Restored brick building would aid downtown revival

Councillor Gerry Warner imagines a future for the electrical building behind Cranbrook City Hall

An illustration shows what the brick building behind Cranbrook City Hall could look like if restored.

An illustration shows what the brick building behind Cranbrook City Hall could look like if restored.

Gerry Warner

Can you feel it? I think I can. I can also see it, but only a few welcome glimmerings so far. But soon I’m sure there’ll be more because finally, after several decades, downtown Cranbrook is showing signs of a revival and it’s about time, considering all the empty lots and buildings downtown.

In fact, it’s overtime, but that’s okay.

We all heard about the purchase of the iconic Armond Theatre last week and the ambitious plans Jean Trimble has for its restoration as a kind of art deco-style multi-purpose entertainment centre. Wouldn’t this be a nice change for our often sleepy downtown?

Then there’s the “Heidout,” which opened a couple months back with the same fine dining Heidi Romich is famous for but with the addition of a brew house with all kinds of exotic libations to drink. How sophisticated! How unlike the social scene in the past.

And further along 10th Avenue reveals more.

There’s Muriel and Jane’s General Store with a fascinating array of general merchandise for hip shoppers.

And across the street there’s Dragon Antiques with exotic items of a more diverse kind not commonly seen in Cranbrook.

The old standbys (old in the sense of reliable and trusted) are there too. Lotus Books – if they don’t have the book you’re looking for they’ll get it for you fast. High Country Sports with one of the biggest inventories in the Kootenays. There’s also Max’s Place, and those delicious shortbread, chocolate chip cookies and java blends that taste so good.

And the action isn’t just confined to 10th Avenue.

Over on Baker Street there’s such well-known vendors as Cranbrook Photo (Hi, Brian), Mountain Man Outdoors (a hunter and fisherman’s dream), Pages Book Emporium with its great magazine stand, and several more I don’t have room to mention here.

So you may have sensed I’m leading up to something and you’re right. I’m doing just that.

The event I’m leading up to is the Aug. 12 Cranbrook City Council meeting when Council will have a chance to contribute to this budding downtown revival as it has already done with the Downtown Revitalization Bylaw it passed last year.

Council can do this by delaying a motion it passed March 18 to demolish the former Water and Electrical Building, commonly known now as the Brick Building behind City Hall, in order to give a local preservationist group a chance to save it.

Saving the ornate, old brick structure could potentially be another step forward in reviving the downtown and preserving what little is left of Cranbrook’s historic brick heritage.

I was in Africa when the demolition motion was passed and unfortunately missed the meeting.

If I had been there, I would have pointed out the unique corner quoins, an architectural feature found in only one other building in the city.

I also would have mentioned the stepped roof ridge that runs along both sides of the roof unlike any other building downtown.

Take a look for yourself and see how this admittedly derelict looking building now complements City Hall in its style, and look at the illustration accompanying this piece to see with a little vision what the Brick Building could become.

And history? This 1930s era building was originally divided into two and housed the City Works on one side and the City Electrical Works on the other.

It was heated by an underground steam pipe that connected it to both City Hall and the Fire Hall and was made of heritage bricks from the original Cranbrook Brick Company located near Elizabeth Lake, which also supplied bricks for many other fine heritage structures in the city.

Over the years, it housed one of the City’s vintage fire trucks as it was restored and at one time a City employee would use a special pole inside the building to trip an overhead switch to turn the city’s street lights on.

The ancient structure has shed the snow of almost 80 East Kootenay winters and is still proudly standing to become a vital part of our downtown landscape for a variety of intriguing possibilities – a City archives, a boutique, a funky restaurant or a storage facility for the Farmers Market.

The public is aboard with the idea, signing a 250-name petition to save the building. A community-minded group of activists says it has the vision, energy and expertise to save the building just as the Stage Door and Manual Training buildings were saved in the past.

But for this to happen, the group has to raise money and apply for grants that won’t be given unless the demolition order is delayed for at least a year.

Why would anyone donate to a building with a demolition order hanging over it? It’s a no brainer.

At the time Council passed the demolition order, it didn’t have the information to make an informed decision. It has that information now.

If you care about the history and heritage of this city, please come out and show your support to save an integral piece of Cranbrook’s proud history.

Gerry Warner is a Cranbrook city councillor.

The opinions expressed represent those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the City of Cranbrook.