For Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), the wise words of Confucius – “Study the past if you would define the future” – neatly encapsulate the company’s philosophy on redeveloping Calgary’s oldest inner-city neighbourhood, East Village.
As the developer responsible for breathing new life into Calgary’s downtown east end, CMLC has given enormous consideration to the neighbourhood’s historical and historically relevant buildings, eager to sustain the spirit and character of East Village’s proud past while preparing the assets for new generations of Calgarians to utilize and experience.
When CMLC began to assemble East Village land parcels in 2007, the organization purposefully acquired four landmark buildings and began to imagine their adaptive re-use as part of the neighbourhood’s master plan vision. These included the former Simmons mattress factory beside the Bow River; the St. Louis Hotel, former home to Friday afternoon imaginary horseraces; the King Eddy Hotel, Canada’s legendary blues bar; and the Hillier Block, a former billiards hall and barbershop.
“Since 2009, we’ve been describing how these historical assets will be repurposed to meet the future needs of Calgarians,” says Michael Brown, CMLC’s President & CEO. “We’re helping to transform the King Eddy Hotel into Canada’s National Music Centre. We fully restored the Simmons building, in which three local restaurateurs are now preparing to open a riverside food emporium. And in 2010, we renovated the Hillier Block for office use, and it now serves as CMLC’s headquarters.”
In a development permit application submitted this week, CMLC describes an improvement program for the St. Louis Hotel that will see the municipally designated historical resource carefully renovated for its next chapter as a mixed-use commercial development.
“Our heritage assets give us an exciting opportunity to recreate East Village as a uniquely compelling destination and retail district,” says Susan Veres, Vice President Marketing & Communications. “The St. Louis Hotel is particularly relevant to Calgarians as it was made famous by former Calgary Mayor and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and the Friday afternoon imaginary horse races called by George Stevenson.”
To honour the building’s past, CMLC’s building improvement program has been designed to accommodate a food service tenant in the basement and/or on the main floor while opening up the two upper storeys for cooperative office uses.
Built in 1914, the St. Louis Hotel was developed by one of Calgary's most prominent citizens, Colonel James Walker, in anticipation of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s arrival at Fort Calgary. The hotel underwent a major renovation in 1959, and in 2008 the City of Calgary designated the building as a Municipal Historic Resource.
Historical Resources Bylaw 3M2008 outlines the regulated portions of the building, its heritage value and its character defining elements, which include:
• Ornamental, galvanized-metal roofline cornice with neoclassical-style detailing and the lettering ST. LOUIS HOTEL contained in the frieze
• Hand-painted ghost signage advertising
• Three interior light wells containing skylights atop the first storey
• Illuminated 1950s signage suspended from the façade
On December 31, 2015, CMLC will take possession of another iconic building and land parcel – the Cecil Hotel located along 5th Avenue at 3rd Street SE. An important gateway parcel for East Village, the site is approximately 43,000 sq ft and carries a mixed-use designation.
“The Cecil has been renovated many times over its 104-year history, and the flood event of 2013 likely affected the building’s structural soundness,” says Michael Brown. “At this point, we do not know how much of the building’s historical value remains, but you can rest assured we’ll study the structure to see what, if anything, can be preserved.”