Monday, 16 October 2017

The Stories Our Buildings Tell: Tragedy and Mystery in North Point Douglas

Guest post by Greg Agnew, Heritage Winnipeg Board Member
Edited by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

Behind the buff brick walls of 187 Sutherland Avenue in Winnipeg hides a story of mystery and intrigue. An unassuming two story building in the North Point Douglas neighbourhood, the façade gives no hint as to what tragedy transpired there in 1928. Cheerful arches with decorative keystones grace the entrance and windows on the front façade, with a brick cornice detail running along the roofline, giving no suggestion of heartache. In a neighbourhood where immigrants came to start a new life, a little girl’s life was cut short leaving unanswered questions that haunted those involved for years to come.

In 1812, the Selkirk Settlers arrived at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers. With Fort Gibraltar already established by the North West Company at this location, Governor Miles Macdonell choose to lead the settlers further north along the Red River, to an area on the west side which had been cleared by fire in recent years. The land was divided into long narrow river lots for settlers in the north, the colony’s buildings on the narrow point of land to the south and “King’s Highway” (which would become modern day Main Street) meandering through it all. It was in this area that the settlers would soon build Fort Douglas, named after Thomas Douglas, Fifth Earl of Selkirk, the reigning Lord Selkirk in 1812. It was the site of conflict for many years, as the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company (aligned with the Selkirk Settlers) struggled for power. Destruction, reconstruction, struggle and strife all finally ended in 1821, when the two warring companies merged, with the fort still standing. It took a force of nature, a flood in 1826, to wash away Fort Douglas forever.

Fort Douglas on the banks of the Red River in 1817.
Source: Douglas Archives
Although the fort was lost, the name remained, with the narrow point of land carved out by the Red River becoming known as Point Douglas.  The neighbourhood was a growing settlement, with streets, houses, schools and churches being built and businesses being opened. Many of Winnipeg’s founding families, the Ashowns, Bannatynes, McDermonts, Logans and Schultzes called the area home. For most of the 19th century, Point Douglas was a prestigious place to call home, with many elegant houses filling the neighbourhood.

In 1881, the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived, with its tracks running right down the center of Point Douglas, cutting the neighborhood into two. North Point Douglas remained a residential area, while South Point Douglas was more commercial. The presences of the noisy trains and the unpleasant industry growing up around it drove many of the residence away, replaced with working class immigrants of non-British origin. North Point Douglas soon became an immigrant community, where people could shop, worship and speak as they did in the homeland. Yet through this change, the original buildings of the area stood unfazed, a reminded of a time of prosperity and promise. Many of the areas larger homes were divided into boarding houses while single family homes where tucked between the stately old homes.

Point Douglas in 1912, the narrow point of land surrounded by the Red River on three sides.
Source: CBC News Manitoba and Achieves of Manitoba
It was into this North Point Douglas, filled with old homes and new immigrants that Julian Johnson was born. By 1928 Julian was five and a half year old little girl that lived a happy life at 138 Austin St. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Julia was a pretty girl of about 40 pounds, with blue eyes, dark brown hair and a pale complexion. She lived with her mother, her father Anton, who was a construction worker, her sister Bernice, 11, her brother John, 16, and brother Joseph, 13. The family was of Polish decent and by no means wealthy.


On April 25th of 1928 Julia was playing outside while waiting for her sister and the next door neighbor, Elizabeth Kral, to come home from school so they could play together. Julia was a shy, quiet little girl. She was taught not to talk to strangers and to always stay close to home. Her mother was washing clothes in the kitchen around 1:30pm when Julia went outside to play.   Julia was wearing a red and black dress that her mother made for her and little black shoes that just had a new sole put on one. With fawn stockings, a sweater and brown toque, she was ready to go outside and play. It was a mild day, with the temperature around 0ºC and no rain in sight.

