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Brewing up more culture
Heritage site deserves to be restored
By Irena Karshenbaum, For The Calgary Herald
August 29, 2009
Historically, getting a demolition permit for a heritage property has been all too easy. Owners haven't had to do much. Starve the building of investment, neglect maintenance, soon enough it will be an eyesore and a magnet for all sorts of undesirable elements. With luck it might have safety issues and then a demolition permit can easily be secured all in the name of "public good."
So much has been demolished that heritage is still an endangered species. Virtually no two heritage destinations can be connected by a pedestrian friendly continuous heritage streetscape. Sadly, you can't walk from the Reader Rock Garden to Stephen Avenue or to Inglewood along beautiful streets. This makes whatever remaining historic buildings that much more valuable. They are not only important heritage sites in and of themselves. They are critical nodes in an all too thin heritage inventory that is desperately needed for the development of the city's streetscape network.
Tragically, these are the issues facing us with the proposed demolition of the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site despite its historic significance, its heritage value and its unique features which are concealed from the public under layers of dirt, bird poop and aluminum siding.
Located in Inglewood, the brewery site contains some of the city's earliest buildings. It was founded by a historic Calgary figure, A. E. Cross, who was also one of the Big Four (along with Archie McLean, George Lane and Patrick Burns) who put up $100,000 to financially back the first Calgary Stampede in 1912.
Cross and his family contributed significantly to the city's economy by developing the brewery site while employing generations of Calgarians. The brewery kept operating during the prohibition years (1916-24) by selling soft drinks. It employed thousands during the Great Depression by building a fish hatchery, a garden and trout ponds. It even added a salt water aquarium and a Horseman's Hall of Fame Museum in the 1960s.
Calgary historian Max Foran has written, "The evolution of the site, up to 1961, had been concerned with improving productivity, quality and efficiency but did not compromise esthetics or community responsibility for the sake of functionality and profit. Each significant period of building was leading edge at the time of construction and for the most part the buildings have withstood the test of time."
Oddly it is the oldest and most precious--the 1892 Brew House and Ale Cellars, and the 1905 Brew House--built of sandstone, which can no longer be mined because all the sandstone queries have been closed and the number of skilled stonemasons working in Calgary can be counted on two hands, are proposed for demolition.
First, the Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site needs to be protected. Second, it needs to be restored and redeveloped. Unique features like the garden should be restored and the aquarium re-established. The heritage buildings can be adapted for use as stores, restaurants, cafes, theatres, pubs and creative office space.
Brewery redevelopment projects are not new. They are not ugly old sites. They are economic assets whose value is being recognized and revived around the world. Toronto restored the Distillery District, Halifax restored Keith's Brewery Building and Milwaukee is currently working on the massive Pabst Redevelopment.
Real estate developer Joseph Zilber stepped forward to buy the Pabst Brewery when the City of Milwaukee rejected buying it. He did it despite having found it in "terrible disrepair" and managed to secure financial backing from the City of Milwaukee. Zilber sold shares of the massive brewery site to various developers so they could redevelop portions of the site and chose to develop parts himself. A developer that specializes in innovative housing and adaptive reuse projects, Gorman and Company, stepped forward to redevelop Pabst Keg house into lofts; two local private developers bought the boiler house to redevelop it for office use for an architectural firm; small business owners bought a building for their upscale flower shop at street level and lofts on the upper floors. The City of Milwaukee invested in developing park space and walkways and once the project gained momentum the State of Wisconsin kicked in funding to house an engineering campus of the University of Wisconsin. With all the economic turmoil in the U. S., the Pabst project has been a rare ray of hope with investment demand remaining steady.
The Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site should take a page out of the Pabst Redevelopment book. It would be a coup for Calgary.
Irena Karshenbaum wrItes In Calgary and Is the foundIng, volunteer president of the Little Synagogue on the Prairie Project Society. She can be reached at email@example.com
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