Friday, 21 July 2017

The Rubin Block - HERITAGE AT RISK

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

Sitting abandoned at the corner of Morley Avenue and Osborne Street in Winnipeg is the Rubin Block. The depressing boarded up façade gives few hints of the rich period during which it was built, when Winnipeg was a booming modern city, drawing in people from across the globe. But the Rubin Block’s early glory was short lived. Winnipeg fell into a depression and the building seem unable to recover. It passed through time relatively undocumented, only making the news when disaster struck it. Today it is being brought to the forefront of the public’s attention once again. An effort is being made by Heritage Winnipeg and community leaders to revive the failing building and give it the opportunity to fulfill its true potential as a valuable part of the streetscape and community.

When Winnipeg was incorporated as a city in 1873, it was a small blip on the map of Canada, a "collection of shacks” (Historica Canada) with the population of only 3700 a year later. It was not until the Canadian Pacific Railway arrived in 1885 that wealth flooded into our prairie city. Advantageously located half way between the east and west coasts of Canada, Winnipeg became the financial hub of the west, buoyed by a steady stream of immigrants, capital and a lucrative wheat market.

The east side of Main Street, just north of Portage Avenue in 1873, the year Winnipeg was incorporated.
Source: Archives of Manitoba, Winnipeg-Streets-Main 1837 Collection, item 3, negative ID ON98
By 1914, the population of Winnipeg had exploded to over 200,000. Unfortunately, this marked a peak in Winnipeg’s prosperity, which was followed by a long period of recession and depression. The Panama Canal opened in August 1914, making it more affordable for western provinces to ship their products to the west coast, instead of passing through Winnipeg on their way to the east coast. That very same month, the First World War started in Europe, further contributing to the city’s decline. It would be decades before Winnipeg saw any sign of recovery.

For the Merchants’ Bank of Canada, their building of a new branch in Winnipeg occurred just prior to the city’s depression. Established in 1861 in Quebec, the chartered bank first expanded outside of their home province in 1867. The bank was well established in Winnipeg by 1902, opening an outstanding seven story steel framed building located on east Main Street, on a section known as Bankers’ Row. It was the first steel frame building erected in Winnipeg and represented the wealth and affluence that attracted numerous banking institutions to the city.

The Merchant's Bank of Canada, located at the famous intersection of Portage Avenue and Main Street in Winnipeg (where the Richardson Building stands today), was designed by architecture firm Taylor & Gordon and demolished in the early 1960s.
Source: Archiseek
Building on its success, the Merchant’s Bank of Canada continued to expand in Winnipeg, including adding a branch at 270 Morley Avenue, at the intersection with Osborne Street. The branch was located inside of the Rubin Block, a stately three story building that constructed and opened in 1914.

The Osborne Street facade of the Rubin Block in August 2012.
Source: Bryan Scott
Max Zev Blankstein, a prominent Winnipeg architect, designed the Rubin Block. Blankstein is noted as one of the first registered Jewish architects in Canada and was the creative force behind many Winnipeg buildings of the period, including the historic Uptown Theatre at 394 Academy Road (currently Academy Lanes). The design of the Rubin Block is similar to Blankstein’s other work from the era, such as the Steiman Block (Merchant’s Hotel) at 541 Selkirk Avenue and the Jessie Block at 626 Jessie Avenue, both in Winnipeg. All of these low rise buildings feature dark red-brown brick façades, light stone accents, bold dentil cornicing and a regular window pattern.

The Steiman Block (Merchant's Hotel) at 541 Selkirk Avenue was designed by Max Zev Blankstein in 1913. To learn more about the Merchant's Hotel, visit Heritage Winnipeg's blog, The Merchant's Hotel - A Selkirk Avenue Landmark.
Source: Now Neighbourhoods of Winnipeg
The Jessie Block at 626 Jessie Avenue was designed by Max Zev Blankstein in 1914.
Source: Walk Score
Standing three stories tall, the Rubin Block covers approximately 600 square meters, with its perfect rectangular shape being broken by inset sections on the north and south sides. The building originally contained three businesses and 21 apartments. Although the address of the Rubin Block is 270 Morley Avenue, the most prominent façade of the building, which is roughly 17 meters long, faces Osborne Street. This façade features two entrances, both surrounded by elegant light stone accents. Carved into the stone above the northern entrance is “MERCHANTS BANK OF CANADA” while above the southern entrance is “ENTRANCE TO APARTMENTS”. As to what exactly existed between the two entrances can only be speculated about, as modern renovations have obliterated whatever originally existed. The two floors above the entrance on the Osborne Street façade each contain five identically spaced windows. This façade is finally crowned with a robust dentil cornice and a central stone sign proudly announcing the name of the building.

