we revisit the subject in 2018 the number will drop. But we said that last year. Still, we know some buildings seen are destined to have a date with the wrecking ball. Not a matter of if but when.
First…how do we define downtown? We see it as the city sees it, as google maps sees it, as near everyone sees it, that plot of land between the Bow River and the CPR Tracks north to south and the Elbow River and 14th Street east to west. A place of steel and glass, concrete and asphalt, Mother Nature, a stranger here.
Second…what’s a “house”? So, a dwelling, one that’s still used as a dwelling by a family or small group. Or one that serves a new purpose, say used for office space or retail shops, that still looks the part. In simple terms, if it looks like a house and was once used as one, no matter its function today, it qualifies.
Now if the place was a house and has been so heavily modified that it no longer looks like one, it’s not counted. There’s at least one place we know (right next to the “brick” house) that was a dwelling, but today is so unrecognizable, now a restaurant, that it misses inclusion here. Some of our readers disagree with this (in earlier instalments) and we’ve taken some heat regarding our definition. But it’s our playground, so we make the rules and all others be damned to hell.
Naturally most of the houses seen are on the fringes of downtown. Still, there’s a couple that are quite deep within it and appear especially out of place.
There’s only a single house in the east end of downtown in the “East Village”. This building (circa early 1900s), has settled and shifted that there’s nary a square edge to be seen. Clad in that broken glass stucco so popular in the old days it’s used a rooming house (I won’t say “flop house”, I promise).
In was in years past this neighbourhood was part industrial part residential, and in more recent times had a reputation as a rough place. But things are get trendy here and hipster-ized and and you know what that means. No sentiment for old stuff! As such, we expect its days are numbered (we said that last year, interestingly). A fellow living there we chatted with expressed amazement its lasted as long as it has. Will it be around for instalment five? Taking bets…
A cluster of three house stand on the far west edge of downtown. One is used by a Jewellery Design firm and surrounded by condo towers. Another, around the corner, the most imposing and impressive of all, and constructed of brick (the only done this way), stands empty. It’s been in this state for some years now. What the future holds for it is unknown.
Just across the street is another former home, last used by another Jewellery firm (I see a pattern here). It’s empty right now, the vacant lot around, and perhaps even it, slated for redevelopment at some point in the future, perhaps when the economy improves.
All three homes just discussed date from circa 1900-1910s. At the time, this section of Calgary was fully residential, downtown being much smaller and off to the east. Lots of people live in the area today, far more than ever, but now everyone calls those towers home. Quite the trendy area. BWMs galore. Seems soulless. Not sure how anyone can live among all that noise and traffic…
Tucked away very near the Bow River is a small house, circa 1910s, sitting behind a church. It was once the residence for the pastor but today appears rented out to the general public. Of all the houses seen, it’s the most cute and charming. As with the others just explored, this one is also surrounded by condos.
The last two houses are the deepest in. One’s a lawyer office and dates from the 1910s. It’s perhaps the least appealing place visually. She’s a ugly one. Only a few steps away is the newest house explored. This one’s from the early 1950s – yes this part of downtown was residential not all that long ago and appears sort of lived in. Hard to tell. This house of all those seen, looks the most out of place, what with all those office towers about and a busy thoroughfare out front. It’s the most “downtown” of any houses seen this day.
The tiny dwelling (compare it in size to modern McMansions – mind blowing) is also clad in that broken glass stucco. So many from the era were done up this way. Wonder how many of the old man’s empties made it into the mix? His legacy lives on! It’s not clear what’s in store for the building. The market for downtown development is stagnant right now but one can’t help think it’s days are numbered. Maybe not today, but some time soon, someone’s going to show up with a dump truck full of money, buy the property, and do some redevelopment.
Hanging us for this shoot were a couple friends. Always more fun as a group. If you’d like to join in some time, message us. We’d love to hear from you. Since we shot these houses to death over the last four years, getting creative is becoming a challenge. As such, black and white seemed a natural. We’ve not done them that way before. Now what do we do for next year? Help, we need a theme!
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. Expect it to make an appearance in any follow up articles.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: March, 2017.
Location: Calgary, AB.
Article references: City of Calgary.
Everything seen can be photographed from public roads/sidewalks