Description of Historic Place
Magrath Mansion is a two and one half-storey building situated on a large city lot overlooking the North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton's Highlands neighbourhood. Built between 1912 and 1913, the red-brick mansion is an eclectic construction with a stately design strongly influenced by the Georgian Revival and Neoclassical architectural styles. Prominent features of the Magrath Mansion include the symmetrical front facade, two-storey colonnade supported by robust classical columns, hipped roof with gable dormers, and wraparound porch and balcony.
The heritage value of the Magrath Mansion lies in its association with Edmonton's pre-World War One building boom and its excellent representation of the Georgian Revival architectural style.
In the years between the creation of the Province of Alberta in 1905 and the outbreak of World War One in 1914, Edmonton experienced dramatic growth. The development of the city's transportation infrastructure and the growth of the regional economy swelled Edmonton's population and stimulated the foundation of over 270 new subdivisions. Among the most significant figures in the city's pre-World War One building boom were Bidwell Holgate and William J. Magrath, two eastern Canadians lured west by the tantalizing prospects of the Prairies. This entrepreneurial pair established a real estate company in 1909 and was involved in numerous projects to create residential areas for Edmonton's growing population. Their most ambitious undertaking was the creation, development, and promotion of the Highlands, a subdivision located on the north side of the North Saskatchewan River. Envisioned as an exclusive preserve of Edmonton's burgeoning entrepreneurial and professional class, the Highlands was graced with such genteel luxuries as minimum building standards, street cars, concrete sidewalks, street lighting, and sewer and water mains. To impart the Highlands with an air of elegant grandeur and thereby entice well-heeled Edmontonians to take up residence in the neighbourhood, both Magrath and Holgate built stately mansions in the area. Built between 1912 and 1913, the residence expresses in its lavishness and scale the ebullient optimism of the pre-war period in Edmonton. But it is also emblematic of the vagaries of Alberta's cyclical economy: by the early 1930s, the Magrath family had fallen behind in the payment of property taxes and the home was seized by the local sheriff.
Occupying a huge tract of land overlooking the North Saskatchewan River, Magrath Mansion boasts an imposing exterior and 14 ornately appointed rooms. Designed by Ernest W. Morehouse - the architect also responsible for the Holgate Mansion - Magrath's residence is an eclectic construction evincing the strong influences of the Georgian Revival and Neoclassical architectural styles. The Georgian Revival style is evident in the hipped roof with gable dormers, full-facade porch, sidelights and transoms surrounding doors and windows, and use of quoins, modillions, and bracketed eaves. The impressive two-storey colonnade with robust classical columns crowned by Ionic capitals is a bold expression of the Neoclassical architectural vision. The spacious grounds, panoramic vision of the North Saskatchewan River, and sophisticated design of the Magrath Mansion visually projected the economic clout and social prominence of its owner. The interior was equally ostentatious, graced by a variety of exotic materials - including mahogany, Italian marble, hand-painted silk and linen wallpaper, and Bohemian crystal - as well as ornate furnishings and details like the French chandelier in the reception area, the winding oak staircase to the second floor, the fireplace faced with hammered brass in the library, and the intricately painted, sculptured plaster ceiling in the dining room. At the time of its construction, the Magrath Mansion was also fitted with a range of luxurious modern conveniences, including an indoor pool in the basement, an electrical switch in the den that controlled all the lights in the home, an elaborate intercom system, a telephone connection in every room, an in-wall vacuum system and a burglar alarm. The extravagant interior of the Magrath Mansion is an excellent example of the lavish design aesthetic of upper class Edmontonians during this period.
Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 323)
Key elements that define the heritage character of the Magrath Mansion site include:
- sightlines to North Saskatchewan River;
- spatial relationship between building and surrounding grounds;
- boundary plantings of deciduous trees on the south and spruce trees on the north;
- location of building within Highlands neighbourhood.
Key elements that define the mansion's stately exterior include:
- mass, form and scale;
- wide front staircase;
- sandstone belt course;
- hipped roof covered in moulded red clay roof tiles and featuring gabled dormers with returned eaves, a balustraded widow's walk, and corbelled chimneys with decorative masonry work;
- symmetrical front facade with a projecting two-storey colonnade supported by classical columns crowned by Ionic capitals, entablature, and wide, projecting, bracketed cornice;
- ground floor porch and second floor balcony extending the full width of the front facade on a masonry plinth and wrapping around east elevation, terminating at a smaller one-storey circular porch and porte cochere complete with Ionic columns, entablature, and balustrade;
- pediment-like gable end on north elevation with recessed semi-circular window surmounting a second floor sleeping porch and first floor open porch;
- quoins, modillions and bracketed eaves;
- fenestration pattern and style;
- sidelights and transoms around doors and windows;
- original exterior light fixtures;
- original oak doors with leaded glass;
- classical door and window surrounds, columns, and capitals;
- projecting window hood moulds.
Key elements that define the mansion's lavish interior include:
- use of fine and exotic materials like mahogany, Italian marble, hand-painted silk and linen wallpaper, and Bohemian crystal;
- well-crafted oak elements, including doors, wainscoting, columns, capitals, arches, mouldings, trim, staircase, built-in cabinets with leaded glass doors, and ceiling beams;
- ornate furnishings and finishes, including sculptured plaster ceilings, plaster cornices, inlaid parquet floor, stencilled and hand-painted finishes, leaded glass elements, French chandelier in the reception area, stained mahogany panelling in the dining room, hammered brass fireplace mantel in the den, mouldings, trims, door and window surrounds;
- remnants of luxurious period conveniences, including intercom units.