The dentil cornice detail and stone sign at the top edge of the Osborne Street facade of the Rubin Block.
Source: Google Maps
The north façade of the Rubin Block, facing Morley Avenue, is dressed in a similar manner to the Osborn Street façade, with red-brown brick, light stone accents and dentil cornicing. Set slightly off center on this side of the building is an inset entrance that extends all the way up the three stories of the building. High above this entrance is a sign announcing the Morley Apartments, although it is hardly noticeable due to its high, set back location. Regularly spaced windows are identical on all three levels of this façade, with the exception being the ground floor windows nearest Osborne Street. These three windows vary slightly in appearance to accommodate the commercial space in this section of the building. The other point of interest is the five basement level window openings visible on the east end of this façade, suggesting at least part of the building sits above a basement. Evidence in a 2011 photo of this façade also suggests that the building may have originally had inset balconies, similar to those found in the Jessie Block.

The three story inset entrance to the Morley Apartments of the Rubin Block in 2011, with the suggestion of inset balconies in the top left corner.
Source: Winnipeg Free Press
The inset balconies of the Jessie Block, as seen from Daly Street.
Source: Google Maps
The south and east facades of the Rubin Block are rather unadorned, lacking the bold dentil cornicing, red-brown brick and stone details. Instead they are covered with a light brick and a collection of windows that are identical on all three floors. What is of interest on these facades is the ghostly impressions of what existed there in the past. The brickwork on the east façade clearly shows that six more windows once existed on this side of the building. The south façade of the building holds more clues, with remnants of past structures still clinging to the building in addition to multiple bricked in windows.

The brickwork on the east facade of the Rubin block shows that six windows have been bricked in during its history.
Source: Google Maps
The top two floors of the south facade of the Rubin Block show ghostly impressions and bricked in windows that suggest a much grander appearance in the past.
Source: Google Maps
The many renovations done to the Rubin Block have not been the only source of altercations to the building in its history. Disaster first occurred in December of 2006, when a fire started in the basement. The resulting damage was estimated to be $2 million, but repairs were made and tenants returned. A second fire occurred in May of 2014. The fire started on the third floor, sending flames shooting out a window and the roof, filling the sky above with thick black smoke. Restorations were begun after the second fire but progressed so slowly that the City of Winnipeg stepped in to board up the vacant building.

The Rubin Block never recovered from the 2014 fire on the third floor.
Source: Metro News
Former tenet of the Rubin Block, MLA James Allum, has become critically concerned that the neglected building will become a “blight on the neighbourhood,” and started a petition to spur the building owner into action. As the building is said to be structurally sound, the disrepair of the building is a disservice to the community and Winnipeg’s built heritage.

Mixed use, low rise buildings, such as the Rubin Block, are key in creating walkable, human scale cities that people are eager to live in. They can be a source of revitalization for a community, requiring less infrastructure and creating numerous beneficial economic spinoffs as investors return and property values rise. Walkable communities are also recognized as increasing the physical health of people who live in them. Another valuable feature of the Rubin Block is its age and distinctive architecture, which stand out in peoples’ memories and hold a piece of their hearts, creating a sense of place. Sense of place in important as it also creates desirable environments that people respect and want to live in, while improving peoples’ mental health. Finally, there is the embodied energy of the building, the energy used to acquire, manufacture and transport building materials, construct the building and maintain it throughout its lifespan. If the Rubin Block were to be lost to demolition through neglect, all of its embodied energy would be discarded and tones of garbage being sent to landfills. It would be a disgrace in a world with limited resources and already suffering from the enduring consequences of climate change.

