Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time stands still

The immaculately maintained Highgate condos hearken back to luxurious living during Winnipeg's boom

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WALK through the wrought-iron gate at Winnipeg's venerable Highgate apartment block and you feel as if you've been transported to another city -- perhaps even another time.

Characterized by its charming central courtyard, the stately Highgate at the corner of Wardlaw Avenue and Daly Street in Fort Rouge is reminiscent of blocks in much larger centres.

"It has a very cosmopolitan feel to me -- it reminds me of New York," says Wins Bridgman of Bridgman Collaborative Architecture, whose firm has done restoration work on the now-condominium structure. "But you're also very comfortable and you feel immediately at home."

The elegant block, built in 1912-13, was designed by architect Charles S. Bridgman (who is no relation to the restoring architect) and originally known as the DeBary Apartments. (Bridgman also designed two other grand blocks in 1912 for the same investment firm: the Anvers on McMillan Avenue and the Brussels on Lilac Street.)

The Highgate is a prime example of a luxury dwelling from Winnipeg's boom. Between 1905 and 1914, there was a flurry of apartment construction in the city, spurred by an influx of people moving here to find work.

While all sorts of people were moving to the city, there was an ample segment of the population looking for apartments that had the comforts and amenities of a mansion, without requiring the upkeep of a house. Many of the upscale apartments of the time featured servants' quarters, privacy, and luxurious interiors that were spacious enough for entertaining.

Located at 626 Wardlaw Ave., just off Wellington Crescent, the Highgate is one such building that has been lovingly and painstakingly preserved.

"In Winnipeg, we have a great wealth of heritage buildings that are well taken care of," says Bridgman. "That is a great attribute that Winnipeg has."

The three-storey brick Highgate, municipally designated as a heritage building, is an unusual local example of a Queen Anne Revival-style block.

"It's charming and it's really quite special," notes Bridgman.

Queen Anne Revival style creates asymmetry through architectural touches such as porches, bay windows and wings. The Highgate was designed with a complex layout and unique bay and gable design.

Different building materials animate the façade. The curved elements on the top of the building are made of metal, as are the touches on the building's façade to hide the eavestroughs. The brick exterior is complemented by stone detail and wrought-iron accents.

The most striking feature is the sheltered inner courtyard. Although it is located just off Wellington Crescent, it's a calm sanctuary. Dotted with neatly placed trees and small gardens, the courtyard is what Bridgman calls a "secret space" shared by residents.

"This secret courtyard is the edge between public and private," Bridgman notes.

Three main entrances with wrought-iron canopies and double glass doors, complete with brass detail, fan around the inner courtyard. The entrances divide the building into three separate sections. There are four suites per floor in one section and three per floor in the other two.

The Highgate's interior is luxuriously finished. The elegant stairs and wide hallways feature rich, dark wood and stained-glass window accents. One of the most unusual features is the lack of common interior walls. Of the 30 different suites, no two floor plans are alike.

Each suite has a stained-glass window inset in its solid wood front door. The suites have nine-foot ceilings and are resplendent with the original wide oak trim and solid hardwood floors.

"It's a phenomenal building," says Re/Max Executives realtor Kelly Clements, who recently sold a 1,030-square-foot, extensively renovated Highgate condo that was listed for $199,900.

The one- or two-bedroom condos have large living rooms with wood-burning fireplaces and solid oak mantles, as well as formal dining rooms. Some suites have a servant's room off the kitchen.

Each suite originally included a screened balcony. Those were converted to glazed sunrooms with metal cladding and aluminum windows in 1987, one of the few changes to the exterior.

The most remarkable thing about the Highgate is the condition it is in. It has been so well maintained, time seems to have stood still.

"The conservation of a building depends on the small repairs, the small details," says Bridgman. "We think of it as a part of the practice that believes in the future -- ensuring those buildings that are treasures continue."

PHOTO WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 29, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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