Before and After: The Grenfell Apartments

To start the week off I have decided to do a bit of a combo post.  I want to present a ‘Before and After” as a means to continue the discussion about the importance (or lack thereof) when it comes to place names.  So, to start… the Grenfell Apartments:

(Top image: City of Regina Archives, Bottom image: Laura Pfeifer)

The Grenfell apartments, now Grenfell Tower are located on Hamilton Street between 12th Avenue and Victoria Aveune downtown.  To be totally honest, I don’t know a lot about the Grenfell apartments – I haven’t had a chance to dig into the archives or spend a weekend at the Prairie History room (RPL) seeing what there is to learn about them… so, if anyone does have info on them, please share.  What I do know is that the Grenfell apartments were replaced with Grenfell Tower – again, I don’t know the dates for this so feel free to indulge.  I do however think it is interesting that the building that was built on the site kept the name Grenfell.

You may remember this post where I talked about place names, specifically with respect to the development that will replace The Plains Hotel.  At the time I questioned whether or not it was useful to retain a place name even if the bricks and mortar were lost and after writing that post, I still wasn’t sure.  For me, The Plains will always be The Plains and I still hold the belief that “Capital Pointe” sounds a little hollow and that there was something to be gained by maintaining a small memory of “The Plains”, though it is not my choice to make.  After writing this post I spent a lot of time thinking about this issue and wanted to see what there was for a comparison, so I looked for developments where the name was retained (it is like the space for time substitution theory used in ecology, but here it is a time for space substitution).  There are a few examples in the downtown – one of which is Grenfell Tower.

I have come to the conclusion that building names form a sort of lineage.  By naming a new development similar to what was there before, you ensure that there is some record of what has been.  While I never saw the Grenfell Apartments (which, design-wise actually look kind of cool), seeing Grenfell Tower and knowing why it is called that (and that it isn’t just a name plunked onto a building for a slick image) is a constant reminder of where we’ve been (even if it is a small gesture).

It seems as though we are often in a rush to move on, to start over, to begin fresh, that we sometimes overlook where we have been and what we are building upon.  While I don’t believe that name-retention is as significant as building-retention, it is more than nothing and helps to remind people of the progress and change that has been made.

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Before and After: The Grenfell Apartments

11 thoughts on “Before and After: The Grenfell Apartments

  1. wourliem says:

    The first time I saw the Grenfell Apts. was last spring on the downtown modern architecture walk given by Jeannie Mah for the Jane’s Walk series. I noticed the Apts among various black and white photos of old downtown buildings that Ms. Mah was carrying.

    I half-heartedly asked something like, ‘ was that in Regina?’ not wanting to know such an awesome Art Deco building had ever been here and got knocked over.

    So now Laura you re-open the wound with your before and after pics. How could you???

    I just love this building, its rounded corners, horizontal lines, brick work, windows, its height compared to others around it. Perhaps its a shame it hadn’t been constructed in a more residential neighbourhood like Centre Square or Cathedral because it probably would have survived. Seeing pictures of the Grenfell Apts does leave me feeling forlorn, laminating the lack of Art Deco in Regina (there are examples around). Its just they’re not as charming as this building.

    *Sigh*

    I think retaining names can be effective to remind people who’ve seen a change of what was there before. I don’t see how it references the past for anyone coming after the change. Grenfell Tower doesn’t inherently suggest anything came before and until last Spring had no idea of what came before. The McCallum-Hill towers don’t exactly suggest the McCallum-Hill Building was ever there. If physical pieces were incorporated in the design then I think it would compliment keeping a name around. It would provide some evidence for future generations of something that came before and may raise questions.

    I imagine retaining a name may help for a generation or two but unless actual physical pieces are incorporated no most people will forget and move on.

  2. Brett Bell says:

    Hi there, I’ve been enjoying this website for several weeks now.

    Funnily enough, I made a short documentary partly about growing up in Regina, and did a segment on the Grenfell Apartments as my grandmother lived there until the buildings were demolished in 1980. She had lived there for about five or six years, and had moved there from the Jarvis Block which had been torn down circa 1975 to make way for the TD Building on the corner of 12th and Hamilton.

    The Grenfell was a beautiful, moody building on the inside, with long, dark hallways (and not carpeted, so you had to keep your voice down because sounds really echoed) and shiny marble floors with inlaid triangular patterns.

    When the wrecking ball swung, it took something like a dozen swings before it bashed through because the walls were four-foot thick concrete (but don’t quote me on the numbers… I do remember that there were an inordinate number of swings required from the wrecking ball.)

    There was a fair bit of controversy when the Grenfell Apartments came down. This was covered in the Leader Post in 1979 and ‘80. If those buildings were still standing I have no doubt that in today’s real estate market they would have been converted to condos ten years ago and now would be going for a minimum of $350,000 for a one-bedroom.

