Love/Hate YEG #1 – Saving Edmonton’s historic architecture

graphic-arts-building-edmonton-alberta

Love/Hate YEG #1 – Saving Edmonton’s historic architecture

By Dave S. Clark

This is the first installment of a writing project called Love/Hate YEG. As anyone who has lived in Edmonton knows, it’s hard to express your feelings about the city. There are so many things to love, but also so many things that dishearten me. This is my attempt to describe my complex feelings on Edmonton. I had hoped to start the blog on a positive note, writing something I love about the city, but then I heard about the fate of the Graphic Arts Building…

Yet another one of Edmonton’s historic buildings is in danger of being hit with the wrecking ball. It’s a familiar story in the City of Champions Alberta’s Capital City. It seems like every month some historic building is making headlines because someone wants to build condos where it sits or the footprint of the building would be better suited as a parking lot.

Several weeks ago, I was chatting with a friend about how we had both recently made trips to New York City and were completely awed by the architecture. For the lover of building design, there is something to inspire around every corner in Manhattan, from modern skyscrapers to historic libraries and parks. The conversation quickly turned to our love for the art deco masterpieces in the city, namely the Chrysler Building. We also discovered that we both admired a run down little art deco building in the forgotten half of Edmonton’s downtown – the Graphic Arts Building. Although many people probably never notice it, we both always make a point to admire the 77-year-old structure whenever we pass by. It’s one of very few art deco buildings left in the city. The other one that comes to mind won’t be going anywhere soon – the Federal Building, which recently got a controversial $403-million makeover.

I know Edmonton will never be New York City, with diverse, historic buildings scattered everywhere. But I hate seeing what little historic architecture we have get lost, especially when the reason to bulldoze them is to use the area as a construction storage facility. It depresses me more that the Graphic Arts Building, along with the neighbouring Mitchell and Reed Auction House (former home of the Artery), are valuable spots for Edmonton’s arts community. I’m not an artist or a musician, but it must be devastating to lose an affordable venue when we’ve already lost so many.

I should also clarify that the Graphic Arts Building is not technically deemed to be a historic building. In my eyes, it represents a beautiful historic architectural style, but in the eyes of the city, it is not historic. However, that mammoth brick smoke stack from a pig processing factory that stands alone among a northeast Edmonton wasteland is historic in the eyes of the city. I understand that it represents a historic industry that was important to Edmonton’s past, but in its current state, it’s a nasty eyesore. It makes me wonder if the stacks that flare over Refinery Row will one day be saved to commemorate Alberta’s once-booming oil industry.

There has been some great architecture built in the city recently. Many people complain about it’s price tag, but I love the sweeping, asymmetrical lines of the Art Gallery of Alberta. The new building up going across Jasper from the Graphic Arts Building looks like it will offer some modern juxtaposition beside another of my favourite Edmonton buildings, the Flatiron-esque Gibson Block. But we shouldn’t tear down the old as fast as we put up the new. People complain that Edmonton’s downtown is a cold, soulless place and the lack of historic buildings plays a big part of that. One only needs to look to Winnipeg to see how historic architecture can be saved. Comparing Edmonton’s historic buildings to New York’s isn’t fair. But comparing it to Winnipeg definitely is and Edmonton fails hard in that match up.

I can only hope that council changes its mind on this non-historic building.

If you’d like to see the building saved, please sign the petition before Friday, Sept. 18.

Comments 1

  1. Laini Giles

    Having just returned from Los Angeles, this hits me even harder. They’ve torn down plenty there too, but anyone who’s seen the insides of some of the amazing places there (the Roosevelt, the Chateau Marmont, the Biltmore…) can see how much HISTORY there is.

    If all of us were millionaires, we could buy these places ourselves and save them. Unfortunately, the developers with money only see MORE money. With more condos and parking lots.

    I’ve thought for years that Edmonton is an ugly city. Other people insist that “we have the river valley!” That’s not architectural. That’s natural beauty. The ugly old 1950s and 1960s apartment buildings that are EVERYWHERE here, and the godawful ranch houses with white paneling, white doors, white trim (no individuality whatsoever– every one of them looking exactly alike- completely without personality or character) are what people remember about Edmonton.

    And that’s really sad.

    Once you’re seen the beautiful historical architecture of places like NY, Boston, Chicago…you can never look at Edmonton the same way again.

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