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Barron Building


Mired in legal wrangles and stalled development plans, this high-profile Calgary heritage building sits vacant, derelict, and on the brink.

Why it matters

The landmark Barron Building in downtown Calgary—constructed between 1949-1951—is one of its finest examples of modern architecture and has historically played a crucial role in solidifying the city’s position as the centre of Alberta’s oil industry. Clad in buff-coloured brick, Tyndall limestone, and polished black granite, the 11-storey Art Moderne office tower designed by prominent local architect Jack Cawston also houses the two-screen Uptown Theatre (the last historic movie house in the downtown core), which until recently played an important role in the city’s cultural scene. Despite Edmonton’s proximity to the 1947 Leduc oil strike, the Barron Building’s first-class office space quickly drew oil industry occupants, sparking a surge in Calgary office construction that rapidly made it the undisputed centre of the petroleum industry.

Why it’s endangered

In November 2011, the current owner—a numbered company associated with private landlord Strategic Group, which purchased the building in 2007—shut off water services after pipes burst. The last remaining tenant, the Uptown Theatre, was forced to cease operations due to lack of water and heating. The owner has filed a number of demolition applications to remove the theatre marquee and alter other heritage features of the building over the last few years, but there has been no move to rehabilitate and redevelop the building. The property is also caught up in numerous lawsuits, including one involving the theatre marquee.

Despite its extraordinary heritage significance, the Barron Building does not have any heritage protection. While it is on Calgary’s Inventory of Evaluated Heritage Sites, it has never received heritage designation, as this requires the owner’s consent.

Where it stands

As of August 2012, the Barron Building remained a depressing symbol of demolition by neglect: broken windows, unsecured doors, and damaged roof. The building’s semi-derelict circumstances further galvanized the call for a solution beyond the arts and heritage community. There has been extensive ongoing media coverage of the building’s plight and a “Save the Uptown” Facebook group has quickly gathered over 1,000 members.

In 2013, City wrote to Alberta Culture requesting protection of the landmark building. In April 2014, Alberta Culture Minister Heather Klimchuk announced her intention to declare the whole 8th Avenue S.W. facade a provincial heritage resource. This would allow all interior elements, including the Uptown Theatre, to be demolished.

By May, however, the City had rescinded its request, on the grounds that the owner had demonstrated a commitment to preserving "a large portion of the building," which the City expects will be "a catalyst to the revitalization of this part of the downtown." This is at odds with Alberta Culture's contention that the marquee is a key heritage component, which the owner plans to remove, along with the ground-level black granite, in favour of a glass addition on the east and north sides of the building.

In July, Alberta Culture announced its decision to not proceed with conferring legal protection on the building.

UPDATE: Since heritage designation was denied, the developer is free to proceed with plans to remove the sidewalk canopy and enlarge the street level windows, demolish the famous theatre and ad an 11 story glass addition to the building. Work is slated to begin in September 2015.