The heritage mansion at 3737 Angus Dr. looked like a write-off after it mysteriously went up in flames early on a Sunday morning last October.
However, the city has deemed that the house is very much salvageable, with more than 60 per cent of it intact, according to former Heritage Commission chair Richard Keate. The owner will have to restore it, not necessarily to its original state, but to an approximation of the original Tudor Revival that was built in 1910 by famous architect Samuel Maclure.
It's good news for heritage advocates, and not just because they like old houses. It sends an invaluable message that protected houses will be protected – and that a torched house is not automatically a demolished house.
From the get-go, the fire department had said the fire was "suspicious."
"Virtually 100 per cent of vacant house fires are deemed suspicious," says Captain Jonathan Gormick, public information officer for Fire and Rescue Services.
It has since been confirmed that it was indeed "maliciously set," he says.
Capt. Gormick said that contrary to initial reports, however, the arsonist did not light the fire in several spots around the house, but most likely in a single location.
He said the fire department did not have enough evidence to press charges against anyone.
The Angus Drive house had been added to the Heritage Register as an "A" category building in May, 2014. It is assessed at $14,216,000, and had been left empty for many years, except for a brief spell when it was rented out to a group of people. No one was living in the house at the time of the fire.
“Some day in the dim and distant future,” the Albertan editorialized in 1911, “Calgary’s people will seriously regret the absence of the relics of the days gone by, such as the old town hall and the like.” Since the 1970s, we’ve had a process for evaluating heritage buildings and encouraging their preservation. There have been great victories, but every year, part of our city fabric is lost to demolition or fire. Here are a few notable structures that we said goodbye to in 2017.
(This article appeared in the March 2017 Hillhurst Sunnyside Voice on pg 22)
When our community's current ARP (Area Redevelopment Plan) was passed by Council in 2009 several recommendations to respect and enhance heritage and community character were included along with an entire section (8.0) on Heritage Conservation. Unfortunately, little has been done by the City to incentify Heritage preservation of residential homes in our community and while not every heritage home can (or should) be preserved, there is currently little balance between profit and preservation.
However not every developer’s primary focus is profit. We sat down with Rob Froese, an owner and developer in our community to discuss his thoughts on heritage preservation and whether it makes economic sense. Rob became involved in our community when he saw Kensington, being 'gentrified'. He was concerned that the character that makes Sunnyside so special would be lost as large developers with little understanding or long-term interest in the community built large high-end buildings. He decided to buy properties, some which are in the TOD (Transit Orientated Development area of our community which allows for greater density) with plans to renovate and rent houses at a reasonable rate and redevelop them over time in a more sensitive manner with a focus on moderately priced 'Middle Housing' (transition housing between large mid-rises and single family homes). Rob's vision is to find a 'balance between earning a fair return and social objectives' he also wanted to ensure that the community's preferences were taken into account with any new developments he was involved with. And over time, Rob also started to include heritage preservation in his objectives.
Amongst Rob's holdings are two red brick 1924 Arts and Crafts brick bungalows on 2nd Avenue (pictured), one which he restored the exterior and the second is currently undergoing interior restoration. Rob's first step was to work with his carpenter/furniture designer Peter Freeman to renovate and restore the homes to their original glory (or close to it). The home pictured to the left had been updated over the years with cedar and then vinyl cladding which, when removed, revealed original intricate woodwork and glass stucco detail in the gable.
Rob’s restoration projects have become a bit of a community effort – when news of Rob’s work spread, one of the neighbors offered Rob original storm. While another neighbor, a young carpenter tenant offered his help with basic carpentry work. The blue house pictured to its right was previously owned by a family of 3 who loved the house and when they were transferred out of Calgary they asked Rob if he was interested in purchasing the house as they wanted an owner who would treasure their house rather than immediately demolish it. The house retains all the original fir casings, interior window trim, original doors, moldings, brick fireplace, and claw foot tub.
Rob's vision for both homes is to make them economically viable by adding a legal basement suite and small laneway suite to each. An enabler of this plan is the current M-CG zoning which allows for a legal basement suite OR a laneway suite. To make the properties economic and to prototype small laneways, Rob would like see if he can get zoning for both. If the Community and City supports his plan, Rob will enhance the economic viability of these properties (and density of our community) with a total of six small homes (each 500sqft – 800sqft) and also provide affordable housing to promote demographic diversity in our community.
While some view heritage preservation as simply 'the right thing to do', in communities like ours with high land values there is a tendency for developers to build big mid-high market condos. The City can support the heritage cause by providing incentives for heritage preservation such as zoning 'friendly' bylaws that allow owners to increase the value of their properties while keeping the heritage home intact. However any such incentives that the City may be currently deliberating must come into effect soon given the pace of development in our community. Rob realizes this and in his words 'I’ve been working as fast as I can on my two brick houses to show there is an alternative type of economic redevelopment where you can moderately increase density and save historical homes'.
Lorna Cordeiro is currently a member of the Hillhurst Sunnyside Planning Committee; co-chair of the Heritage Community Task Force (a coalition of >15 Calgary communities focused on improving planning policy in support of heritage preservation) and was one of the founders of Century Homes Calgary. If you have any suggestions for future articles, please contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org
Calgary Heritage Events
Below is a listing of heritage events happening throughout the city. We are always happy to include the events of other organizations in our monthly newsletters. We only ask that you have them to us by the end of each month. Events can be sent to email@example.com.
Jane's Walk May 4-5-6, 2018
JOIN a Jane’s Walk. It’s a purposeful walk – a chance to see your community through fresh eyes – where you learn something new and share your ideas for how to create more vibrant neighbourhoods.
And why not volunteer to lead a Jane’s walk this year? Jane Jacobs was passionate about community and city life. If you are too, why not design and lead a walk through your favourite part of Calgary? Make 2018 your year to lead the walking conversation.
Our communities evolve over time and that evolution is guided by policies and standards that help shape and define the look, feel and character of the community. This course will dive into Urban Design by examining Streetscapes, the Main Streets program and Heritage planning.
*Please dress appropriately as there will be a walking tour component to the course.
Date: March 10, 2018 – 9:00 a.m. -12:00 p.m (registration at 8:30 am)
Location: Crescent Heights- 1101 2nd Street NW
Who: Chinook Country Historical Society
What: AGM. $45 dinner followed by a FREE talk by Dale Portman, Retired Warden, Parks Canada on his career as a park warden doing avalanche control in the backcountry of the Rocky Mountains. His experiences in the raucous of the ‘60s and ‘70s captured the freedom and spirit of the era, when the mountains offered less tourism and more substance.
Where: Danish Canadian Club, 727-11th Avenue SW
When: Tuesday, March 27th, Dinner at 5:00pm and talk at 6:30pm