Op-ed: It's time to take our past into the future

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Op-ed: It's time to take our past into the future

Postby newsposter » Mon Nov 04, 2013 10:46 am

http://www2.canada.com/calgaryherald/ne ... e260b7&p=1

It's time to take our past into the future

Irena Karshenbaum
For The Calgary Herald

Saturday, November 02, 2013

During the recent municipal election, I did not hear the word "heritage." Wards 7, 8 and 9 contain most of Calgary's precious, and disappearing heritage. Yet none of the candidates spoke of this issue.

Si, the famous Spanish church Sagrada Familia wasn't built in a day. But Calgary won't allow itself to grow old, or develop its own distinct architectural identity, given its penchant for scorched earth demolition and development.

This summer, I was surprised to discover that Vernon, B.C., with a population of about 40,000, has roughly the same-sized historic district as Stephen Avenue Walk. Calgary, a city with a population of over one million and an economy that is the economic driver of Canada, has invested in the restoration of five measly blocks of a heritage district.

There's beauty in old, and it's how we want to live. Calgarians flock, not to the dark, windswept tunnels of 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th or 9th Avenues, but stroll along our only heritage pedestrian walkway, Stephen Avenue. Heritage is at the heart of our most livable spaces, our tourist attractions and our arts and culture.

We now recognize development that occurred prior to the First World War as Calgary's heritage. This includes Lougheed House, Memorial Park Library, sandstone schools and Stephen Avenue.

Heritage needs to move into the future and recognize three new development periods: development that occurred between the two World Wars, the Mid Century and Brutalism.

Building activity slowed in 1913 and for the next 35 years little was built. The Tigerstedt block, for one, (built in 1932 at 908 A Centre St. North) is a rare example of a commercial development that occurred during the Depression. It contains an authentic but nonfunctioning Art Deco neon sign. The block is built to human scale and steps back from the street, unlike modern development of this type that hangs over the sidewalk

and overwhelms pedestrians. The Tigerstedt block is under threat of demolition.

In 1947, when oil was discovered at Leduc, Calgary lawyer and theatre impresario J.B. Barron risked his life savings to build the Barron Building and Uptown Theatre (610 8th Ave. S.W.), which, when completed in 1951, anchored the oil industry in Calgary. Being built so far away from City Hall, the development unknowingly saved the buildings that make up Stephen Avenue today and ushered in a new architectural period, the Mid Century.

The popularity of Mad Men has made the Mid Century fashionable again. If the Sterling Cooper ad agency was based in Calgary, in would be headquartered in the Barron Building. Peggy Olson would walk gazing up at the Royal Bank of Canada (1953 at 409 8th Ave. S.W.) and Petro-Fina buildings (1959 at 736 8th Ave. S.W.). Pete Campbell would do his banking at the Bank of Montreal (1954 at 604 8th Ave. S.W.). Rachel Menken would attend the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue (1959 at 103 17th Ave. S.E.) (currently under demolition threat) and dine with Don Draper at Hy's Steakhouse (302 4th Ave. S.W., demolished in 2007). Joan Holloway would stup Roger Sterling in the penthouse of the Barron Building.

In the late 1960s and '70s development turned to the northeast section of downtown and Brutalism, known for its stark use of exposed concrete, was the architectural style of the day. The former Calgary Board of Education building (1969 at 515 Macleod Trail S.E.), Bow Valley College West Campus (1967 at 300 6th Ave. S.E.) and the YWCA (1970 at 320 5th Ave. S.E.) are at the centre of the Brutalist period.

That '70s Show has yet to inspire a renewed love for Brutalism but I can see Michael Kelso bouncing down Brutalist boulevard.

I shouldn't have to rely on television to inspire an understanding of Calgary's heritage potential. Development from the 1920s to '40s is scattered and valuable as individual examples. The clusters of Mid Century and Brutalist buildings, with significant inventories still intact, present Calgary with a unique opportunity to grow our sole historic district and further develop our distinct heritage fabric.

The city needs to recognize the development surrounding the Barron Building as the Mid Century historic district, extending the walkability of Stephen Avenue, and the area around the old CBE building as the Brutalist historic district. These new historic districts need to protect the structures while any future development within the districts should respect and be in keeping with the esthetic.

If Calgary claims to be a great city, our politicians need to give voice to our heritage and invest significant resources in protecting, restoring and developing them. Stephen Avenue is not the end, it is the beginning.

IRENA KARSHENBAUM IS A WRITER AND HERITAGE ADVOCATE WHO LED A PROJECT THAT GIFTED ONE OF THE LAST SURVIVING ALBERTA SYNAGOGUES TO HERITAGE PARK.

IRENAK@SHAW.CA
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