It is midway through Historic Calgary Week which includes the Century Homes Project. It is an interesting way to draw attention to historical issues in a city that has a love affair with tearing older buildings down and replacing them with newly built buildings. Rarely are the old buildings incorporated into the new design. However, that is another issue for another day.
With that in mind, the Calgary Herald ran a story today that talks about the Cecil Hotel, Stephen Avenue Mall, Penny Lane Mall, the Barron Building and many other older and newer buildings and trying balance demands for the new with voices trying keep the old. It is not an easy thing to do, in a city that is rapidly growing with constant demands for space.
I will try to keep this short.
At the same time I want to talk about three old hotels – The Cecil, The King Eddy and the York Hotel.
All three buildings that were built in the early part of the 20th century; are located east of Centre Street; have recently been in the news; were all owned by the City at one time in their existence; and have been floated as being appropriate venues for cultural spaces at some point after the residents had left (or were in the process of leaving).
A long time ago, when I used to own a gallery and was tied into a five-year lease, I was approached by someone who talked at great length, complete with architectural drawings and conceptual ideas about how the Cecil should be rebranded as a cultural space/boutique/art space with studios above. It was similar to the Art Central concept with the exception that it quite possibly was a contemplated as a live/work concept. This is my memory talking here.
I have no documentation about this. I could not find mention of it in the online newspaper site I visited. My memory also is that the concept never lasted very long. However, it stuck in my mind as it happened around the time the landlord I was renting from at my residence, was talking about selling and I was considering my options. Now, I am very interested to see the architectural renderings again or to find out more about the concept. I am putting this out into the internet world, in the hopes that someone has this information, and/or is willing to talk more about it. Please visit my contact me page if you are that person or persons.
Notwithstanding this concept, the Cecil has had various uses in a cultural capacity over the years. Most recently a movie called Three Colours & a Canvas, 2014 was released within the last few months. It was filmed predominantly at the Cecil. The use of the Cecil as a backdrop for advertising photography, movies and photographic stills is common. The building has a grittiness and contrasts that works well in these contexts.
This is evident in a photo-essay which the Calgary-based photographer George Webber did for the February 27th issue of Swerve magazine in 2009. It documented the last days of the Cecil, and the introduction said:
On Friday, Feb. 13, the residents of the Cecil Hotel packed up and left. And then there were none–except a photographer and his camera.
The Cecil was also the subject of an art exhibition called This is My Cecil which was held in the Ledge Gallery at the
Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts. This was done in conjunction with This is My City Festival. The organizer of this exhibition Tomas Jonsson and his objectives for this show were described in a May 2010 story in the Herald as:
With his interactive project, Jonsson wants to make the negative view or “narrative” of the Cecil more “complex” by looking at other points of view, and at some of the rich-versus-poor backstories and business-versus-human dimensions of urban development.
Somewhere I believe I have a small publication produced for this show.
The King Eddy
This once seedy hotel (just as the Cecil was) used to have a pub in the basement where a virtual who’s who of blues musicians would perform over many years. It was known as the Home of the Blues – with good reason. Legendary acts such as Buddy Guy played there.
In August 2004, the King Eddy (or more formally the King Edward) was condemned with the Calgary Health Region citing, “dangerous level(s) of mould, not enough toilets and unsanitary conditions.” Like the Cecil it sat vacant and unused for four years before a proposal by Cantos Music Foundation (now the National Music Centre) was accepted in May 2008 to allow for redevelopment as a museum/music centre. This project is well underway as seen by the photo below that I took in early July of this year.
I am sure I will write more about this project as time progresses.
The York Hotel
Sometime between October 2005 when City Council approved the sale of the York Hotel and June 2007 when demolition began on the hotel – the low-income residents who occupied this previously seedy hotel had to move out. This hotel however probably was a step up from the other two mentioned above. This is probably due to the fact that when the city purchased it in 1990 they converted it from a hotel to an assisted living facility.
On a side note, only because it relates to the seediness of the York Hotel, a long time ago I had a job in the former Petro-Canada Tower. One hot summer day I looked out my office window and saw a stripper sunning herself with the tiger she used in her routine on the second floor balcony above the retail frontage on 7th Avenue. As I recall, this prompted an impromptu 5-minute meeting to be called amongst the guys on my floor to discuss this unusual event. But I digress.
This property was linked to construction of The Bow and as the picture above shows, this new development contained a smaller tower that incorporated the concrete Art Deco friezes which were custom-built on location circa 1930 at the York Hotel and were unique in North America. There were two locations that this was done – Calgary and Hollywood. As seen in the original building above and the architectural rendering below, these friezes were to be incorporated into the new building. I would have to do some research and I don’t feel like doing it today, as it is an obscure fact, but I believe the Hollywood and Calgary friezes were both done by the same person whom I believe was somehow a relative to the original owner of the York. This of course is from memory, so I could be corrected on this.
The building was carefully demolished and the bricks and friezes were put into storage as the intent was to reconstruct the building, retaining the two sides which faced Centre Street and 7th Avenue SE. The new building as illustrated in the rendering above was to be used as a cultural facility. In fact as I recall, this was a condition that allowed for the increased density and height of The Bow. As you can also see in this photo it was directly across the street from Art Central (the building on the left with the red vertical sign). This was intended to help solidify what was hoped to be a cultural zone, which was at that time called the Olympic Plaza Cultural District, and now is nothing more than an historical footnote.
Sadly, the worldwide economy went into a significant economic slide in 2008 which resulted in a refinancing in 2009 and the news as found in the Herald in April 2009 which stated:
The south block of The Bow skyscraper project, which was to house office, retail and cultural space, has been “deferred” due to the challenging economic times and construction for the time being will be stopped at grade level.
In February of this year, a front page story in the City section of the Herald stated this in the opening paragraph:
A second, smaller tower proposed as part of The Bow office development downtown will not go ahead. Instead, the property’s owners . . . will build a public plaza at the site of the old York Hotel.
As seen in the photo above that I took the week before Stampede workers are progressing on this new development as announced. The site where these workers are working, is indeed the site where the York Hotel once stood. It is still in progress and I am surprised that it has not been completed considering how fast they were putting that part down in late June. But, like all construction projects in this city, it seems that everything takes longer than one would originally expect.
This York Hotel project was immensely interesting. I plan to write about this, but probably not in this format. I am sure it will be heavily documented. If you have more info that might be of interest before it is tossed, please contact me.
The use of one of the three hotels as a cultural space is well on its way. The outcomes for the other two are still very much up in the air. Only time will tell if something ever comes from either one of them in this regard.