The Rubin Block after is was boarded up by the City of Winnipeg.
Source: Winnipeg Sun
Since June of 2014, when new heritage bylaws were enacted, the long protected Rubin Block was taken off the City of Winnipeg’s Inventory List. Today the valuable heritage of the Rubin Block is only acknowledged by its placement on the Commemorative List. Although this list recognizes this building as a community resource that should be celebrated, it imposes no restriction on what can be done to the building, including demolition. Currently it is boarded up, unoccupied and on the city’s vacant building list. Heritage Winnipeg will continue to work with the community and their leaders, such as MLA James Allum, hopefully persuading the current owner to either redeveloped or sell the building to someone who recognizes its value and will again make it an integral part of south Osborne Street’s community.

HELP MAKE A DIFFERENCE! 
SIGN THE PETITION TO RESTORE THE RUBIN BLOCK AT 


SOURCES

Archeion
www.archeion.ca/merchants-bank-of-canada

Archiseek
archiseek.com/2012/1902-merchants-bank-main-street-winnipeg/
i2.wp.com/archiseek.com/wp-content/gallery/canada-mb-winnipeg-vanished/0078.jpg

Archives of Manitoba
www.virtual.heritagewinnipeg.com/windowPhoto.php?fileNum=%2000-082&tName=main01

Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada 1800-1950
dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/1153

Bryan Scott
www.flickr.com/photos/bryanscott/7799095014/

Canadian Architect
www.canadianarchitect.com/asf/perspectives_sustainibility/measures_of_sustainablity/measures_of_sustainablity_embodied.htm

CBC News
www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/3-fires-strike-winnipeg-residences-1.627389

City of Winnipeg
www.winnipegassessment.com/asmtpub/english/propertydetails/CommercialDetails.aspx?RollNumber=12012240000&pgLang=EN&isRealtySearch=true
www.winnipeg.ca/ppd/historic/pdf-Commemorative/Morley270-overview.pdf
www.winnipeg.ca/ppd/historic/CurrentProjects/Historical_Resources_By-law_FAQ.pdf

Google Maps
www.google.ca/maps/@49.8650304,-97.1343851,3a,15y,72.31h,132.37t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sbXgFynPvbvXWbLrJyCEhFQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
www.google.ca/maps/@49.8713474,-97.1477367,3a,75y,242.94h,103.13t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sUPgB1Y8aq_Zl-l-XHnAN9A!2e0!7i13312!8i6656
www.google.ca/maps/place/270+Morley+Ave,+Winnipeg,+MB+R3L/@49.8652366,-97.133699,3a,66.8y,241.86h,112.37t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1s56XspYsGH-UW4KrGmi7ADQ!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x52ea76a3e6a3f375:0x9320aba78ed20408
www.google.ca/maps/place/270+Morley+Ave,+Winnipeg,+MB+R3L/@49.8649491,-97.1334681,3a,21.1y,293.85h,100.91t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1szlTPrsMv-zB-kz5d6IqfIA!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x52ea76a3e6a3f375:0x9320aba78ed20408

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

Metro News
www.metronews.ca/news/winnipeg/2014/05/21/traffic-blocked-on-south-osborne-street-after-major-apartment-fire-on-morley.html

Now Neighbourhoods of Winnipeg
now.winnipeg.ca/images/william-whyte

The Nature of Cities
www.thenatureofcities.com/2016/05/26/sense-of-place/

The Robinson Library
www.robinsonlibrary.com/america/canada/manitoba/winnipeg.htm

University of Delaware
www.completecommunitiesde.org/planning/landuse/mixed-use-benefits/

Walk Score
www.walkscore.com/score/626-jessie-ave-winnipeg-mb-canada

Winnipeg Free Press
www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/analysis/the-panama-canal-and-the-decline-of-winnipeg-272262601.html
store.winnipegfreepress.com/photostore/details/13358/

Winnipeg Sun
www.winnipegsun.com/2017/07/16/mla-launches-online-petition-to-save-103-year-old-building 

Friday, 14 July 2017

The Assiniboine Park Conservatory – From Palm Trees to Diversity

Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg.

Tucked behind towering trees in a lush natural setting sits the unassuming building that is the Assiniboine Park Conservatory. Located at 15 Conservatory Drive, the quiet demure of the building conceals over one hundred years of history and a plan to make a quantum leap into the present. Born of the Victorian Era and the City Beautiful movement, the Conservatory was a part of the birth of the City of Winnipeg public parks system. Over the years the Conservatory has gracefully withstood the test of time, providing a year round tropical retreat in the midst of the Canadian prairies. Reaching the end of its functional lifespan, the Conservatory is set to be reborn as a modern center for flora education and awareness, where the cultural heritage of Canada will be proudly displayed for all visitors to see.

