East Village developer moves its headquarters into the newly restored St. Louis Hotel
Trading one of Calgary’s historic landmarks for another, Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC) – the organization responsible for transforming East Village into one one of the city’s most sought-after neighbourhoods – has relocated its offices from the Hillier Building at 429 8th Avenue SE to the historic St. Louis Hotel right across the street.
In anticipation of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s arrival at Fort Calgary, Colonel James Walker developed the St. Louis Hotel in 1914. It underwent a major renovation in 1959, and in 2008 the City of Calgary designated the building as a Municipal Historic Resource.
“To extend the life of this century-old building by another 100+ years, CMLC officially kicked off a restoration and renovation program in spring 2015,” says Michael Brown, CMLC’s President & CEO. “With mixed-use office space on the second and third floors and a variety of retail uses planned for the main floor and basement, our restoration of the St. Louis opens up new chapters for this historical asset while further supporting our retail vision for the neighbourhood.”
CMLC began by fortifying the historic building with a new steel structure. The building includes three light wells clad with white panelling to cast light throughout the building, which features a four-stop elevator, concrete-topped floors with existing milled floors exposed below, and exposed brick, mechanical, electrical and structural elements to evoke the original building’s rustic feel.
“The St. Louis’s neon sign – a landmark familiar to many, many Calgarians – will be lit up today to herald the historic building’s grand reopening,” says Susan Veres, Senior VP Strategy & Business Development. “Inside, the St. Louis includes elevator artwork that pays homage to the building’s old uses. Among other things, it was home to the entirely fake ‘World Famous Indoor Horse Races’, and it was a favourite hangout of former Calgary Mayor and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein.”
In addition to housing CMLC’s offices, for the next 30 months the New Central Library construction site office will be located in the basement, while the main floor will be programmed by CMLC with a variety of community programs and events. Once the library construction program is complete, CMLC will seek full time retail operators to occupy the 12,000 SF of space located on the lower two levels.
The move out of Hillier Block, which CMLC has used as its headquarters since April 2012, makes way for a new Library Experience Centre. CMLC designed this storytelling initiative to familiarize Calgarians with the library construction program, Calgary Public Library’s long-term strategy and the diverse, exciting programs the New Central Library will deliver.
Before setting up shop in Hillier Block, CMLC’s offices occupied yet another heritage building that the organization restored and renovated: the historic Simmons Building on the bank of the Bow.
Horsing around at the St. Louis
The St. Louis Hotel has a colourful history.
Many Calgarians will recall the imaginary horse races that took place in the hotel’s basement bar every Friday from approximately 1985 to 1995. These popular social events, dubbed the ‘World Famous Indoor Horse Races’, were the creations of George Stephenson Sr. – a member of the ‘East End Petroleum Club’ that convened regularly at the St. Louis.
It all began at a St. Louis bar table when George called a fantasy horse race for his buddies. The horse races soon went public, complete with race sheets and the names of the imaginary horses for each imaginary race. He called four races over the lunch hour every Friday, and he had two favourite horses that made repeat appearances: ‘Hoof Hearted’ and ‘Old Army’. The winnings were often donated to local charities.
In its heyday, the St. Louis Hotel was so popular on Fridays, if you didn’t arrive by 11:30, you couldn’t get in.
The Friday horse races and one of the St. Louis’s most famous (and most loyal) patrons, Ralph Klein, are celebrated in elevator artwork in the restored building. The installation comprises photos from the personal collection of the estate of George Stephenson Sr. as well as photos of Ralph Klein (used with permission from Mrs. Klein).