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This article was published 5/9/2017 (1314 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
One of the city’s best examples of mid-20th century modernist architecture — a two-storey office building at 385 St. Mary Ave. — is being restored to its original splendour by a local architecture firm.
The building, located at the corner of Edmonton Street, was purchased through a company owned by Republic Architecture Inc. president Shane Solomon.
The building was acquired with the intention of renovating it inside and out to create a new home for the growing firm, which has gone from just one employee in 2009 to 26 employees today.
Solomon said he looked at about 20 downtown buildings before the one on St. Mary Avenue became available. He said he knew right away it would be the perfect fit for Republic.
"It’s a really great building. It was built in 1958... and it’s one of the first modernist buildings built in the downtown of that scale," he said, noting it won a number of national architecture awards in the late 1950s.
He also noted it has a large floor plate, which allows for the kind of open-concept, studio-style office space Republic wanted to create.
"We also like the location a lot. It’s nice being adjacent to the SHED (the Sports, Hospitality and Entertainment District)," he added.
"In and around our building there is lots happening, which is nice."
Jeffrey Thorsteinson, a design writer with Republic, said the building was also one of the first new office buildings built in the downtown after the Second World War.
"It exemplifies the clarity, simplicity and elegant materiality that typify the best of mid-century modernist architecture," he said.
"We’re excited about taking this great local example of modernist design back to its roots."
Because it was such a good building, very little has been done to the exterior over the past six decades or so, Solomon said.
The interior, however, is another matter.
He and Thorsteinson said a variety of tenants have occupied the building since the original owner — the New York Life Insurance Company — moved out.
Most recently, they included the chartered accounting firm Sill, Streuber Fiske and Company, as well as a number of law firms.
As it evolved into a multi-tenant building, the interior was subdivided into about 30 separate offices, with walls and partitions everywhere.
At some point, a false ceiling also was added to reduce the original 10-foot ceiling height to eight feet, Solomon said.
"So we’ve stripped it all back, although we’ve kind of kept the best of the building," he said.
The features that have been retained include the original decorative brickwork on the two exterior end walls, the cantilevered design on the front and back walls and the airy terrazzo-tiled lobby area.
However, a new exterior curtain wall has been installed, along with new clear-glass windows on the front and back.
"It will be really transparent, which will be great," Solomon said.
"The public will be able to see what we’re doing from the outside and it will be nice to have that kind of transparency and connectivity to the city."
Although the interior will be largely open space, Thorsteinson said some "fun" collaborative and private-meeting spaces have been incorporated into the design.
Solomon said some of those ideas were gleaned from a team-building trip earlier this year to Los Angeles, where Republic staff toured a number of innovative office buildings.
"L.A. is a great market to do that because they tend to be more progressive. It was more to see the kind of trends in the industry and how people have repurposed buildings into being really progressive offices," he said.
Because Republic is privately owned, Solomon wouldn’t reveal how much is being spent on the renovations, which got underway last spring.
"But it is a significant restoration," he said.
He said Republic hopes to relocate from its leased main-floor space in the 112-year-old office building at 374 Donald St. at the end of this year.
"I’ve enjoyed being in this building very much, but we’ve outgrown the space," he said.
The president and CEO of Winnipeg’s downtown development agency — CentreVenture Development Corporation — said it’s encouraging to see owners of smaller downtown buildings joining in the ongoing effort to revitalize the area.
"We’ve been really pushing that whole sort of Graham Avenue precinct that’s west of True North Square," Angela Mathieson said, referring to the four-tower, $400-million project under construction on both sides of Carlton Street, south of Graham Avenue.
She said True North Square, the newly expanded RBC Convention Centre and the Bell MTS Place all helped to boost confidence in the future of the neighbourhood in and around the SHED.
"There are some good, new, really strong anchors and that’s what allows the smaller building owners and smaller businesses like Republic to be able to make these investments," she said.
She noted a number of other properties in the area also have been redeveloped or renovated in the last few years.
Another example she cited was the Pint restaurant and bar on Garry Street.
"I think those things really are signs that people see a strong future in the neighbourhood and that’s going to bring a lot more activity (to the area). It’s the old adage that success breeds success, right?" she said.
Know of any newsworthy or interesting trends or developments in the local office, retail, industrial or multi-family- residential sectors? Let real estate reporter Murray McNeill know at the email address below, or at 204-697-7254.