Long before Portland, Denver or (insert the name a city here) became the Craft Brewery Capital of North America and certainly long before Calgary’s Big Rock, Village or Wild Rose Breweries, there was Calgary Brewing and Malt Company (CB&MC) established back in 1892. Unfortunately the site on 9th Ave and 15th Street in Inglewood has been closed since 1994 and the buildings have deteriorated significantly.
A few years back I attended a presentation by Calgary architect Lorne Simpson who also happens to be the city’s most experienced historical restoration expert on the state of the CB&MC buildings. He has been responsible for most Calgary’s restoration projects for the past 25+ years. The key take home message I got from his workshop was that most of the buildings were beyond restoration, pointing that many of the buildings had been added in such a way that if on was removed you had to remove several others as they were all supported each other.
He did however off some suggestions on how the site might be developed to retain the industrial design character of those buildings while adapting them to new uses and modern building codes. While some of the audience was very disappointed that more of the site couldn’t be preserved, others were excited by the opportunity to create a unique industrial district that would keep some connection with Calgary’s past.
My longtime mantra of linking vision with reality was put to the test for while one’s vision of a 21st century charming century brewery district with multiple 100-year-old buildings and garden with fish ponds, just didn’t jive with current economic, design and building code realities.
But seeing is believing…
For a while I have been bugging Eileen Stan, Development Program Manager, M2i Development Corporation to give me a tour. Recently, our schedules jived and I got my wish.
I can’t believe how complex the redevelopment will be with numerous buildings scattered throughout the site making the location of major new buildings (needed to pay for the restoration) difficult.
Then there is the utilities right of way, set back from the street, CPR tracks and 17th Avenue (which use to run right through the middle of the site) to contend with.
I saw for myself how the sandstone on the buildings is “more sand than stone.” Brush it with your hand and sand pours down the side of the building, in some places, miniature hoodoos are being formed.
Inside, I saw how the building’s structure would make it difficult to convert to modern uses. Perhaps reusing materials makes more sense than repurposing the buildings.
The gardens and two buffalo sculptures were wonderful and would make a great tribute to the past. It would be lovely to somehow incorporate them into a plaza or pocket park that would be the centerpiece of a new brewery district.
Postcards from CB&MC
I am hoping that these images will help you appreciate the complexities of redeveloping the historic Calgary Brewing and Malting Company site for current uses.
After walking around the site, I have a much better appreciation of the difficulties and complexities of redeveloping the site for modern uses - this is not a Currie Barracks, an East Village or a Bridges site.
Rather than let the buildings further deteriorate and have a prominent site sit in limbo for another decade or more, the idea of developing the site incrementally starting with the Bottling Plant building as proposed by Stan’s team makes sense. Great spaces and places happen organically, not systematically.
Though, some have suggested the need for a Master Plan before anything happens on the site, I disagree. We don’t want another “East Village” scenario (i.e. a new Master Plan developed every five to ten years with nothing happen for 30+ years). Master Plans tend to all look the same anyway; I expect we will get something more unique and eclectic without a Master Plan.
Jane Jacobs was also a big fan of incremental redevelopment rather than revolutionary redevelopment. I think she would have approved of starting by animating the 9th Avenue and 15th Street corner (across from the West Canadian Digital Print Centre) with some street retail like a ZYN wine and spirits store and warehouse.