Boomtown heritage building ready for new life

The rehabilitation of the Tipton Investment Company is now complete! Designated a Provincial and Municipal Historic Resource, the building is located within the Old Strathcona Provincial Historic Area along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. It was constructed in the early days of the 1900s and survives as one of the last wood “boom town” style commercial structures in the district.

The current owners, with the assistance from their consultants, contractors, and provincial and municipal heritage regulators, have successfully preserved the heritage values of the modest single-story structure while expertly incorporating an addition. The rehabilitation not only changes the property to a creative two-story multi-tenant complex, but does so while honouring the wood building as the primary heritage value on the lot. Now that’s how it’s done!

The rehabilitation of the Tipton Investment Company is a shining example of how to keep what is of value, provide upgrades to services and Read more

Frost is in the air!

This post was originally published on RETROactive on October 31, 2012. However, since we live in Alberta, this topic is almost ALWAYS relevant – what to do about frosty windows!

With winter coming, some owners of historic places might be witnessing the formation of frost on their single pane wood windows and storms, most notably on the second storey. The reasons for this will vary and subsequently so will the solutions. Generally speaking, a little frost now and again should not harm the window frame but a more persistent formation will saturate the surrounding material and, in the long run, potentially cause significant damage. Should this be the case, ignoring the situation is far from the recommended solution.

Frosty window. Note the closed storm window vent cover. During the winter it should be open.

So what is one to do?  The first step, as with any intervention on a historic place, is to develop an understanding of the problem.  What is causing frost to form on the window? The answer: warm moist air comes in contact with the cold glass and condenses, which then freezes on the surface. So how does one mitigate this? Should you let the house freeze so that the interior temperature matches the outside, or should you turn the house into an oven to eliminate any and all moisture in the air? Obviously, neither scenario is plausible.

So what is one to do – replace the windows?  Speaking from a heritage conservation perspective, replacing authentic historic windows would be the equivalent to someone shaving their head bald because they found a grey hair. Historic windows have, in my experience, proven themselves to be longer lasting than any modern window and can continue to serve their function with proper care and maintenance, while modern windows wear out and routinely need to be replaced.

As air moisture is the general cause of frosted windows, controlling it would appear to be the most appropriate approach. However, there is more than one way to control moisture during the winter. One can control moisture levels with a dehumidifier, or by preventing it from reaching the cold glass with weather stripping techniques. As well, one could better manage the presence of moisture with exhaust fans and insulation. Any combination of these efforts will help to reduce the frost on windows but it should also be noted that there are pre-existing systems that should be taken advantage of in regards to this problem.

Storm windows traditionally have three holes at their bases with a flap cover. During the winter, these should be open to let moisture and condensation escape. When bugs arrive with spring, close the flap. Double hung windows generally have locks where the sashes meet – use them to tighten the window and reduce air leakage. Should you decide to proceed with a form of weather stripping, concentrate on the interior side of the window and allow the storm window to breathe. This will create a micro-climate (similar to the ventilation in one’s roof), which should help prevent frost and therefore better sustain and protect the window.

Hopefully, the preceding information will be useful for those who might be dealing with frosty windows. There are many articles on the Internet, which tackle this issue and propose similar, different and additional solutions ranging from “free to expensive”.  As a Heritage Conservation Adviser, my advice, and that of the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, is to start with the minimal approach.  With any luck, that is all that will be needed.

Written by: Carlo Laforge, Heritage Conservation Adviser.

Exterior Rehabilitation and Restoration of Old St. Stephen’s College

Historic photo of Old St. Stephen’s College circa. 1915.

After about three years, the Old St. Stephen’s College – Provincial Historic Resource has now completed the planning and implementation of its exterior rehabilitation and restoration project which started a number of years back with its cedar shingle roof replacement.

This recently completed scope involved foundation upgrades and stair revisions to the ground level access points of the building, including the addition of a compatible, distinguishable and subordinately designed barrier-free access ramp, as well as masonry repairs and the replacement of the 1980’s metal storms with more historically appropriate wooden units that will have the added benefit of allowing more natural ventilation in the building. Additional work also included the rehabilitation of the former fire exit door openings, the return of the round window at the top level of the building and the addition of vented caps to the non-functional chimneys. Read more

A New Roof for St. Ambrose Church

Located on a quiet residential street in Redcliff, Alberta, St. Ambrose Anglican Church is distinguished by its buttressed brick masonry exterior, steeply-pitched gable roof and pointed arch windows. These characteristics strongly identify the 1914 church with the Gothic Revival style popular in the Victorian era for ecclesiastical architecture in England, a style also eagerly adopted by Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches across Canada. Unlike many churches, though, St. Ambrose was modelled on small Anglican parish churches in England and is a variant of the Gothic Revival style seldom found in Alberta.

