Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The warehouse district as it was

A few weeks ago I began a post on here that ended up being expanded and sent to the Free Press. The piece compares Portage Avenue to its nearby neighbor the Exchange District, and looks at the two key aspects to the Exchange District's success:

- public money was gradual, and the neighborhood did not suffocate from big ideas. Organic (read: real) revitalization was able to take hold.

- the City of Winnipeg, for the most part, respected and defended the physical scale and context of the neighborhood. Density, small blocks, and old buildings were seen in the Exchange District as crucial to renewal, not obstacles to overcome.

It happened that a Mr. Evan Thornton, a Winnipeg ex-pat who contributes to Spacing Ottawa, was in town for the Fringe Festival this week, and recalled in a post on Spacing growing up in Winnipeg in the '60s and '70s, a time when "no one I knew ever went to the Exchange District; in fact back then the area didn't even go by any name at all and unless you were employed by one of the mid-century businesses that still valued the low rent and central location the district – fur storage, typewriter repair, offset printers, that sort of thing – you had no reason to show your face along the grimy streets just north of the famous corner of Portage and Main."

From the color photos of the time, grimy streets seems apt, and the use of the pressure washer and scrub brush on the brick and stone facades of buildings over recent years is one clear sign of the confidence owners have in the area.

These photos, all from the University of Manitoba's Winnipeg Building Index, show the district in the 1970s and '80s--the not so good, not so old days--before streetscaping, pressure-washers, progressive property owners, boutique retailers, the creative sector, Red River College, and a fair residential population (in both legal and illegal living spaces), came to make the Exchange District the place it is today.

A decapitated and exhaust-coveredUnion Trust Tower (it lavish and heavy cornice was pulled off sometime in the '60s, has since been replaced somewhat), corner of Lombard and Main

An equally grimy Bank of Commerce next door. While its grandeur is certainly unmatched by all but the Legislative Building, the Bank of Commerce was only narrowly saved from the wrecker's ball in 1978--back when the city's fledgling heritage preservation movement still had principles

The Confederation Life Building, also saved from demolition (traffic engineers wanted to straighten Main Street in front of it), getting its facade cleaned

What would become Red River College's Princess St. campus, when the the future of this row of buildings hung in the balance

Number 115 Bannatyne Avenue, one of the earliest local examples of warehouse-to-office conversion. It is occupied by a number of creative firms today

The Ashdown Warehouse seen from Rorie St. The loft condos had yet to be developed upstairs, and the bricked-off loading docks had yet to restored as a hair stylist college

Arthur Street, with the Gault (Artspace) Building on the right

McDermot Avenue from Albert, the centre of the district's retail success

Criterion Hotel on McDermot, badly damaged by fire and awaiting demolition. The building has since been restored and is in commercial use

Princess Avenue near Bannatyne, before landscaping came to the street, and before loft condos and a hair salon came to the Western Elevator building

Market Square and Townsite, a 'vertical shopping mall.' Townsite closed by the mid-1980s, and the Johnson Terminal at The Forks became downtown's leading multi-level kitsch emporium. But the Traveller's Building found a more suitable use as loft condos, with a cafe and bar (that has the city's best cocktail menu) on the main level


Blogger Sid Burgess said...

Love the pictures. Thanks for sharing.

2:12 PM  
Blogger HeritageHound said...

Thanks for the great photos, from a time that I remember! One correction, though: The Union Trust tower had its massive cornice removed in 1953, not the '60s

2:36 PM  
Blogger 1ajs said...

never noticed the cornice at the top of the nation trust building had been removed and just sorta put back on before

6:06 PM  

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