Can you fall in love with a building? I think I did.
Earlier today (much earlier), Red River College officially begins renovations to turn the Union Bank Tower into a high-end culinary arts training machine, restaurants, and most importantly, student residences. I think the King's Head is going to need a 3rd floor....
All the suits were there, smiling away for the photo-op, including the Mayor, Vic Toews, Ron Lemieux, and RRC President Jeff Zabudsky. Jeff looks mighty fine in them pinstripes. Each made a short speech, which I must say, did not sound like most political rhetoric about downtown and whatnot that I expected, with the exception being Lemiuex's little talk. It seems like people are genuinely excited, and they should be, to put to use this beautiful and iconic building that has been empty for far, far, far too long.
After the little speeches in a somewhat blustery Exchange District we were able to go inside the building and take a look around the main floor. Most of it was as predicted, in shambles, peeling paint and such.
But my goodness is that building ever gorgeous on the inside. They sure as hell don't make banks the way they used to.
As someone who has never witnessed the inside of the building, I was absolutely awestruck. Such a powerful and grand interior. This is something that people stopped doing, this is why I love urban environments. This is why I'd rather shop downtown than in some boring stripmall with a bunch of souless buildings and half empty parking lots. This was a thing of beauty.
Although the building was still in use when I was in my early childhood, I have only stories from my mom and grandparents about what this building used to be like. The only other thing I know about it is what I've learned from working at Pantages Playhouse, an underground tunnel connects the theatre to the bank.
Below are some pictures I took of the interior. Architect Dudley Thompson from my favourite Prairie Architects was also on hand with some renderings of the completed building.
The first two pictures are of the ceiling and the pillars. The detail in the ceiling is quite amazing. I hope not too much of it has been damaged beyond repair. The ceiling is easily the most striking feature of the interior, with those pillars in a close second.
A close-up of the detail of the ceiling around the pillars.
A perspective shot, for those who haven't been inside. The camera guy on the side should hopefully give you an idea of just how huge the interior space is. Also note those giant windows. Whenever did those awful flourescent lights become the norm...
This is the single greatest project that is happening right now in our downtown, in recent memory, and probably in not-so-recent memory. Red River College is taking a risk. They are investing in a 105-year-old building, they are moving students and classrooms downtown. They are taking advantage of old vacant buildings to build a unique and buzzing college experience.
Out with the old, in with the new is not a strategy that should be applied downtown. Infill is nice, new condos are nice, but....every building that can be saved downtown should be. This is our infrastructure, and it's already there, waiting to be put to good use. Like I said, they don't build buildings like they used to. Tearing them down and replacing them with newfangled curvy things, glass, and parkades does not do our downtown justice.
I only wish that every politician in this city acted like Red River College. That way progress downtown might actually happen on a consistent basis. Instead of saying their hands are tied, we need more parkades, its not cost effective.
The Union Bank Tower will serve as a shining example of what political will and vision can accomplish. Hopefully it's proximity to City Hall will be a constant reminder of what "downtown progress" really means.