Other buildings at risk

The Prince Edward Hotel at 100


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When the Prince Edward Hotel was constructed, between 1910–12, the city was in the midst of a building boom. A million dollars of new buildings were erected in each of those three years — equivalent to nearly $70 million of new construction today. And that was in a city of less than 15,000.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/06/2012 (3984 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

When the Prince Edward Hotel was constructed, between 1910–12, the city was in the midst of a building boom. A million dollars of new buildings were erected in each of those three years — equivalent to nearly $70 million of new construction today. And that was in a city of less than 15,000.

In the century since, many of those buildings have been lost. But many are still around.

Steps have been taken to preserve and restore some of them, most prominently the old nurse’s residence at the former Brandon Mental Health Centre, now home to the culinary arts department at Assiniboine Community College.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps Health officials say there are major problems throughout the Brandon Inn, located on Ninth Street and Princess Avenue.

But other aged buildings have been left to decay — or even to collapse, as in the ignominous case of the Brown Block, which heaved over into 10th Street under a load of heavy wet snow in mid-March 2011.

The collapse, which sparked a city-wide tussle over how much of the rest of the block to save (if any), wasn’t completely cleaned up until nine months later.

Much of that delay was due to wrangling over the future of the neighbouring Strand Theatre. There’s an ongoing project to save the old theatre, and to turn it into a performing arts and cultural space — a project with distinct echoes of the late-’70s efforts to save the Prince Edward Hotel.

But, although a core group of supporters are fighting for the Strand, what other buildings may be at risk?

Brandon mayor Shari Decter Hirst says her administration is focused on preserving some of the remaining history in Brandon.

“We have over 200 buildings in the city that we have identified as being cherished,” she said. “The heritage committee has become very proactive.”

She says the former No. 1 Fire Hall is near the top of the list, as is the First Baptist Church at 11th Street and Lorne Avenue.

“I worry about what’s happening with the Baptist church,” she said. “That building is maybe one season away from falling down — so there’s a huge sense of urgency from me on it, and yet, there isn’t anyone rallying to its defence.”

Tim Smith/Brandon Sun Demolition of the Brown Block on 10th Street continues on a crisp and clear Wednesday.

The church, which features a “phenomenal performance space,” she added, would be a natural home for Brandon University’s Conservatory of Music.

“They could thrive in that space,” she said. “They would have profile and presence. It would become as iconic for their identity as the Merchant’s Bank building was for the Chamber of Commerce.”

The downtown fire hall building, too, she said, requires priority attention — not least because she believes it represents historical Brandon in a symbolic way to a younger generation that doesn’t remember the Prince Edward Hotel.

“My kids have no idea what the Prince Eddy was. They value heritage, I know that. And they have different talismans than I did …. The fire hall will be this generation’s Prince Eddy.”

To that end, the mayor said, the city was working on alternative building codes that would make it easier for developers to take heritage buildings and re-use them.

“I think that’ll be very interesting to see that process unfold, she said. “And I know there are a lot of people who are quite anxious because they know how passionate I am about heritage buildings.”

Brandon East MLA Drew Caldwell, who has been a strong supporter of the Strand project, adds that the city has experienced a number of successes recently, when it comes to historical preservation.

File photo The interior of the Strand Theatre on 10th Street in downtown Brandon in 2009. The bank of windows on the second floor of the historic building would house classrooms, meeting spaces and multi-purpose rooms in the Brandon Folk, Music and Art Society’s proposed plan for the structure.

He points to the ACC North Hill campus as well as the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum and the ongoing work at Display Building No. 2 — the “Dome” building, at the Keystone Centre.

“We’ve got these visions in Brandon, we just need people to step up,” he said. “And a lot of people do — the Dome Building is a good example, there’s a lot of good philanthropy in Brandon — but it’s all of our responsibilities to learn from the lessons of the past so this community doesn’t repeat these debacles that set the community back. I mean, the Prince Edward, 30 years later, we haven’t recovered from it yet.”

Caldwell spared no fury in his assessment of the political process that knocked the Prince Edward Hotel down.

“Its demolition signifies the greatest failure in civic leadership in this community’s history,” he said. “It was a complete failure of leadership that saw that building come down, and frankly, that whole era began the historical collapse of downtown ….

“We’ve got a world-class hotel of a calibre that you’d only see in the world’s greatest cities, and you knock it down, you blow it up, you demolish it? By definition that’s diminishing your city and your community.”

But, he also says the hotel’s loss is part of the reason he now fights for civic heritage, particularly downtown.

“The Prince Edward was kind of an inspirational thing for me, as a young person, seeing this thing coming down,” he said. “It made a huge impact in me, seeing my home community destroy something that other cities would be building on ….

“It inspired my own activism — not to be on watch when something so destructive to the community happened, but to fight against that.”

Bruce Bumstead/Brandon Sun First Baptist Church building on the corner of 11th Street and Lorne Avenue remains vacant.

As politicians fight for some heritage buildings, though, others are being prepared for demolition.
In an odd echo of the Prince Edward Hotel, another hotel, directly across the street from the lot where it once stood, will be torn down later this year.

Like the Prince Edward, the Brandon Inn is a historic hotel, about a century old, and once one of the city’s finer establishments. Like the Prince Edward, the Brandon Inn was closed and was acquired by the city through a tax sale.

But unlike the Prince Edward, no one is lining up to save the Brandon Inn. There are no plans to turn it into an arts and culture centre.

If there was an auction for its furniture or the other contents of its rooms, it wasn’t well advertised, nor well attended.

It seems certain that, when the Brandon Inn falls under the wrecking ball, few will mourn its passing.

And, interestingly, the city already has plans for the empty lot — and they’re not counting on immediate commercial development.

“Is the highest and best use for that building another gravel parking lot?” asks mayor Decter Hirst rhetorically.

File photo Some operators of local photography businesses say overzealous security officers are a problem when they try to take pictures on the former Brandon Mental Health Centre grounds on the North Hill.

Instead, the city plans to add sod over top of the land, once its flattened, turning a vacant lot into a pseudo-park — an idea that Decter Hirst credits to students from Crocus Plains.

“They saw that space as an extension of Princess Park across the street,” she said, “combining it with the idea of a performance venue, like Rainbow Stage.”

If commercial development does come along, she adds, it’s not too difficult to remove sod — or even to rip up bushes and benches — but in the meantime, the city benefits from additional greenspace downtown.

It’s a strikingly different approach from 30 years ago. Parks, not parking, are now considered the most appropriate temporary use for land.

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