Barron Building, 610 8th Avenue SW
Photo by Judith Umbach
It seems hard to believe, but there was a time when there wasn’t much office space in Calgary. When the oil strikes of the 1940s were made, companies set up shop in old hotels and run-down office buildings. Very little building had been done in Calgary since the depression and it seemed likely that the administrative offices of the hordes of oil companies would have to be established in that “E” place (Edmonton – the capital, for those of you outside of Alberta). That was not how Jacob Bell Barron imagined the future. He saw the opportunities offered by the oil boom and started building. The Barron Building (called the Mobil Building, for its tenant, from 1958 to 1969) was the first of the office towers erected in the wake of the Leduc discovery. It was a different kind of office building to what we are used to. It was mixed use, combining a movie theatre, retail space, office space and J.B.’s magnificent penthouse and rooftop garden. The garden, complete with a lawn for J.B.’s dog Butch, won a Vincent Massey Award for excellence in urban planning.
When the building was built, it was considered something of a risky venture. The outcome of the oil strikes could have been a boom or a bust. Barron was willing to take the risk and, not just that, build a building that was almost exuberant in its details. The architects, Stevenson, Cawston and Stevenson used a step-back design, popular in the 1930s, that allows for more sunlight to come to the street and also for terraces on the roofs of the projecting floors. The theatre, while reflecting J.B. Barron’s interest in the entertainment industry, was not unusual in mixed-used buildings. The methods used to construct the building were cutting edge as well. They used Q-floor construction which is strong, but light, and allowed the electrical and ventilation to be run in the floors. This allowed for maximum flexibility in the placement of room partitions. The strip windows were also a first in the city.
We are developing a greater appreciation for buildings from the mid 20th century and the Barron is an outstanding example of this Moderne style and valuable for the pivotal role it played in bringing the oil industry to Calgary.
Photo by Judith Umbach