During the Victorian Era (1837 to 1901), there was an increased interest in public gardens, as these gardens were seen as a means of improving the lower class and dispersing social unrest. In combination with advances in industry, palm houses became a popular installation in gardens. Palm houses allowed for a controlled environment where plants that could otherwise only be grown in the tropics could survive year round. The palm house at the Belfast Botanical Gardens is one of the earliest examples of such curved glass and cast iron buildings, with construction of the Sir Charles Lanyon designed building beginning in 1839.

Belfast Botanical Gardens Palm House as it stands today.
Source: discovernorthernireland.com
In Winnipeg, efforts to create public green spaces lagged behind European counterparts. The private sector recognized the worth of green space as it increased the value of surrounding real estate. But the prosperous growth of Winnipeg in the 1870s and 1880s made land value rise sharply making the potential profit from selling off green spaces all too tempting. Hence, many of the earliest parks in Winnipeg were lost. By the 1890s, the idea of a public park system for Winnipeg was being discussed. Influenced by the City Beautiful movement, parks were viewed as a solution for many of the social ills that plagued the ever growing crowded, unsanitary and crime-ridden cities of North America. As a result, the Winnipeg Public Parks Board was established in January of 1893.

Although the original mandate of the Winnipeg Public Parks Boards was to build parks in the congested heart of the city, Winnipeggers had many different views of what its role should be. Citizen groups and private business were successful in pressuring the board to fulfill their own agendas, resulting in a variety of green spaces throughout the city. The Park Board itself was heavily influenced by the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, a prominent landscape architect around which the City Beautiful movement revolved. It is conceivable that this influence was central in the creation of Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park.

In 1904 the Park Board purchased 114.6 hectares of land on the south side of the Assiniboine River, far beyond the bounds of the city for the creation of Assiniboine Park. Canada’s first registered landscape architect, Frederick G. Todd, was commissioned to design the park. Todd was a former assistant of Olmsted, and was similarly interested in English garden design and the City Beautiful movement. To execute the design for the new park, the woodlands were levelled, replaced with large meadows, sprawling lawns, winding roads and paths and thousands of new plantings, all intended to mimic the work of nature. Overseeing the construction of the park was the Park’s Board superintendent George Champion, who previously worked at the Royal Gardens at Kew in England, home to an iconic palm house built earlier in 1844.

The Palm House in the Royal Gardens at Kew was the largest ever built when it opened in 1844.
Source: Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
Assiniboine Park official opened in 1909, although the area had already been in use as a recreational space and building at the site has continued up to the present day. Five years after officially opening, in 1914, the construction of Palm House inside Assiniboine Park was completed. Located midway on the east side of Conservatory Drive, the large Norfolk Island pine that were planted in the Palm House in 1914 still grow inside today.

This 1967 map of Assiniboine Park shows the location of the Conservatory which has remained unchanged throughout its 103 year history.
Source: The History and Development of Assiniboine Park and Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and Wyman Laliberte
Similar to its European predecessors, the Assiniboine Park Palm House was 6000 square feet capped with a curved glass roof. It was designed by the firm Lord & Burnham, who practiced out of New York State. Costing approximately $40,000, the Palm House had been built in the United States and shipped to Winnipeg in sections where it was then assembled. The interior of the Palm House was a stark departure from the glossy, modern exterior. In keeping with the rest of the park, the interior was intended to replicate nature. Lava rocks were used to build hills to display plants growing at a variety of levels. A winding path led visitors through the collection of non-indigenous plants, conjuring images of a tropical paradise. Due to the park’s rural location when it was built, there was no city water servicing the site. In order to water the many plants in the Palm House year round, a large underground cistern was built. Long since retired from use, the cistern still remains buried at the park today.

The Palm House in Assiniboine Park circa 1924.
Source: Virtual Heritage Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba Archives Souvenirs of Winnipeg's Jubilee 1874-1924 RBR FC 3395.3.S68 Collection, item 181
An undated postcard showing the Palm House in Assiniboine Park.
Source: PastForward and the Rob McInnes Postcard Collection
In 1964 a coffee shop was added to the Palm House, before undergoing extensive changes starting in 1969. A new, bigger Palm House was to be constructed with an additional glass roofed area to be used for rotating flora displays, and increasing the square footage by 8000. To maintain the more than 8000 plants growing in the original Palm House, the new one was built overtop, reaching ten feet higher than it predecessor. Once the new Palm House was finished, the old was removed, allowing all the original lava rock hill and plants to remain unfazed. The glass roof of the new Palm House now reached 42 feet into the sky and provided better light conditions for the plants growing beneath it.

