Eighth Avenue looking east from First Street West
When I look at some of the pictures in the Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, which is comprised of pictures of buildings that were threatened in the 50s and 60s by urban renewal and other development schemes, I sometimes ask myself, “What were they thinking when they tore that down?” Many of the buildings that were lost were outstanding examples of their period, such as the Burns Mansion, most of the hotels on 9th Avenue, the CPR station and huge numbers of homes. There were people, such as Alison Jackson, who were concerned and did their best to protect those buildings and, thanks to them, not everything was lost.
Now we’re starting the same process with some of our mid-century buildings. I know that I have a hard time thinking of heritage when I look at a building that was new when I was a child and sometimes, not always but particularly when confronted with anything “avocado” coloured, I have to say, “Eeeeuw!” Prejudices aside, if we don’t start looking at these buildings with an eye to the future, the next generations will look at the surviving pictures and say “What we’re they thinking?” Two buildings have recently been in the news, both of them mid-century and both under threat: The Barron Building and the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue.
We’ve already lost Earnest Manning High School, the Number 5 Fire Hall is at risk, the Barron Building’s future is up in the air and a demolition permit has been issued for the Shaarey Tzedec Synagogue. There is a lot of mid-century architecture in this city; we had one of our infamous booms during the 50s and 60s. Many of these are reaching the end of their lifespans and are will be looked at with a view to redevelopment. We need to be aware, before we start tearing things down willy-nilly, that what we look at today as an outmoded, electrically challenged nuisance, may one day be considered an outstanding example of the architecture of the time.
If you are interested in finding out about modernist architecture in Calgary there are a number of very good resources. Two books in our collection, both in Local History and in the regular collection are Calgary Modern 1947-1967 and Suburban Modern: Postwar Dreams in Calgary.
There is also a wonderful collection of photos at the Canadian Architectural Archives in the Calgary Civic Trust fonds.
And for those of you interested in the history of the Barron family and the building that bears their name, Irena Karshenbaum will be giving a presentation during our Heritage Weekend (October 19th and 20th) on the Barron’s and the importance of the Barron building as an anchor to the oil industry in Calgary. Find out more about our Heritage Weekend!
Courtesy Calgary Heritage Advisory Board