Julia’s mother would call out to her daughter periodically, with Julia coming in to tell her mother what she was doing. She would tell her mother she was just playing with her favorite tennis ball, or that she was watching the “gas man” as he made his rounds. Around 3:30pm, Julian’s mother got a strange feeling. She called out for Julia, but here was no answer. She went out the front door and called again, but still no answer. Mrs. Kral, the neighbour, came out and told her she had just seen Julia a few minutes ago playing with her ball, bouncing it against her house. They immediately searched the area, calling out, but could not find Julia. The Kral’s son Alfred came home from school just before 4pm, and when asked, he said he had not seen her along the way.

It was not like Julia to disappear and so after the search continued fruitlessly for a short time, the police were called. Constable Thomas McKim got the call on his callbox #4 as he made his rounds in the area, so he responded to the Johnson home and joined in the search. Nothing turned up to give them any clue as to where Julia was. When Julian’s father, Anton, arrived home he started searching the entire area with the help of her brothers and some school kids that knew Julia. They searched the neighborhood and along the riverbank looking for clues or footprints, but found nothing. Panic set in and the family was stricken with anxiety.

The case was turned over to the detective division as suspected foul play. Inspector R. Macdonald, in Division E, was put in charge of the case. Chief Detective George Smith, Sargent Fred Batho, Sargent Charles Maciver, and Detective Alex Kolomic were assigned to the case and the search for clues started in haste.

Nathan Taplinsky owned the blacksmith shop at 190 Sutherland, just a half block away from the Johnson’s home. He had seen Julia around 2:00pm with some other children playing in the yard that he used for storing his wagon and material. It was a dangerous area for kids to play in and he chased them out. Mrs. Newmark indicated that she and her son talked to Julia on Austin Street in front of her house at around 3:15-3:30pm. The neighbor, Mrs. Kral, said Julia was bouncing her ball against her house somewhere around 3:45pm.

A search started that took up the whole Point Douglas area and continued all the way to St. Johns Avenue past Redwood. Every home, building, back yard, river bank was checked by the police with the help of the local citizens, as well as a Boy Scouts troupe that offered to help.   Tons of metal in piles were searched in back yards, alleys and businesses. Anywhere where a small girl could hide was searched and then searched again but nothing.

Julia Johnson's family offered a reward of $50,
which was a large sun of money for a poor family n 1928.
Sadly, it was speculated that Julia had been abducted and as the search continued the family was starting to losing hope and Mrs. Johnson became bedridden with grief. The search went on for months but with no new leads, and the detectives were at a standstill. The case was not closed, but put aside, with the detectives continuing to monitor it for any breaks.

The family could not live in the home anymore because of the memories and moved to 1105 St. Mary’s Road. Detective George Smith became Chief Constable in 1934, and he never dropped the case, but like the others, he watched over it looking for a possible break. Every two weeks, Mrs. Johnson and her husband Anton would go to the police station and ask Chief Smith if there was any new leads as he always gave them time. He had become close to the Johnsons and wanted to relieve their pain by solving the case, which is why it was never closed even though it went cold.

 In 1937, 187 Sutherland Avenue was sold to Muzeen & Blythe, a machine shop company. They were preparing the building for their business, clearing out a lot of scrap and equipment in the building from its soda bottling days. One item was the old boiler that sat in the basement. Wilfred Adams had the task of dismantling the boiler so it could be removed. To his horror, when he took off the back cover, there was a gruesome discovery - small skeleton was inside. The police were called and when word reached the station George Smith and Alex Kolomic rushed to the scene.

187 Sutherland Avenue in North Point Douglas, seen at the center of the photo.
There in the boiler were the remains of a small girl bent over so her head had almost touched her feet. A brown toque and a ball with a tear in it were found by the body. The Johnson’s son John came down and identified the body by the ball, toque, and what was left of the dress Julia was wearing the day she disappeared. It was devastating news for the family, as they always had hope that she was alive somewhere.

The case was then reopened and the search for new clues began. It had been nine years since Julia’s disappearance. People had passed and memories had grown foggy, but the detectives continued on. During the course of their investigation, they discovered Mr. Hamilton, who owned 187 Sutherland Avenue, closed the business down on April 7, 1928. The building was boarded up and the doors locked. He went to the blacksmith shop of Nathan Taplinsky and left a key there for the meter man, which was hung on a post by the door. Nathan and his assistant denied having the key, but a former worker testified that there was a key on the post, although he not knowing what it was for. A meterman also said he got the key from Nathan to read the meter and he hung it back up at the blacksmith shop afterwards.