The Assiniboine Park Conservatory as it stands today.
Source: Panoramio and ben policar
The interior of the additional glass roofed area in the Assiniboine Park Conservatory used for rotating flora displays, seen here in summer 2017.
Source: Assiniboine Park Conservancy
Opening in 1970, the newly expanded building, the Conservatory, was designed by Winnipeg firm Pratt Lindgren Snider Tomcej and Associates. Costing $650,00 to build, it was a stylistic departure from its Victorian predecessor. Variegated brown bricks were used to evoke a natural aesthetic on the unadorned façade, which is only broken up by narrow windows. The roofline of the Palm house is decorated with a simple modern take on a cornice. The variegated brown brick continues on the interior walls with the only variation being the pierce-brick lattice pattern used inside the Palm House, designed to be in harmony with the flora overlying over it. The small amount of ceiling space within the Conservatory that is not glass is exposed concrete in a waffle pattern, in line with the modern aesthetic of the building.

The modern cornice decoration along the roofline of the second Palm House.
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
The pierce-brick lattice pattern used for the interior walls of the second Palm House.
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation 
The exposed concert waffle pattern ceiling inside the Assiniboine Park Conservatory.
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
In 2003, a building assessment study of the Conservatory completed by the City of Winnipeg concluded that it needed to be replaced, in particular the greenhouses which were deemed unsafe and closed in 2015. Instead of simply replacing the existing structure, it was decided to move the Conservatory to the southeast corner of the park, at the head of the Formal Garden and transform it into Canada’s Diversity Gardens. This will be the final part of a ten year redevelopment plan for Assiniboine Park which started in 2009. As a result of moving the Conservatory, up to 40 of the large trees growing inside, some over 100 years old, will be cut down. Additionally, much of the plant collection will be changed to better meet the goals of the new facility. The greenhouse and Palm House will be closed and there are no current plans for the portion of the building that will remain. The new Diversity Gardens is expected to take 18 months to plan and then two years to build, hopefully opening in 2019 and costing $30 to $50 million.

The site plan for the new Canada's Diversity Gardens in Assiniboine Park.
Source: Assiniboine Park Conservancy
Canada’s Diversity Gardens will be a 56,000 square foot LEED Gold certified facility with exterior gardens. It will be composed of four areas, The Leaf, The Indigenous Peoples’ Garden, The Cultural Mosaic Gardens and The Grove. The focus will be on the timeless connection between people and flora while exploring the many cultures that have come together to make the Canada we know today. Architect firms Architecture49 and KPMB Architects have been commissioned to carry out the project, along with landscape architect firm HTFC Planning and Design. Lord Cultural Resources was also hired as the interpretation and visitor experience consultants. Together, the intentions are to create a modern conservatory seamlessly integrated into the exterior landscaping that will draw people in, foster a love of botany, and a greater understanding of the environmental issues that impact and connect us all.

A rendering of what The Leaf and surrounding gardens of the new Assiniboine Park Conservatory will look like.
Source: Assiniboine Park Conservancy
A rendering of the Tropical Biome in the The Leaf portion of the forthcoming Assiniboine Park Conservatory.
Source: Assiniboine Park Conservancy 
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT 
CANADA’S DIVERSITY GARDENS, PLEASE VISIT


SOURCES

Architecture49
architecture49.com/en/what-we-do/projects/canadas-diversity-gardens-assiniboine-park-conservatory/

Assiniboine Park Conservancy
www.assiniboinepark.ca/park-landing/home/explore/conservatory
www.assiniboinepark.ca/park-landing/home/support-us/canadas-diversity-gardens
www.assiniboinepark.ca/park-landing/home/support-us/canadas-diversity-gardens/site-plan---canada%27s-diversity-gardens
www.assiniboinepark.ca/park-landing/home/support-us/canadas-diversity-gardens/frequently-asked-questions

