professor pens history of cultural landmark
foot of Calgary's impressive office towers, nestled in the shadows
of the monuments to modern commerce, sits the
a little closer at the six-storey building and you'll see the
Theatre-the faded grande dame of Calgary's early
cultural community. Almost a century ago, the Grand was conceived
as a cultural
landmark in a young, rough-hewn city at the junction of the
Bow and Elbow rivers.
It was the place for live theatre, the place for music, for
dance,” recalls University of Calgary historian Donald Smith,
who fought successfully with a local support group to save both the
Grand and the Lougheed.
And it wasn't just big artists coming from outside, people
like Sarah Bernhart, Fred Astaire, Jack Benny. What was perhaps more
important were the locally produced plays, musical performances, and
political and community events that were in the Grand for 40 years.”
and the Lougheed were constructed in 1912, at the height of Calgary's
first boom. The city's population had exploded
from 4,000 to 44,000 during the previous decade.
once cut an imposing figure on Calgary's skyline as the city's "premier corporate address." But it was almost
condemned to history when Smith and others lost their fight to have
it designated as a provincial historic site, and the city granted a
development permit for an office tower in its place.
I thought this was stupid, absolutely idiotic in a city that
doesn't know itself," Smith says. "At least the oldtimers
do, but many newcomers have no idea where they are.”
As a historian,
Smith's motivation to save the Lougheed was partly professional, but
highly personal too.
My dad was an architect and he was involved in historical preservation
in Toronto. I guess I felt subconsciously that this was something that
should be done.”
documenting the rich history of the Grand and the Lougheed for a book.
Calgary’s Grand Story, was published by University
of Calgary Press on September 1, Alberta's 100th birthday.
In it, he recounts how the historical buildings have their roots in
vision of James Lougheed, then a federal cabinet minister and
one of Calgary's largest landowners, and his wife, Belle Hardisty Lougheed.
believed a vibrant city's buildings should reflect its status both
commercially and culturally-thus the Lougheed
building was constructed as a showcase office structure housing
the Grand Theatre.
could now watch vaudeville, live theatre, opera and early silent films.
Three Canadian prime ministers also
spoke at the theatre, as did Nellie McClung and other popular
lecturers of the
Smith describes the Lougheed's tenants as heavy hitters
in the province's agriculture-based economy; the United Farmers
the Alberta Wheat Pool, and the United Grain Growers.
Henry Wise Wood, the most powerful and influential leader
of the farmers' movement in Alberta, worked and lived in the building.
has survived for many years, but the Grand met an ignoble fate in
the 1950s. It continued as a movie theatre,
but live performances ended with the construction of the
Jubilee Auditorium as
a new concert hall.
marble wainscoting, stained glass and ornate carvings have been renovated
many times since then, but the character
of much of the Lougheed, particularly on its second floor,
has remained consistent,
aside from lighting and electrical upgrades.
city granted a development permit in 2000 to demolish the historic
buildings, Smith was dejected.
It was kind of depressing, because really, I was writing an
obituary. But in 2003, Neil Richardson bought the buildings and suddenly
there was hope,” Smith says, referring to the member of the Calgary
business community who had already saved and restored several
other city landmarks.
2004 fire damaged the Lougheed and the Grand, the city voted to help
Richardson restore the buildings. Theatre Junction
has since bought the Grand. On February 21, 2006, it will
launch its regular
season in its newly-designed contemporary theatre space.
On March 4th Theatre Junction hosts “The Grand Opening,” a celebration
of the rebirth of Calgary’s oldest theatre. Smith is ecstatic
at the turn of events.
It’s fantastic, because here is a record of our city in the 20th
century through two buildings, and it’s a constant reminder of
where we ’ve been.”