Florian Kovacs, a neighbor, said he saw Julia talking with a bearded man, walking and holding hands. No one saw or knew of this man and Julia, known for her shyness, would never talk to strangers. The premises of 187 Sutherland Avenue, including the boiler, had been searched more than once, but because the body had been pushed right to the back into a cavity, it was never found. A metal tube was found by the boiler, which could have been used to push Julia’s body back and cause her hip to dislocate, as noted by the corner.

A coroners hearing was held after police were given time to reopen the case and look for new clues. When they presented what they had found, the jury at the inquest hearing was not satisfied. There were too many discrepancies in the witnesses’ testimonies in 1882 and in 1937.

Who would do such a thing? Why was the ball found with the body? If foul play was suspected and she was lured into the building, why were no screams heard? Surly she would have screamed if she did not know the person. She did just that two weeks before she disappeared! She ran home and told her mother the “boogey man” was after her. It took her mother almost two hours to calm her down. The building at 187 Sutherland Avenue is only 60 feet from the back of her home so her mother would have heard her screams for sure.

187 Sutherland Avenue still stands in North Point Douglas today,
steadfast in its silence, the only witness to what really happened to Julia Johnson.
Unfortunately, too many unanswered questions never got answered. Little Julia was buried March 30, 1937 and laid to rest in St. Mary’s Cemetery.  The case was closed as unsolved in June of 1937 and remains a mystery to this day. Only the walls know what really transpired at 187 Sutherland Avenue that heartbreaking day in 1928.


SOURCES:

CBC News Maniotba
www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/point-douglas-winnipeg-s-1st-and-only-red-light-district-1.1381108

Douglas Archives
www.douglashistory.co.uk/history/Places/fort_douglas.htm#.WeTfOCMrL5Y

Manitoba Historical Society
www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/features/walkingtours/pointdouglas/index.shtml
www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/douglas_t.shtml
www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/transactions/3/fortdouglasforks.shtml

Neighborhoods of Winnipeg
now.winnipeg.ca/history/north-point-douglas

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Heritage Heroes: Historic Oak Room Preserved for a New Chapter in Our History

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

In 1904, two referendums on prohibition had failed to ban liquor in Manitoba. A livery stable stood at 285 Smith Street in Winnipeg and the 31 year old, Winnipeg based Dominion Express Company opened the doors to it new stables at 108-112 Alexander Avenue. Fast forward 113 years to 2017: Manitoba’s three year old Liquor and Gaming Control Act is the first major liquor legislative update since 1956, and the St. Regis Hotel at 285 Smith Street is set to be demolished for a parkade and a new micro distillery is opening in the former Dominion Express Company Building. The three events may seem unconnected, but they are set to join forces and make new history with Winnipeg’s heritage.

Liquor has been legislated in Canada since 1657, with the Hudson’s Bay Company playing a large role in the control of liquor sales until 1870. Eight years later in 1878, a provincial liquor commission was established in Manitoba, which decided the bar to people ratio in the province should be 1:300. By 1883 Manitoba attained the right to grant licenses for liquor sales to various retailers, until the majority of liquor sales were quashed by prohibition in 1916. With few legal options for consuming liquor, bootleggers thrived, speakeasies opened and medical prescriptions for liquor skyrocketed. Yet despite this apparent thirst for liquor, prohibition held fast until 1921, when liquor became available through a Manitoba government agency.

The Hudson's Bay Company liquor store in Winnipeg in 1899.
Source: Hudson's Bay Company History Foundation 
Liquor laws continue to evolve through the decades, with the Liquor Control Act of 1956 becoming the major legislative guide for the next 58 years. Finally in 2014, the new Liquor and Gaming Control Act was enacted. Balancing “consumer choice and business flexibility within a framework of public safety and social responsibility” (Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba). These new regulations are seen as a slight loosening of laws, designed to grow and adapt with modern society’s changing views on liquor consumption.