Assiniboine Park: Enriching One of Winnipeg’s Signature Destinations

Belfast City Council
www.belfastcity.gov.uk/leisure/parks-openspaces/Park-6614.aspx

Britain Express
www.britainexpress.com/History/gardens_and_gardening.htm

CBC News
www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/assiniboine-park-to-lose-100-year-old-trees-in-conservatory-move-1.2518186

City of Winnipeg Historical Report – Assiniboine Park Pavilion – long
www.winnipeg.ca/ppd/historic/pdf-consv/Pavilion%2055-long.pdf

discovernorthernireland.com
discovernorthernireland.com/Belfast-Botanic-Gardens-and-Palm-House-Belfast-P2787/

Encyclopedia Britannica
https://www.britannica.com/topic/City-Beautiful-movement

Manitoba History: “The Most Lovely and Picturesque City in All of Canada:” The Origins of Winnipeg’s Public Park System
www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/mb_history/31/winnipegparks.shtml

Panoramio
www.panoramio.com/photo/15020112#

PastForward
pastforward.winnipeg.ca/cdm/compoundobject/collection/robmcinnes/id/2629/rec/8

Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew
www.kew.org/kew-gardens/attractions/palm-house

Toronto Metro
www.metronews.ca/news/winnipeg/2012/12/19/design-team-chosen-for-winnipegs-new-assiniboine-park-conservatory.html

Virtual Heritage Winnipeg
www.virtual.heritagewinnipeg.com/windowPhotoGov.php?fileNum=%2005-209

Winnipeg Architecture Foundation
www.winnipegarchitecture.ca/assiniboine-park/
www.winnipegarchitecture.ca/assiniboine-park-conservatory/

Winnipeg Free Press
www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/Canadas-Diversity-Gardens-329589911.html

Winnipeg Real Estate News
“Assiniboine Park: A Popular Retreat” by Amy Gailis, October 16, 1992, p. 4-5

Winnipeg Sun
www.winnipegsun.com/2015/09/25/next-phase-of-assiniboine-park-development-eyed

Wyman Laliberte
www.flickr.com/photos/manitobamaps/2655127547

Friday, 7 July 2017

The Merchant’s Hotel - A Selkirk Avenue Landmark


Blog by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg.

The Merchants Hotel has been a longstanding Selkirk Avenue landmark for Winnipeg’s North End community. The proud 104 year old building was once a symbol of prosperity but over time came to be a reminder of impoverishment and degradation. But through perseverance and collaboration, the heritage building is undergoing a renaissance, reborn as a community hub where brighter futures begin.

In the early 20th century Winnipeg was a booming city, with immigrants pouring in from across Europe. One such immigrant was Robert Steiman, a gentleman from Lithuania who looked to capitalize on the robust economy of the growing prairie city. Steinman saw opportunity in Winnipeg’s North End, where there was a demand for commercial space. A hardware merchant himself, Steinman endeavoured to erect a building that could house his own business and while providing additional commercial space for rent.

Robert Steiman and wife Sarah in 1899.
Source: Winnipeg Downtown Places and Archives of Manitoba.
Selkirk Avenue, a major commercial thoroughfare in the North End was the chosen location of Steinman’s new building. The property is located at 541 Selkirk Avenue, at the intersection of Andrews Street. Russian born architect Max Zev Blankstein, one of the earliest Jewish architects in Canada, was hired to design the building. Blankstein was an experienced architect residing in the North End who by the time of Steinman’s commission, had already designed over half a dozen major buildings in the city.

Originally built as the Steinman Block, the three story Classical Revival building rose from the ground in 1913 at a costs of $20 000. Built over a full basement, the concrete structure was clad in red Menominee face brick and accented with metal and stone. The rectangular footprint of the building provided 33 feet of southern frontage on Selkirk Avenue with over three times as much eastern frontage on Andrews Street. Large plate glass windows were installed on the ground level facades of Selkirk Avenue and Andrews Street, providing display space for retailers. These windows were complemented with a variety of doors providing entrances to the various spaces on the three levels of the building and the basement. Above the ground level the facades of these two sides were a standardized pattern of windows, set in groups of three and consistently spaced.

The architect’s drawing of the front elevation of the original southern facade of the Steinman Block. 
Source: City of Winnipeg Historical Report and the City of Winnipeg, Plan #147/1913. 



