Calgary's Grand Story: The Making of a Prairie Metropolis from the Viewpoint of Two Heritage Buildings

Calgary's Grand Story: The Making of a Prairie Metropolis from the Viewpoint of Two Heritage Buildings

Calgary's Grand Story: The Making of a Prairie Metropolis from the Viewpoint of Two Heritage Buildings

Calgary's Grand Story: The Making of a Prairie Metropolis from the Viewpoint of Two Heritage Buildings


Calgary was a boomtown of 50,000 people in 1912, the year the Lougheed Building and the adjacent Grand Theatre were built. The fanfare and anticipation surrounding their opening marked the beginning of a golden era in the citys history. The Lougheed quickly became Calgary's premier corporate address, and the state-of-the-art Grand Theatre the hub of a thriving cultural community. Through the great days of Vaudeville and classic cinema, through the Depression, two world wars, and the oil and gas boom, the Lougheed and the Grand were cornerstones of downtown Calgary. As the city grew up around them, questions about their future arose. Did they still have a place in this new metropolis of shiny glass and steel? After they were nearly destroyed by fire in 2004, the push to restore and revitalize the buildings gained new momentum. From the viewpoint of these two prominent heritage buildings, author Donald Smith introduces the reader to the personalities and events that helped shape Calgary in the twentieth century. Complemented by over 140 historical images, Calgary's Grand Story is a fascinating tribute to the Lougheed and the Grand, and celebrates their unrivalled position in the city's political, economic, and cultural history.


Calgary firefighters reached the six-story Lougheed Building at the southeast corner of 6th Avenue and 1st Street S.W. just after four o’clock on the morning of 10 March 2004. From the roof smoke poured out from the two-story elevator mechanical structure beside the penthouse. Flames jumped up in the darkness. Just after the advance team entered the building, one of the elevator’s two motors crashed through the roof narrowly missing several firefighters before it wedged itself on the fifth floor. Using their Bronto Skylife, two aerial ladder trucks and two cranes, the firefighters fought back, bringing the hot spots under control and removing debris. Speedy action limited the damage to the mechanical building and penthouse on the roof, and to the Lougheed’s fifth and sixth floors. Fortunately no one was hurt. An investigation of the site by fire officials ruled out arson, leaving the cause undetermined.

The fire’s threat to personal safety led to the re-routing of traffic in the downtown core. For much of the day police closed several city blocks: 6th Avenue, between Centre Street and 2nd Street S.W. ; and 1st Street between 5th Avenue and 7th Avenue S.W. the closures caused huge traffic backups during rush hour. Calgary’s radio and television stations broadcast updates all day; the media also covered the previously scheduled aldermanic committee meeting on the fate of the Lougheed Building.

Until 10 March 2004, few Calgarians walking or driving past the Lougheed Building and the adjacent Grand Theatre gave them any thought. in this city-in-ahurry the office building’s and the theatre’s great days had long since faded out of public memory. in the 1940s the Lougheed appeared in the centre of panorama photos of the city of 100,000 people. Over half-a-century later the six-story red-brick-and-sandstone building and theatre stand hidden by surrounding skyscrapers, in particular by the shadows of its giant neighbour to the north, the Petro-Canada Centre, almost ten times as high.

March 10th began as a day of despair for the Lougheed, with its threatened immolation. It ended with the venerable building still standing, and with hope of restoration. By a strange coincidence the city’s Standing Policy Committee on Finance and Corporate Services had weeks earlier scheduled to review the owner’s restoration plan that same day. Visibly shaken by the early morning events, owner Neil Richardson participated in the discussions. Once word came from fire officials in the early afternoon that the building was salvageable, the committee made an extraordinary decision. in a 6 to 1 vote it recommended to City Council that the Lougheed Building receive $3.4 million in tax relief and annual grants for the next fifteen years to allow the owner to restore and rehabilitate it. in addition, the motion recommended that “best efforts” also . . .

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