Much like Manitoba’s liquor laws, 285 Smith Street had also undergone great changes through the decades. By 1910 the livery stables had been replaced with the Rookery Block, a two story mixed use building. This incarnation of the building was quickly expanded upwards to four stories, becoming the St. Regis Hotel. The hotel officially opened on July 12, 1911, as a modern hotel with the latest amenities, boasting “superior cuisine and service” (Manitoba Free Press).

An undated photo of Smith Street looking north towards Portage Avenue,
with the St. Regis Hotel on the left side of the frame.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg
The St. Regis offered outstanding dining in a restaurant originally called the Grill Room. Outfitted with a French trained chef, the 130 seat restaurant was designed in the Moorish style with an abundance of oak finishes. An oak coffered ceiling was supported by carved oak corbels that sat at the top of decorative oak columns, while tall oak paneling continuously clade the walls. A row of heavily cased oak arched doorways contained beautifully glazed double oak doors, with mullions gracefully following the curves of the door. Additional doorways were squared off, with solid, imposing oak doors set inside them. Anchoring the room was a set of oak cased stained glass window flanking a substantial fireplace with an oak mantel that nearly reached the ceiling. It was a room filled with grandeur, built with quality materials, and superior craftsmanship that could easily stand the test of time.

The fine oak details of the Oak Room remained relatively unchanged for the St. Regis Hotel's 100+ year history.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg
In the late 1940s, the hotel was undergoing one of many renovations, which included the dining room surrounded in oak, hence being renamed the Oak Room. The name was well suited for the room, and it was still in use when the hotel closed in mid 2017. The room that had hosted countless events and was enshrined in the hearts and memories of many Winnipeggers was sadly set to be demolished. Over one hundred years of history was going to be lost forever and replaced with a parkade. Heritage Winnipeg disagreed with the earlier decision but the city did not deem the hotel worthy of designation, which would have protected it from demolition.

Meanwhile, in Winnipeg’s East Exchange District, instead of being destroyed, a different heritage building was being giving a second chance. 113 years after opening, the Dominion Express Company Building was still standing proudly, unfazed by the passage of time. The three story buff brick building designed by John Woodman was relatively unadorned aside from brick dentil cornicing on the second and third floors, to arched entrances proclaiming “DOMINION EXPRESS CO” above them in stone arches, and a peculiar small, round window on the second floor of the front façade. The building had originally functioned as a stable and warehouse, from which packages where shipped to and from, similar to a modern day UPS.

The Dominion Express Company Building at 108-112 Alexander Avenue, seen here in 2014.
Source: Google Maps
Although much of the Exchange District had undergone a renaissance in the 1980s, the Dominion Express Company Building seemed to have been forgotten. Nowhere to be found on the City of Winnipeg List of Historical Resources or nominated list, it was left to owner Leon A. Brown to ensure the priceless piece of Winnipeg’s heritage was preserved. Fortunately for the building, they understand the value of our built heritage and they are committed to its reuse. His efforts have been so substantial that in 2017 Heritage Winnipeg recognized their work with a Distinguished Service Award at the 32nd Annual Heritage Winnipeg Preservation Awards.

Recently the owners of the Dominion Express Building have welcomed Brock Coutts, another admirer of Winnipeg's built heritage, as a tenet. Thanks to the modernization of Manitoba’s liquor laws, Coutts was planning on opening an artisanal distillery in the building at 108-112 Alexander Avenue when he heard about the demolition of the St. Regis Hotel and the plight of the Oak Room. With no government willing or able to contribute any funding to remove and reuse historic elements of the Oak Room, Coutts gallantly stepped forward to offer to rescue the timeless oak features of the aged dining room. In addition to spending their own resources to remove the oak, they wanted to provide these stunning elements with a home in the new distillery, which would be open to the public via a 50 person tasting room.

As efforts to find public funding to save the Oak Room failed, Heritage Winnipeg was elated by the generous offer by Coutts. Preserving built heritage and making it available to the public while repurposing another heritage building was making the best of the loss of the St. Regis Hotel. The two owners and developers of the St. Regis site, Fortress Real Developments and Edenshaw Developments were happy and accommodating, working with Heritage Winnipeg and Coutts, allowing for the removal of the Oak Room. As demolition loomed, no time was wasted in removing the precious wood and storing it safely at the Dominion Express Company Building. It was a perfect partnership between the private and non-profit sector.