    1. Brett – thank you so much for sharing your personal experience and letting us all indulge in the details (especially for those of us not even born before these apartments were torn down)! If you ever happen across family photos of this building (the inside sounds fantastic), please do share. Also – if you have a link to your documentary (or info on how people can watch it), please let us know!

      Martin – I too think that name retention is a far cry from actual architectural heritage… a name will never really retain all the style, sophistocation, or character that a place has to offer. I suppose I am interested as to whether or not the name can act like a family name. My last name technically only references the people in my lineage that had that name too. I don’t look like my great-great-grandfather, but I do have some little reminder of that connection and when I die there is a way to look it up. It may be an odd thought, but I wonder if that holds true for buildings as well – the name acts as a link to what was there and can be traced back. In the very least, if someone wanted to look up the meaning on a building name they would get a bit of history and not just a corporate image (e.g. in the case of The Plains). Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is an adequate substitution and I think that we too often let interesting buildings with rich history descend into decay for no real reason and then use it as an excuse to demolish, but I wonder in the inevitable cases if it is a small consolation prize.

      1. wourliem says:

        I didn’t mean to suggest you thought name retention was the be all and end all of place making, so I apologize if it suggested as much.

        I’m not sure I agree with your family lineage example in the sense that a last name connects you because it belongs to you. It’s used to identify you everyday and associate you with current or past kin.

        For me there is no ready connection with the name Grenfell other than to the town down the road. Like Street names, the Smiths, Cornwalls and Angus’ of the city would have been the leaders of Regina known to all when the city was young. But growing up they were to me as representative of a person as the number avenues.

        If I can attempt to use your family analogy I think retaining a name is more like a grandmother’s maiden name. If there are the right people around you may hear the story and get the connection. Or in time you could research and find out. But it wouldn’t be something associated with you everyday.

        I have a question for discussion too: Is the address a more representative name for a place? If buildings change the streets and numbering system often don’t. As a starting point is it easier to think ‘what was on the 1900 block of Hamilton St. in 1940?’ To strip away the buildings like Grenfell Tower as too new and being left with the curiosity, ‘what was there?’

      2. Hey Martin – no worries! I was just trying to keep this dialogue going.

        I think you have a point with your new analogy (that it does take someone to ask and someone to do the digging… as will be the case with getting more info on this building). It definitely makes it harder to trace local heritage and history than it would be if pieces, or whole buildings, remained.

        I guess sometimes that form of “heritage retention” bugs me just as much. The arch of the old Gingerbread style city hall that lies in a flower bed in front of the new city hall feels like it is as much heritage retention as the name I think. It has no context and therefore to those of us who never saw the original, it really doesn’t mean much. Perhaps if at least the facade of the old city hall were incorporated it would maintain some importance.

        I believe Montreal has a policy along Sherbrooke Street that facades must be maintained (due to a lot of demolition that had taken place). It can look a little odd to see tall building with a lower-rise historical facade from a distance, but as a pedestrian it retains that inviting, walkable, feeling.

  3. Well, R.U.E, you’ve opened up a fascinating avenue of discussion. I laud your interest in the continuity that names can provide. With that in mind I suggest we go even further back. Surely there is a connection between the name of the building located just a few steps from Victoria – the number 1 highway of old- and Grenfell, SK, the town on the number 1 highway a couple of hours east of Regina?

    (Grenfell itself, like so many Saskatchewan towns, was named for a railway official, in this case Pasco du Pre Grenfell, the Saskatchewan encyclopedia tells us.)

    The wikipedia link for Grenfell, SK lists some very prominent political personages as having Grenfell connections ( a couple of premiers, a lieutenant-governor). All were active in the first part of the 20th century, around the time the old apartment would have been built. Would one of them have needed accommodation in Regina while the Leg. was sitting, I wonder?

    I note that the entry for Grenfell is written with some of the Edwardian flourish and thoroughness that the Regina wikipedia entry contains, and I suspect a common author. Whoever it is has a pretty good grip on Saskatchewan history it seems, and I bet they’d know a thing or two about how to look up stories in the archives, especially old Leader-Post stories. I just bet the LP ran a story on the fancy new apartments back in the day, and that story might contain the clue as to connection with Grenfell, the town – if there is one.

    I’m sitting here in Ottawa so it’s hard to really get at source documents for Regina – like old LP files – but I bet you folks at R.U.E could.

    That’s a hint, by the way!

    See what a can of worms you’ve opened up? You’ll think twice next time!

    :-)

    1. Ha! That is actually a really good suggestion. I also enjoy playing around with the micro-fiche at the RPL. I did a bit of digging regarding another building last year and it was really interesting to see what there was for info.

      Give me (or one of our other writers) a few weeks and we will see what there is!

  4. Jeff D. says:

    Nothing in particular, but your post has got me excited about stories and narratives and heritage and lineage and imagination and phantasms and whatnots. No pics though, sorry.

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