Inside? It’s more post-industrial dungeon.
Built in 1913, the former Molson brewery at 121 Street, just north of 104th Avenue, towers over its neighbours, marking the border between Oliver and Westmount. From the outside, it’s truly majestic. The interior? It’s a true mess.
Broken windows have allowed in rain and snow and pigeons. The metal stairs are coated with bird droppings and broken eggs. Squatters have left behind evidence of occupation, from fast-food wrappers to graffiti on the walls.
A red fist. A huge weeping eye. A happy blue space alien.
“Art is not a crime,” reads one tag.
“Nothing lasts forever,” reads another.
First Capital Realty and Sun Life face a huge challenge in salvaging the tower.
There’s no easy way to remove the 59 giant metal tanks and the elaborate hops chutes Molson left behind in 2007. There’s no door large enough. The largest tank is 14 feet, or 4.3 metres tall, and holds almost 100,000 litres. The only solution is to cut them up into smaller chunks.
The narrow metal stairs are a safety code inspector’s nightmare. Architects plan to build a stairway and elevator shaft along the outside of the building. Plumbing, lighting, heating and air conditioning will be another huge expense.
On the main floor, there’s one big open span of 6,200 sq. feet or 576 sq. metres, which could make an amazing restaurant or bar.
But as the tower rises, floor plates get smaller: the fourth level is just 2,300 sq. feet or 214 sq. metres.
Because some ceilings are 20 ft. or six metres high, a tower as tall as a conventional nine-storey building has only four floors. It can probably only hold three or four office suites.
They’d be amazingly hip offices.
But revenues from three offices and one restaurant won’t bring this structure back to life and up to code. The City of Edmonton’s entire heritage restoration budget couldn’t retrofit the tower.
Yet this building is too remarkable to lose. Wading through pigeon poop in steel-toed boots, I’m awed by the workmanship of the brick walls, a foot-and-a-half thick, by the grandeur of the high ceilings. I’m humbled by the history, labour and ambition this mighty tower represents, built without modern cranes, red brick hand-layered atop brick. It was the tallest structure in Edmonton, until the McLeod Building surpassed it in 1915. Even now, it remains an Edmonton landmark.
From the roof, you look straight north, up the bike trail and linear park that runs north behind 122 St. Southwest is West Edmonton Mall. Northeast you see Commonwealth Stadium.
Down below is the 5.7 hectare dried mud flat that First Capital and Sun Life intend to turn into a shopping plaza with 580 underground parking spots.
Oliver neighbours, and fans of urban design, have loudly protested the prospect of another suburban-style strip mall, like an Oliver Square 2.0.
But standing atop the tower, I feel some niggling sympathy with the developers. They absolutely need to maximize revenues from the development of this site, to have any chance to save the tower.
That said, Alberta Culture declared the site of provincial historical significance back in 2009, which froze all demolition, pending possible formal heritage designation. When the developers acquired the land in 2013, they knew about that moratorium. They knew they were going to be custodians of an important architectural artifact. If they weren’t prepared for that responsibility — including keeping out the pigeons — they needn’t have bought the property.
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