The Oak Room in August 2017 as the historic element were being removed.
Source: Patent 5 Distillery
On October 10, 2017, Coutts, with the support of Heritage Winnipeg, received unanimous approval for his micro distillery from the City of Winnipeg Standing Policy Committee on Property and Development, Heritage and Downtown Development. Called Patent 5 Distillery, it is named after the fifth patent to be issued in the Dominion of Canada, which was for a distillery in 1867. The Oak Room will be featured in the approximately 600 square foot tasting room where the micro distilled gin, vodka and whisky will be available for sampling and purchase. 

The historic element of the Oak Room are being safely stored at 108-112 Alexander Avenue
until they can be installed in Patent 5 Distillery's new tasting room.
Source: Patent 5 Distillery
Proving that all things old can be reused and become a successful part of our social fabric once again!

To learn more about the history of the St. Regis Hotel, read 

The St. Regis Hotel – Paradise Lost to a Parkade



Sources:

Biographical Dictionary of Architect in Canada 1800-1950
dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/1282

CBC News
www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/stregis-hotel-demolition-1.4114742
www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/winnipeg-whisky-distillery-approval-1.4347515

City of Winnipeg
www.winnipeg.ca/ppd/historic/pdf-consv/Carlton%20300-long.pdf

Google Maps
www.google.ca/maps/place/108+Alexander+Ave,+Winnipeg,+MB+R3B+0L2/@49.900467,-97.1329219,3a,90y,234.25h,109.42t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1skjcNLbFNLue3wBsDUYhOmA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x52ea71424f8a14e1:0x4de48f39f085540a!8m2!3d49.9003983!4d-97.1330199

Hudson's Bay Company History Foundation
www.hbcheritage.ca/history/ventures/hbc-spirits

Liquor and Gaming Authority of Manitoba
lgamanitoba.ca/about-us-overview/liquor-and-gaming-in-manitoba/liquor-in-manitoba/history-of-liquor-regulation/
lgamanitoba.ca/documents/lga-top-100.pdf

Manitoba Free Press
winnipegdowntownplaces.blogspot.ca/2012/11/285-smith-street-st-regis-hotel-updated.html

Toronto Railway Historical Association
www.trha.ca/trha/exploring-the-walmsley-collection-dominion-express-sign/

Winnipeg Cab History
www.taxi-library.org/winnipeg-history/wc12.htm

Winnipeg Downtown Places
winnipegdowntownplaces.blogspot.ca/2012/11/285-smith-street-st-regis-hotel-updated.html


Winnipeg Free Press
www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/st-regis-hotel-to-close-next-month-ending-107-year-run-422456543.html

Monday, 2 October 2017

A New Life for the New York Life Insurance Building

By Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

Winnipeg is fortunate to be home to a stunning collection of modernist architecture that has survived relatively intact from the mid 1900s. Architects of the time sought to break free from the past and embrace new materials and technology, to create something the world had never seen before. With roots in going back to Chicago in the 1880s, modernism flourished in Winnipeg after WWII when the city was filled with optimism and confidence. The New York Life Insurance Building at 385 St. Mary Avenue was a product of this period, with a sleek, unadorned design making extensive use of curtain walls. An excellent example of the work of local architects, the building is once again being celebrated as an achievement of design, with renovations underway to restore it former modernist glory.