St. Ambrose’s architecture hearkens back to England but the building’s local roots are evident in the “clinker brick” masonry exterior, an overfired brick with distinctive irregular or lumpy shapes and striking colour variations. Clinker brick resulted from high firing temperatures in the kiln which caused the clay to partly vitrify or melt, sometimes to the point where clumps of bricks would fuse together and had to be broken apart. This lack of uniformity was appreciated for its decorative qualities and the clinker brick at St. Ambrose was produced at the Redcliff Brick and Coal Company just blocks away. The combination of far-reaching colonial stylistic influences and distinctive local materials contributed to the church’s designation as a Provincial Historic Resource in 2008.

St. Ambrose Church from the northwest in 1914, with inset showing the original narrow exposure, traditional step flashings, and rows of slightly offset shingles (inset) to create shadow lines and decorative horizontal bands across the roof. Glenbow Archives photograph NA -2701-5.

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Sand Paint

Sand painting is a faux finish technique that was not uncommon for exteriors of masonry buildings in the early part of the twentieth century.  By dusting sand onto paint while still tacky, painted wood or metal details were made to resemble stone.  If you guessed you were looking at magnified grains of sand in the teaser photograph above, you were right.  The photograph, taken through a binocular microscope, is actually of a sand paint sample taken from the Senator Lougheed Residence in Calgary.

Senator Lougheed Residence, Calgary
Senator Lougheed Residence, Calgary.
Sand painted wood details at the Senator Lougheed Residence, Calgary
Sand painted wood details at the Senator Lougheed Residence, Calgary.

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In Search of Historic Colours: The Empress Theatre Marquee

The historic downtown of Fort Macleod, one of two Provincial Historic Areas in the province, is well known for its impressive commercial buildings of brick and sandstone masonry. Collectively, these Classical Revival buildings exemplify an Edwardian commercial streetscape just prior to the First World War.

One of the main street’s crown jewels is the Empress Theatre, an elegant brick building with decorative sandstone details built in 1912. Historically a hub of the town’s social life, the theatre hosted plays, vaudeville acts and performers from Alberta, across North America and even overseas, as graffiti preserved in the original basement dressing rooms attests to this day. The original façade was theatrical in its own right and featured a grand arched entrance and recessed box office. As tastes changed and motion pictures grew in popularity, the original entry was enclosed to provide a lobby and concession, the auditorium was renovated with plush upholstered seats in the Art Deco style and neon tulips mounted on the ceiling, and a bold new neon sign and marquee replaced the original blade sign on the front facade. These 1930s and 1950s renovations added layers of architectural history and significance to the building and contributed to its designation as a Provincial Historic Resource in 1982.

empress2
The Empress Theatre in April 2016 (top). Bottom from left: View west along 24 Street in 1953, Glenbow Archives photograph NA-5600-6653 (cropped slightly from original); detail of 1953 streetscape showing the Empress marquee in essentially its present form; historic colours exposed on a blade sign letter; a plywood mock-up to evaluate proposed blade sign colours.

The Town of Fort Macleod owns the theatre and has embarked on an extensive rehabilitation project that includes rehabilitation of the historic neon marquee. The marquee was refurbished in the late 1980s by Fort Macleod’s Main Street Project but a generation of exposure to the elements has taken its toll on the galvanized sheet metal, paint, and fragile neon tubing. Removal of the signs for other façade repairs was an ideal opportunity to re-examine and document the marquee’s colour history. Read more

The Butterfly Effect

Peeling paint and powdering plaster were the first indications something was amiss at the Blairmore Courthouse, a Provincial Historic Resource in the Crowsnest Pass. A leak in the cedar shingle roof, replaced just the previous year, was immediately suspected. Detailing around the dormers in particular, part of the 1922 building’s distinctive Spanish Colonial Revival design by architect R.P. Blakey, is tricky and vulnerable to water penetration.

1920s view of Blairmore Courthouse from the southwest (Photo Credit: Glenbow Archives)
1920s view of Blairmore Courthouse from the southwest (Photo Credit: Glenbow Archives NA-712-3)

Nippon School of Technology, which owns the building and runs a technical school and exchange program for Japanese engineering students there, inspected the roof from the attic and found no active leaks. Puzzled, N.I.T. engaged a conservation architect to inspect the building and identify sources of moisture causing the paint and plaster failure. The findings were at once surprising and (in hindsight) credible.   Read more