Description of Historic Place
Completed in 1931, the Calgary Public Building is an eight-storey, masonry structure located at the eastern end of Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary. This Modern Classical style office building is distinguished by its Tyndall limestone exterior and the massive Ionic columns that mark the north and west facades. The building now houses offices for the City of Calgary and serves as a performing arts centre. The property was protected as a Municipal Historic Resource in 1996.
The Calgary Public Building, built 1930-31, is historically significant for its role as the federal government's primary office building and presence in Calgary until 1979. It was also the location of the city's main Post Office from 1931 to 1961, making it one of the most prominent buildings in the city. During this period, the Post Office occupied the lower three floors of the structure with a variety of federal government offices housed on the floors above. The building also serves to recall the long presence of the federal government and postal services at this location. From 1894 to 1913, this was also the site of the original Federal Public Building and Post Office.
The Calgary Public Building, is also significant as an impressive example of Modern Classical style architecture in Calgary. The building exhibits decorative elements of the Beaux Art tradition yet conforms closely with Commercial style design used for modern office buildings, especially with its eight-storey height and attention to the interior arrangement of offices. This stylistic transition makes it one of the first federal Public Buildings to align with the standards of commercial office buildings, emphasizing function over form. The arrangement of offices followed the standard conventions of modern office building design and Commercial style architecture, leading to the building's 'U' shaped plan. This layout allowed natural light and ventilation to penetrate all interior spaces. The public areas of the interior are highlighted by polished brass hardware, Quebec marbles, and a two-storey main lobby that complement the monumentality of the exterior's design. Conforming to federal government decrees at the time, all materials and labour used in the construction of the building were of Canadian origin. Notably, the Public Building retains the last attendant-operated passenger elevators known to exist in Alberta (2007).
The formal and conservative detailing of the Public Building exemplifies the federal government's approach to public architecture at the time, but can also be traced to the planning and design of the building which occurred in 1919, a decade before its construction. Giant Ionic columns that frame the building's entrances impart the structure with a monumental Beaux Arts character. Features such as the upper level pilasters further add to the building's elegance, as does the high-quality Tyndall (Manitoba) limestone cladding. Like modern Commercial style architecture of the period, however, upper level windows are treated as a single vertical unit and contain ornate metal spandrels which contribute to the building's commercial appearance. As with the majority of period federal buildings, the Department of Public Works was in charge of the design with Ben A. Dore of the Chief Architect's Branch completing the plans. Charles Sellens, a Calgarian, acted as the supervising architect.
Source: City of Calgary Heritage Planning File 01-192
The exterior character-defining elements of the Calgary Public Building include such features as its:
- symmetrical, eight-storey, 'U-shaped' form;
- flat roof with associated skylights (covered, 2007) and elevator penthouses clad in decorative metal impressed with classical style motifs;
- reinforced concrete construction with Tyndall limestone ashlar cladding and granite foundation;
- decorative stone elements and detailing pertaining to the Modern Classical style such as the massive, engaged Ionic columns with entablature marking the north and west facades, the secondary doorway surround with entablature, upper-storey Corinthian pilasters and the denticulated cornice;
- regular fenestration grid containing rectangular, one-over-one, wooden-sash and steel-sash windows; the upper-storey Chicago style window assemblies (three-part) of the facade with one-over-one, wooden-sash windows and metal spandrels ornamented with grills and green marble panels; the Chicago-style window assemblies of the light well (treated as a single vertical unit) with one-over-one sashes and metal spandrels;
- separate doorways to access the elevator lobby and the main lobby of the building;
- granite steps and their side walls which access the ground floor doorways.
The interior character-defining elements of the Calgary Public Building include such features as its:
- main lobby with its double-storey height, coffered and classical-motif plasterwork ceiling, the hanging bronze light fixtures, marble pilasters, the black and white Quebec marble flooring, the marble stairs and balustrades which connect to the elevator lobby; and the doorway between the main lobby and the elevator lobby with its glazed, brass, pocket doors, transom lite and brass grill;
- elevator lobby with its three-quarter-height marble wall cladding, marble pilasters and flooring, the coffered ceiling with classical-motif plasterwork, hanging bronze light fixtures, the two elevators with their brass double doors and etched glazing surmounted by dials; the panelled elevator cars with their sliding brass gates, and brass grillwork;
- terrazzo flooring with marble baseboards throughout the upper stories; -third-, sixth- and eighth-floors with their original 'U-shaped' layout; original finishes such as terrazzo floors and marble baseboards; doorway assemblies with panelled wooden doors, casing and transom lites;
- original fifth- and seventh-floor lavatories with marble stall dividers and wooden doors, porcelain pedestal sinks, and terrazzo floors;
- original, cast-iron radiators throughout;
- two internal staircases comprising an iron balustrade with a wooden rail and marble treads.