Heritage column from March 31 Herald

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Heritage column from March 31 Herald

Postby newsposter » Fri Mar 31, 2006 12:47 pm

Tax breaks help save our heritage

Irena Karshenbaum
For The Calgary Herald

Friday, March 31, 2006

When on the afternoon of March 2, 1979, my family and I were looking out the window of a plane descending into Calgary, we were horrified at what we saw.

We were grateful this foreign country had taken in a young man, his wife and their daughter, but we couldn't help but question, seeing the one-storey houses we called "huts," if we had come to the right place.

"You will learn to love Calgary," I kept hearing. Being an eight-year-old who had watched Karol Wojtyla become Pope John Paul II in front of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, I wasn't convinced.

Immigrating to Canada and seeing these "huts," the single-family bungalows, was a shock for us from the architectural feast we enjoyed, even, yes, in the former Soviet Union and Italy.

We quickly learned the "huts" were more spacious and comfortable, a topsy-turvy world where homes were built for the inner life, but resembled hovels on the outside.

At the time, we didn't know that in the 1950s and '60s, Calgary had gone on a demolition spree. Anxious to erase memories of the Great Depression and Second World War, Calgarians wanted to start afresh.

But not everyone was happy about this. In 1978, Vicky Williams compiled Calgary Then and Now, a book of photography showing various sites as they appeared in the first decades of the 20th century versus "now," or as the city looked in the late 1970s. The book tried to show the city had unwittingly made many terrible decisions by destroying countless historic buildings.

The original Mount Royal College, built in 1911, on the corner of 8th Avenue and 11th Street S.W., had been a genteel sandstone structure with large windows, surrounded by a proper sidewalk and shrubbery. It was demolished in 1973 and replaced, for years, by a parking lot.

A similar fate awaited the James Short School, built in 1905, demolished in 1969 to become a parking lot. Only the cupola survived, serving as a gravestone over the James Short underground parkade. How much more poetic would the new TCPL tower have looked today juxtaposed against this grand dame?

So many historic buildings have been demolished that Darryl Cariou, senior heritage planner with the city of Calgary, can't even begin to count.

Cariou says the latest trend is the demolition of significant older homes in established neighbourhoods such as Mount Royal and Rideau. The latest victim was the Shimmin House, which had stood at 1926 11th St. S.W., in lower Mount Royal, since 1910.

Instead of demolition, owners have other options.

Restoration may be more expensive in the short term, but will pay higher dividends in the long run.

Conversion, another option, has been done extremely well in the case of the House of Israel Congregation that was converted into upscale townhouse condos on 18th Avenue S.W. Even facadism, an option of last resort, is a better alternative to demolition. The Lineham Block, incorporated into the Hyatt hotel, and the Neilson Block, incorporated into the Convention Centre, are excellent examples.

The municipal government can do little to stop demolition. Cariou says the city can't dictate what people do with their private property.

Instead, the city can work with willing owners by providing incentives. A major incentive is to freeze property taxes, an approach used for the newly restored Lougheed House which had its property taxes frozen at pre-restoration rates for 15 years.

"The return for the city," says Cariou is, "a fabulously restored heritage building in the middle of downtown which will pay significant taxes to the city in the future."

Of course, property taxes discourage the beautification of Calgary. Property taxes are levied on improvements, thereby rewarding dilapidation while penalizing restoration.

In many ways, it's too late. The countless historic buildings that have been destroyed can never be replaced. This is Calgary's shame. Creating a history involves preserving a significant inventory of historic buildings from each time period.

Since we live in a free market economy, the responsibility for heritage preservation, what little is left, should be part of the consciousness of the individual.

The free market does not mean shirking responsibility in favour of immediate cost savings -- the alternative for sitting on bags of money Charles Dickens personified in Scrooge.

Irena Karshenbaum is a writer living in Calgary. irenak@shaw.ca

© The Calgary Herald 2006
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Postby newsposter » Thu Apr 06, 2006 3:13 pm

World class is about the past, too

Calgary Herald

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Heritage - Re: "Tax breaks help save our heritage," Irena Karshenbaum, Opinion, March 31.

Irena Karshenbaum points out something we in the heritage business have long worried over -- the steady destruction of our history by tearing down our past at an alarming rate.

Any city that wants to describe itself as "world class" -- one hears that expression all the time in Calgary -- has to define what world class is. It has to go beyond immense individual wealth and a booming economy to include things which truly world-class cities value.

Calgary still needs to push some of those values up the priority chain, such as outstanding architecture, strong arts and cultural support, and recognition that our history is important to record and retain. All of these elements give a city its soul.

Lougheed House was saved from almost certain demolition and has undergone restoration because government saw the importance of preserving what is possibly the last surviving Calgary example of Prairie grand architecture in the late Victorian style.

We can't keep everything, but if we aspire to be in the company of world-class cities, we should not destroy everything, either. I applaud Karshenbaum's suggestions for creating incentives to encourage historic preservation.

Blane Hogue,

Calgary

Blane Hogue is executive director of the Lougheed House Conservation Society.

© The Calgary Herald 2006

Newsposter note: For more on Lougheed House visit http://www.lougheedhouse.com

For more on Mr. Hogue go here:
http://www.calgaryheritage.org/CHIForum/vi ... 5c06e02689
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