The architect’s drawing of the Andrews Street elevation of the original eastern facade of the Steinman Block.
Source: City of Winnipeg Historical Report and the City of Winnipeg, Plan #147/1913. 
The facades of the north and west sides of the building were considerably less elaborate with a less small windows spread throughout. A fire escape also adorned the north side of the building. The interior of the ground floor was a large retail space, the second floor was divided into 12 offices and the third floor was open storage space. Staircases were located in the north east and south east corners of the building.

Twenty years after the Steinman Block was built, the nation was in the grips of the Great Depression and the needs of the North End community were changing. Retail and office space was no long in demand although there was a lack of restaurants, hotels and beverage rooms. Being the ever adaptable entrepreneur, in 1933 Steinman undertook converting his building the into the Merchant’s Hotel, complete with restaurant and beverage room. The entire building was rewired while the ground floor was divided so it could to be used for hotel amenities. On the upper two floors, 11 windows were bricked in to accommodate 20 single hotel rooms with men’s and women’s washrooms installed on each floor. The conversion of the building altered the interior of the building so significantly its earlier incarnation was completely lost.

An announcement for the opening of the newly converted Steinman Block.
Source: The Jewish Post, January 11, 1934 and Winnipeg Downtown Places.

The Steinman Block in 1934, shortly after conversion into the Merchants Hotel.
Source: Mendel’s Children: A Family Chronicle and Winnipeg Downtown Places. 
The Steinman Block added a one story addition on the west side of the building in 1921. The concrete addition remained until 1958 when it was replaced with a similar addition, this time made of concrete block and with a notable curved entrance made of glass block. This second addition was the work of the building’s second owner, John Konosky, who purchased the building in 1947.

The sale of the Merchants Hotel marked the beginning of a period of decline. The hotel changed ownership several times and underwent four more major alterations. As the North End community fell on challenging times, the hotel became an infamous epicentre of drunkenness, violence and crime. In April 2011 the unsavoury activity drawn to the hotel became front page news when Sheila Fontaine, 42, was stabbed to death in front of the hotel after a verbal dispute. The community reacted with a loud public outcry, demanding the closure of the hotel, which finally happened in April 2012.

The Merchants Hotel prior to the commencement of current renovations. 
Source: Winnipeg Downtown Places.
The Merchants Hotel undergoing renovations in April 2017.
Source: George Penner and the Manitoba Historical Society. 
Following the closure of the hotel, the Province of Manitoba stepped in to purchase the building in the same year. It remained vacant until 2014, when plans were announced to convert and expand the building into Merchants Corner, with affordable housing, commercial and classroom space. The rejuvenated building will contain 30 much needed residential units, ranging from one to three bedrooms, aimed at accommodating university students with children. Students will be able to take classes in the three classrooms that will be shared between the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Inner-City Studies and CEDA-Pathways to Education, a support program for high school students. The renovated building will also include study space, offices and a public café.

The architect's rendering of Merchants Corner.
Source: Mistecture Architecture +Interiors Inc. and The Merch.ca.
The University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation was hired to lead the $15.7 million project, using a community based approach while maintaining the heritage value of the original building's exterior. Although this designated heritage building suffered from arson in May 2017, the intention is to have Merchants Corner completed by September 2017, rising from the ashes to help return vibrancy and a sense of community to Selkirk Avenue.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE REDEVELOPMENT OF THE MERCHANT'S HOTEL, PLEASE VISIT www.themerch.ca

Sources

CBC News
www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/merchants-hotel-crowdfunding-campaign-1.4041213

City of Winnipeg Historical Report – 541 Selkirk Avenue Merchants Hotel (Steimen Block) - Long

Manitoba Historical Society
www.mhs.mb.ca/docs/sites/steimanblock.shtml

The Merch.ca
www.themerch.ca

The University of Winnipeg
www.uwinnipeg.ca/uwcrc/featured-work/merchants-hotel.html

Winnipeg Downtown Places
winnipegdowntownplaces.blogspot.ca/2014/06/541-selkirk-avenue-merchants-hotel.html

Winnipeg Free Press
www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/Woman-charged-with-manslaughter-in-Merchant-Hotel-death-120723464.html
www.winnipegfreepress.com/our-communities/times/correspondent/New-life-for-old-North-End-building-294881601.html
www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/notorious-hotel-gets-new-life-264522631.html