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By: Zdenko Kahlina
I’m in love with this place!
I see this building in downtown Edmonton every day as I work just across the street. From a distance, it’s impressive enough. Soft, wheat-colored stone against the Alberta blue sky, blocky Art Deco shapes and folds. Up close, though, you can see the gorgeous and thoughtful Albertan symbols integrated throughout.The Federal building has been closed since 1989.
Federal Building at 9820-107th Street
A Forgotten Treasure
When its cornerstone was officially laid in May 7th, 1955, the Federal Public Building was acclaimed as a tribute to the trappers, pioneers and settlers whose zeal and vision established the first foundations of this community. George Prudham, federal minister of mines and technical surveys, went on to call the project a monument to the missionaries – people like Father Lacombe and Rev. George McDougall – whose faith is forever woven into the spiritual fabric of the community.
Nearly a half century later, the grand ten-storey neoclassical structure at 9820-107th Street sits abandoned and apparently forgotten – by the federal government that built it and by the provincial government that now owns it. The 23,800 square metre building was part of a three-way land swap for Canada Place and the Alberta government paid $20.5 million in 1983. Its former federal occupants moved to Canada Place in 1988 and the province then abandoned plans to move provincial government employees into the building.
The Federal Building is owned by the Alberta government and is located on the northeast corner of the Legislature grounds in Edmonton, Alberta. Based on a 1939 design and constructed in the late 1950s, the 10-storey Tyndal stone building is one of the best surviving examples of art deco design in Canada.
Federal Building in the spring
Bus terminal by the Federal Building
For a time in 1993, it appeared that the Federal Building would find new life as apartments. But that 209-unit project by the Prairie Land Corporation fell through and so the building languishes, awaiting its fate. It’s been a saddening fall from grace from one of Edmontons most exquisite and monumental modern government buildings. The Federal Building was originally slated to be built on land donated by the city at the west end of market square (where the downtown library now resides), but town planner Noel Dant convinced decision makers otherwise. He envisioned a government centre stretching from the legislature between 107th and 109th Streets north to 100th Avenue. History shows that his vision would be fulfilled.
Early on, a new city hall was proposed to be part of the structure, but that never came to be. When the building permit was issued August 20th, 1954, the project was originally budgeted at $5.893 million, making it the most expensive permit issued in the city to that time. Construction necessitated the demolition of 11 houses on the site, sparking outrage from some residents.
Federal Building under construction – June 2012
Federal Building under construction – June 2012
Federal Building/Centennial Plaza restoration project underway
Although the Federal Building has been vacant since 1989, work is now underway to restore this important architectural landmark to its former grandeur. In addition to renewing the Federal Building, government is also constructing a 650-stall underground parkade to replace existing surface parking lots. In their place, a new Centennial Plaza will extend the Legislature grounds north to 99 Avenue to create a scenic terminus to Capital Boulevard.
That project includes a major overhaul of the Art Deco-style Federal Building — also built with Tyndall stone — and a 650-stall underground parkade below the new Centennial Plaza anchoring the boulevard’s south end. The restoration of the Federal Building will help government address the office-space pressures. Once finished the building will house 550 people, including 50 MLAs. The building does play an important role in the future legislative grounds. I guess it’s also the rejuvenation, the redevelopment of downtown. It’s the preservation of an Edmonton architectural landmark.
The Federal Building is scheduled for completion by fall 2013.
Old entrance to the building
Detail from above the main entrance
In memory of George Prudham
Federal Building Facts
* Location: 9820 – 107 Street (Northeast corner of Legislature grounds)
* Construction completed in 1958; designed in the 1930s by George Heath MacDonald
* Gross floor area: 33,000 m2
* Usable office space: 23,000 m2
* Site area: 1.04 hectares. Number of floors: 10
* Exterior: granite and limestone veneer, wood sash windows.
* Interior: the main entrance is art deco style, with inset marble floors, nickel-plated metal work and decorative ceilings in the ornate style of the 1930s. Other examples of the art deco style include the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building in New York. The balance of the interior features normal finishes for a building constructed in the 1950s, such as lath and plaster.
* The Alberta government purchased the Federal Building in 1983 as part of a three-way land deal with the City of Edmonton and the Government of Canada. It has been vacant since 1989.”
Images – Federal Building/Centennial Plaza
The Federal Building – North East corner
The Federal Building – South East corner
Federal Building – late 1950s (Edmonton archives)
Parkade excavation September 2009 – looking south toward the Legislature. The Federal Building’s old loading dock is visible on the left.
Parkade Excavation September, 2009 – looking west toward the Bowker Building.
Parkade work almost complete (May 2012)
Interior demolition complete – floor ready for renovation. (May 2009)
New entrance moved to the West side (June 2012)
The Federal Building and Centennial Plaza Project
Renewal of the Federal Building and construction of a new public plaza and parkade will increase public space at the Legislature grounds and provide year-round recreational opportunities for visitors. Design highlights include addtional water features and green space, a skating rink and a new west entrance pavillion for the Federal Building. The project will also create options for future redevelopment of the grounds and help kick-start the revitalization of the Edmonton’s downtown.
That’s how Federal Building is going to look in the future
The plaza next door, which is also being built, will have 100 fountains to symbolize the legislature’s 100 years, providing a place for children to splash in the summer and becoming a rink in the winter. The rectangular reflecting and wading pool in front of the legislature will be closed due to mechanical problems. The original vision for a grand 108th Street dates to 1929. The current concept plan was released in 2002, but the project ran into delays.
The province is also renovating Capital Boulevard!
More than 80 years after the idea was first discussed, work on a showcase Capital Boulevard leading to Alberta’s revamped legislature grounds is already in its second year of construction. Over the past two years, 108th Street is slowly being transformed into a high-profile link between Grant MacEwan University and the legislature, inspired by world-famous malls in London, Washington, D.C. and Rome. I think this will be a wonderful addition to the downtown and a needed addition to the west end of downtown.
Future look of the Capital Boulevard
Work in progress – June 2012
Construction on surrounding streets is under way. The $13-million project will see 108 street totally changed from 99th Avenue to Jasper Avenue, and on part of 99th Avenue. Asphalt will be replaced by concrete paving stones with a similar beige colour to the legislature building. Each block will feature a wide concrete crosswalk inset with a black granite circle, mid-street planters and eventually sculpture. The granite will be shaped in a rectangle at each intersection except Jasper, which is being left alone until it undergoes its own planned upgrading.
There will be decorative metal street lights mounted on Tyndall stone-clad bases, the arms holding the light fixtures put at the same angle as sides of the triangular podium over the legislature’s front door. Curbs will be virtually eliminated.
“The purpose was to change the character of the area. It’s a special street. It’s a ceremonial street,” Van Sickle said.
“If it’s closed for special events, you will be walking everywhere, like it’s a sidewalk.”
There will also be more trees and customized seats. Work from Jasper to 104th Avenue will be done in 2012, wrapping up all but landscaping that fall as the province completes its $275-million refurbishment of the legislature grounds to help mark the building’s 100th anniversary.
“You see the magnificent legislature buildings and turn and see the interesting spirals and towers (of Grant MacEwan) … this revitalization really kind of shares the history of the City of Edmonton, shares the history of the Alberta legislature.”
Have a good and healthy season.
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Tags: Edmonton heritage