KITCHENER – Saving the facade of a century-old building isn’t enough, say heritage advocates who want a local condo developer to keep more of Kitchener’s iconic building in downtown Kitchener.
Momentum Developments plans to build a 34-story condo tower at 16-20 Queen St. N., in the heart of the city. The Kitchener-based developer says it will keep the three-story Beaux-Arts-style centerpiece facade as well as some interior rooms.
“We want to save as much as possible from within,” said Tyler Ulmer, director of development at Momentum Developments.
Ulmer said they were working closely with the city and other local stakeholders to conserve the exterior of the 106-year-old building on Queen between King and Duke streets.
The exterior of the building has four stone columns under the upper balcony. The second and third floors have Juliet balconies.
“I consider what we are proposing to be a good compromise,” he said. “We have the ability to nurture the most important parts of it and breathe new life into it.”
But heritage advocates say there is more to protect. They will make their point at a Kitchener heritage committee meeting next week when the developer presents plans to keep the building’s facade.
The rest of the building is slated to be demolished with construction of the 238-unit skyscraper starting in mid-2022.
A report, commissioned by the developer, underlines the cultural significance of the building and suggests that the building deserves to be designated. It will be presented during the heritage committee meeting.
The building does not have a heritage designation, but has been listed in the city’s municipal heritage register since 2010.
Karl Kessler, a board member for the North Waterloo region division of the Architectural Conservancy Ontario, said the conservation group does not expect the developer to preserve 100% of the existing building.
But they want to see “a lot more” preserved for a building they consider cultural heritage property.
“It’s not just for the developer, but for all of us to have a different attitude,” he said. “We have to find something better than that.”
Kessler said preserving the building’s facade was only “lip service” to conservation.
Kessler said “facadism” was seen as bad practice among defenders of cultural heritage.
“If a building as good as this can’t expect better stewardship than just recovering its facade, I admit that puzzles me, wondering what even things like the heritage designation mean” , Kessler wrote in a conservation bulletin.
Kessler describes the building as a jewelry box, “beautiful on the outside with more treasures on the inside.” It is extremely rare to see the interior of such an old building to have so much still intact inside, he said.
“It’s a surprise that in 2021 there is an interior from 1916 inside a building. It’s just unusual, ”Kessler said in an interview.
The interior is teeming with heritage finishes including paneling, decorative moldings and plasterwork. Some of the woodworking was done by the Berlin Interior Hardwood Company and the plaster and stone work by Berlin general contractor Casper Braun.
The facade of the building includes a conference room with plaster moldings and a fireplace. The foyer has marble and intricately carved woodwork, he said.
Inside, wood details include hardwood floors, railings, and stairs, as well as decorative moldings.
The second floor has a 1916 electric fireplace and fire retardant security doors from Goldie & McCulloch Ltd., a business that started in Galt in the 1850s.
The building housed from 1916 to 1952. Economical Mutual Fire Insurance Company of Berlin (now called Economical Insurance). The building is also linked to William Schmalz, managing director of the insurance company and the first mayor of Berlin when the city became incorporated. in 1912.
Schmalz’s son, William Henry Schmalz, along with Charles Knechtel, designed the building.
“It’s hands down his second best building,” Kessler said. Schmalz would later design Kitchener City Hall at the corner of King and Frederick streets.
The building is also connected to the Royal Conservatory of Music, which was located on Queen Street North from 1917 to 1935. Later, the Ontario Conservatory of Music and the Elsie Ewald School of Dance were established there.
Kessler said the developer was ultimately saving some “veneer” and possibly some of the interior.
“In another place and in another time, this building would be an excellent candidate for restoration,” he said. “You could bring him back very close to where he was.”
Coun. Debbie Chapman, who sits on the heritage committee, said she supports the intensification, but the building is a monument of value.
“What do we do with this masterpiece?” she said.
Kessler said the developers are good people who want to see the city thrive like the rest of the community.
“It’s right under our noses. This is the kind of architecture that is preserved around the world. “