Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Friday, January 27, 2012


I love this building. A favourite lady-friend lived here for years, across from my parents' red-brick Victorian era house. Although Elsa's apartment was large and elegant, with some fine architectural detail, it was plagued with problems resulting from an inattentive landlord. It was a sad day for mom when this lovely person left town to live nearer her sons west of Hamilton.

The focus of our periodic tea and biscuits conversations was catching up on the news, and sharing pleasantries. Didn't hear enough of her amazing life. We were intrigued to learn that during WWII, Elsa had travelled to my husband's hometown of Lincoln, UK, to visit her new husband serving in the Royal Air Force. The young man was killed a short time later over Germany, and she had to make her way back across the perilous North Atlantic, widowed and alone.

During all these wonderful visits with Elsa, I never once devoted time to exploring this amazing building. Some day I shall look up its date of construction; one thing I know for sure is that it was built between 1920 and 1950. It is a beautiful example of Art Moderne or Machine Age architecture. No historical detailing here - the shape and massing is about streamlining. In fact, it looks like an ocean liner with its decks, and prow-like balconies with metal railings. Other design features that say Art Moderne include the corner windows, the rounded balconies and frontispiece on the third floor, the glass block, the flat roofs, stubby chimneys like smokestacks, the banding emphasizing the horizontal lines. Really an elegant and sophisticated building for a small red brick Ontario town.

No, this building is not from 1830 or 1895. It has no red brick or limestone, no parapet walls, no towers or bargeboard.
But in its design so unique to its time, and in the stories it tells us about our past and ourselves, it is heritage. Modern heritage.

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