After decades of prosperity around the turn of the 20th century, Winnipeg had fallen into a depression that held fast until the end of WWII. As the war ended, Winnipeg was finally able to move forward again, diversifying its economy and slowly beginning to grow. During this post war period, John Alonzo Russell was appointed to the helm of the University of Manitoba School of Architecture. Russell was more than just an architect; he was deeply involved in the arts, both as a creative and guiding force. It was under his leadership that modernist architecture rose to prominence at the University of Manitoba. Russell felt that architecture should not be a nod to the past but instead a representation of the current period, making use of the latest technologies while remaining “clean and orderly” (Winnipeg Modern, P. 9). Many of the students of the school went on to become giants of Canadian Modernism, spreading the style across the country. Fortunately for Winnipeg, some of these talented young architects stayed in the city, “producing one of the richest stocks of Modernist architecture in Canada.” (Winnipeg Modern, p. 3)

Graduating from the University of Manitoba Architecture School during this period was Allan Waisman and Jack Ross. In 1953 they joined forces to open their own architectural firm in Winnipeg, Waisman & Ross (which would eventually become part of the current Number TEN Architectural Group). Their buildings were “clean lined, [and] classically proportioned,” (Winnipeg Architecture Foundation) focused on the form and materials while lacking ornamentation, similar to the work of American modern architect Mies van der Rohe. The firm quickly achieved success, receiving two honourable mentions from the Massey Medals in Architecture for their work in the mid 1950s. It was during this time that they hired another University of Manitoba graduate, Geoffrey Bargh. Having won a scholarship at school for the highest standing in architectural design, the relatively inexperienced Bargh was tasked with designing a new building commissioned by Harvard Investments Limited, a development company.


Designed by Mies van der Rohe, S. R. Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology
in Chicago typifies the modernist style, reminiscent of the work of 
Winnipeg firm Waisman & Ross.
Source: Illinois Institute of Technology
The Edmonton Building at 208 Edmonton Street in Winnipeg, designed by Allan Waisman in 1956,
is an example of the modernist style popularized after WWII.
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
Architect Geoffrey Bargh, a University of Manitoba graduate,
designed the building at 385 St. Mary Avenue.
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
Located at 385 St. Mary Avenue, on the north west corner of the intersection with Edmonton Street, Bargh designed the building in the modernist style popular at the time. Construction for the boxy, two story, flat roof building began in 1957, by Peter Leitch Construction Limited. Although this was twelve years after WWII ended, it was one of the first new office building erected in downtown Winnipeg since the war had preoccupied the city’s attention and resources. The building is set tight to the sidewalk, stretching 103 feet along St. Mary Avenue and 43 feet along Edmonton Street, for a total footprint of 9312 square feet over two floors, with a basement below.

Bargh's modernist building at 385 St. Mary Avenue.
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
Then main façade of the building on St. Mary Street is draped in a curtain of rectangular, clear glass panels set in a consistent grid pattern, with the grid being originally made of gazed blue-green ceramic mosaic tiles. Cantilevered to appear floating above the ground, the façade allowed for a visual connection between the office's interior and the bustling city around it. A two story entrance was set back into the east end of the façade, with six steps leading up to the glassed in two story foyer. The back of the building, the north facade, was given the same pleasing treatment, mirroring the fine architecture of the front façade, despite the fact it faced a parking lot. The use of glass panels was very characteristic of the modernist style, taking advantage of the non bearing wall to create a minimalist design. The glass panels were top quality, heavily insulated, stainless steal framed and filled with nitrogen glass, with their exposed metal mullions glistening in the sunlight.

For the east façade of the building, facing Edmonton Street, buff brick was used. The central portion of this façade is plain brick, while about ten feet of each end featured a series of openings that added interest and allowed for more light to illuminate the inset entrances on the front and back facades. The openings occurred in a regular pattern, alternating rows of eleven and twelve rectangles, each four bricks tall. The west façade did not receive this treatment, being composed entirely of plain buff brick, only broken by a small, unadorned entrance in the middle.

The openings in the brick on the east facade of 385 St. Mary Avenue adds interest and function,
while casting an ever changing pattern of light into the building's entrance.
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
When the building was completed in 1958 for a cost of $189 000.00, the design was heralded as a roaring success, with the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada Journal celebrating it in a 1960 article. The New York Life Insurance Company, who had been operating in Winnipeg since the 1930s, took up residence on the main floor with several other organizations moving into the second floor. As a result of the primary tenant, the building became known as the New York Life Insurance Building.


