The former First Baptist Church building at 11th Street and Lorne Avenue could soon become a municipal heritage site.
Attempts to declare the former First Baptist Church at 11th Street and Lorne Avenue as a municipal heritage site have cleared a key hurdle.
Brandon City Council voted on Tuesday to introduce a bylaw to declare the building, estimated to be 107 years old, a historic site and hold public hearings on the bylaw. If the bylaw is passed, the church where former Saskatchewan premier Tommy Douglas received his 1930 Brandon College degree would then be designated a municipal heritage site.
"It was built by one of Brandon’s most celebrated architect’s, W.A. Elliot," said Coun. Jeff Harwood (University), the Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee chairman. "When you look at the architecture of this former church, what stands out to the general public as they walk down Lorne Avenue, is that it’s hard to miss. It is a landmark and is one of those buildings that if it were to disappear tomorrow, it would change the streetscape in the surrounding area."
Calvin Doherty, who owns the building with Randal Kurtenbach, said that there have been discussions about selling the building and part of those discussions include whether a heritage status would affect that plan.
"We really like the building and we don’t want to see it destroyed," Doherty said. "We’ve kept it alive for the past 14-15 years but there hasn’t been a lot of interest from the community on it. Nobody has come to us and said they want to use it for anything. The heritage designation isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it doesn’t bother me one way or the other."
Doherty said a heritage designation could make it harder to sell the building because there would be more restrictions on how the building can be retrofitted or renovated.
"We didn’t ask for this, Doherty said. "The guy we were talking to about buying the place had made some inquiries. …We are still in negotiations."
Doherty said the building has been up for sale for some time and said it remains a very interesting building.
"We had a concert there one night and it was fantastic," Doherty said. "But you run into all sorts of problems with Brandon and Area Planning because there isn’t very much parking with the building and everything you need to do requires approval. It does create a few barriers to doing something.
"As building owners, we really have no say in the (heritage designation) matter. They make that designation on their own."
Harwood said the designation would protect the exterior of the building to ensure that future renovations preserve the streetscape. Renovations to the interior are still possible and are welcomed if they enhance the property and are "sympathetic" to the history of the building.
"Under our heritage bylaw, any changes to the exterior have to be friendly to the existing one," Harwood said. "For example, you are not going to change a wood siding to aluminum siding. I think there is a misconception that if the building gets a municipal heritage designation that it restricts what you can do with it. It’s the exterior that’s being preserved. If you go by the A.E. McKenzie House on Victoria Avenue, or the Christie Mansion (13th Street and Louise Avenue), those two homes have a designation and it’s all about the exterior."
Harwood added that Lorne Avenue was once known as the "Avenue of Churches" because of the number of large worship centres each with significant, and now historic, architectural qualities.
A key bookend of that strip of historic buildings includes Brandon University’s Clark Hall. Harwood said the location of the former church and its interior would make for a great arts centre.
"It would be a perfect location for theatre groups and other similar organizations," Harwood said. "It would be a great location for a performance arts centre and other groups."
A report from the Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee stated that the old church received 163 points, well above the 90 required for the committee to suggest a heritage status be bestowed on a property. This indicated the building’s strong historic and architectural significance to the city. Most notably, the committee said the preservation of the church would help display the style of Brandon’s early church architecture.
City council also approved a report from the Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee to request that the house at 339 Victoria Ave. owned by Greg and Valerie Hutsal be given municipal heritage site status. The same process is required to designate the house as a historic site and a bylaw will be prepared. Public hearings will be required before city council can pass the bylaw.
The committee’s report said the home was once owned by Oscar Lavelle Harwood, who in 1937 oversaw the financial affairs of the city when the city had defaulted on its bonds.
Later, the home was owned by Marjorie Elliot Jackson, who designed a recovery program for wounded veterans of the Second World War and received the Associate Royal Red Cross for War Services at Buckingham Palace in 1948.
The committee considered the home an important visual and historic element of the neighbourhood.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 8, 2012