The New York Life Insurance Building at 385 St. Mary Avenue
with its original clear windows and radiators lining the interior of of them.
Source: Henry Kalen 
Entering the building, visitors were greeted in the two story foyer by terrazzo flooring and a floating U-shaped staircase. Made of metal, the staircase featured inset terrazzo treads and slender balusters. Walking further into the building, ten foot ceiling soared above while radiators with wooden covers ran the length of the glazed wall. Adding warmth to the space in winter, the radiator covers also acted as a guardrail along the window while following the grid pattern set by the windows. 


The two story foyer with floating staircase inside the New York Life Insurance Building at 385 St. Mary Avenue.
Source: Henry Kalen
The New York Life Insurance Company remained in the building for 17 years, with a variety of other tenants moving in after their departure. Over time, the mosaic tiles and exposed metal mullions on the north and south facades were covered. The clear windows replaced with reflective ones, cutting off the connection between the interior and exterior. Spaces were divided into smaller offices and a false ceiling installed two feet below the original ten foot ceiling. Yet due to the adaptability of the building and Winnipeg’s slow growing economy, the building functioned successfully for nearly 60 years without the threat of demolition and redevelopment.


The glass facade of the New York Life Insurance Building, 
retrofitted with mirrored glazing, reflects the sky above and the city that surrounds it.
Source: Google Maps
In 2017, the building underwent a change in ownership, purchased by Shane Solomon for $1.85 million. Solomon is the president of Republic Architecture Incorporated, a local Winnipeg firm “focused on cultural, educational, and institutional projects for a variety of communities” (Republic Architecture). Republic has become a successful firm, and was looking for a larger office space when the building became available. Fortunately for the New York Life Insurance Building and built heritage, Solomon appreciates the value of modernist architecture, viewing it as a feature to be celebrated and conserved.

Before Republic Architecture moves into its new home in the New York Life Insurance Building, extensive renovations are taking place. The exterior of the building will remain largely the same, with the mirrored glass of the facades replaced with new clear glazing and the mullions returning to their metallic sheen, although with subtle gradations. Maintenance and restoration will take place on the brick facades with old exterior signage being replaced with new signage designed to blend with the building's sleek design. The foyer will retain its original design while further inside the building partition walls will be removed to create a large, open workspace. The false ceiling will be taken down and new amenities (washrooms, etc.) will be added as freestanding objects running along the east west axis of the building, visually distinct from the original building. 


The firm hopes to be in their new home by early 2018. Heritage Winnipeg applauds Republic Architecture for their commitment and dedication to recognizing the heritage value of this building and its contribution to downtown revitalization.

An artist's rendering of the renewed exterior of the New York Life Insurance Building,
the future home of Republic Architecture.
Source: Republic Architecture
An artist's rendering of the renewed interior of the New York Life Insurance Building,
the future home of Republic Architecture.
Source: Republic Architecture

SOURCES

Google Maps
www.google.ca/maps/@49.8897094,-97.1461517,3a,75y,340.64h,102.34t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sOT6mh6fwVeJvGd-4b9DQ1g!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

Historica Canada
www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/winnipeg/

Illinois Institute of Technology

arch.iit.edu/about/sr-crown-hall

Manitoba Historical society
www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/people/russell_ja.shtml

National Trust for Historic Preservation
savingplaces.org/modern-architecture#.Wba6pyMrL5Y

Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Toursim

www.gov.mb.ca/chc/hrb/internal_reports/pdfs/modern_architecture_full.pdf

Republic Architecture Inc.
republicarchitecture.ca/about/

Royal Institute of British Architects
www.architecture.com/knowledge-and-resources/knowledge-landing-page/modernism

Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
www.winnipegarchitecture.ca/geoffrey-bargh/
www.winnipegarchitecture.ca/allan-waisman/
www.winnipegarchitecture.ca/geoffrey-bargh/
www.winnipegarchitecture.ca/208-edmonton-street/

Winnipeg Free Press
www.winnipegfreepress.com/business/new-life-for-classic-downtown-building-442716443.html

Winnipeg Modern: Architecture 1945-1975 Edited by Serena Keshavjee
issuu.com/artsfblog1/docs/winnipeg_modern__architecture_1945_