Tuesday, December 4, 2018

398 Talbot Avenue - Elm Baber Shop

Place: Elm Barber Shop
Address: 398 Talbot Avenue (Map)
Constructed: 1948
Architect: Unknown

According to the city's assessment rolls, the house at 398 Talbot Street was built in 1948. This address does not appear in the Henderson Directories until the mid-1950s, suggesting that it may have had a different address before the retail front was put on. Because of this, it is hard to tell who the original owner was.

Image: October 1939, Winnipeg Free Press

The man most closely associated with this address is Johann "John" Rzepka and his Elm Barber Shop from 1954 to 1978.

Born in Poland in December 1891, Rzepka came to Canada in 1929. He first appears in the Henderson Directory in 1932 as a barber at 1084 Main Street, a former tailor's shop he shared with William Moravetz shoe repair, and living at 539 1/2 Dufferin.

August 1935 classified ad

In 1934, he took over the whole space, moved into the adjoining house and rechristened the shop the Berliner (sometimes spelled Berlinger) Barber and Beauty Shop. In fact, he was also managing two other shops under the same name at 174 Isabel and 318 Selkirk. An additional outlet on Salter was added in 1935.

Late 1937 through 1938 was a transition period for Rzepka.

In June 1937, he married Rose Hinze, he was 46 and she was seventeen. The chain of shops was down to the original 1084 Main location.

The shop did not advertise in 1938 and when it surfaced in the classifieds in 1939, it was with a new name: Aberdeen Beauty Shop. There was likely a good reason for the change of name.

As Hitler's Germany grew increasingly aggressive towards its neighbours and certain groups of its own citizens, for instance Kristallnacht and the invasion of Czechoslovakia both happened in 1938, the public here at home turned suspicious of German Canadians.

Even though Rzepka was technically Polish and became a naturalized Canadian in 1936, the Berliner name of the shop likely drew unwanted attention.

The Flying Circus in action by Nicolas Trudgian

It would soon become known that Rzepka had much closer ties with Germany than anyone had imagined.

In 1914, the region of Poland in which Rzepka lived was annexed by Germany and in World War I he chose to fight for Germany with Die Fliegertruppe, its air force division. He served for four years, two of them as part of Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. The Red Baron's, "Flying Circus" squadron, (so named for their brightly coloured planes.)

Rzepka was awarded two Iron Crosses, both second and first degree, for gallantry during his time in the air force.

The Age, (Melbourne), November 1, 1939

Fast forward twenty years to September 1939 and Rzepka enlisted with the Royal Canadian Air Force, despite being 48-years-old and not having flown since the previous war. He told the Free Press: "I am willing to take whatever they give me."

He did not actually serve in the war, but the RCAF used his enlistment as propaganda. A former Red Baron flier signing up for the Allies made news as far away as Australia and the U.K..

1949 classified ad

In 1941, Rzepka, Rose and their two children, sons Robert and Lawrence, moved to 644 Logan Avenue and the shop opened a couple of doors down at 636 Logan.

The move to Elmwood came around 1952, first living on Riverton Avenue, then at 558 Talbot and, finally, at 398 Talbot in 1954.

Rose, however, did not make the move to the Talbot addresses. She and John split and were granted a divorce in 1954.

Rose reverted to her maiden name, Hinze, and worked at Eatons for a time. According to her obituary, she also worked as a hairstylist, cook, nurse and author. In 1975, she established a solvent abuse treatment facility in Vassar, MB and retired to Kelowna in the late 1980s. She died in 2013.

March 24, 1959 classified ad

The name of Rzepka's shop changed when it relocated to Talbot Avenue to the Elm Barber Shop.

"Elm" was a popular name as on that same block of Talbot there was an Elm Beauty Parlour, Elm Dry Goods, Elm Food Centre and Elm Lunch Counter. The largest "Elm" of them all was the Elm Theatre, right next door to number 398, from at least 1920 to the mid-1950s.

Rzepka continued to work at his shop and live in the house out back until he had to retire due to ill health in 1978 at the age of 86. He died at the King George Hospital on September 15, 1981.

Top: Sign and barber's pole still displayed, 2007 (Google Street View)
Bottom: Overhead view (Google Street View)

The Elm Barber Shop continued in operation under a different owner until at least the mid-1980s. The sign and barber poll were still on the facade of the building as late as 2007.

In November 2018, a zoning variance was approved to allow for the construction of a three-storey, ten-unit apartment building on the site.

Friday, November 30, 2018

3059 Ness Avenue - Former Safeway

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
Place: Former Safeway store
Address: 3059 Ness Avenue (Map)
Opened: December 8, 1969
Architect: unknown
Contractor: unknown
Safeway's standard store design from1929 to ca. 1939

When Safeway entered the Canadian market in 1929, local grocery chains of the era, such as Mutual Stores and Neal's, were a collection of leased stores of varying sizes and styles. Safeway, however, used architecture as a key part of its part of its marketing and used a new-build, "cookie cutter" design for their stores.

A customer could recognize a Safeway store from a distance without having to see the sign. They could also shop at any Safeway store in town and find the same products in exactly the same place, thanks to identical floor plans. 

The longest-lasting store design appears to be the original one, (above), which lasted into the 1940s. Many of them still stand in Winnipeg to this day.  Other waves of standardized stores came in the 40s and 50s. The 1960s brought a selection of styles for a new era.

By the late 1950s, Safeway in the U.S. was adjusting to a new urban reality that made its architecture more important than ever.  Customers were flocking to the suburbs and commuting to and from work by highway and freeway. This called for larger stores with huge parking lots set far back from street.

To catch the attention of customers that were now whizzing past at 60 kph or more, supermarkets turned to what the author of Main Street to Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture calls "flamboyant exterior wrappers".

The most successful and iconic of these designs was the "Marina Style" of the 1960s, (pictured above), which spawned a number of variants. Hundreds of this style of store were built throughout North America, including about a dozen here in Winnipeg.

Next in line came this style, which doesn't really have a name. (A Tribune reporter in 1969 referred to it as modern-gothic. An architect I consulted suggested "suburban new formalism".)

It turned its back on the Marina style with its flat roof, but retained the same window pattern, sign placement and even offered a couple of curves through a decorative arch that protruded from the store and supported by two columns at each end.

In Winnipeg, this design lasted from 1966 to 1969 and there were likely only four of them built: Marion and Braemar, opened in October 1966 and since extensively renovated; Crossroads Shopping Centre opened in 1967 and since demolished;  Niakwa Village Shopping Centre on St. Anne's Road, opened March 1968 and since extensively renovated or rebuilt;  Sturgeon and Ness, opened December 1969 and to be demolished.

It appears the design was not very popular. Searching North American newspaper archive sites for "new Safeway" ads and articles around this period found no other examples of this style of store, (though most artvcles did not include an exterior image.)

It is unclear who the architect was for this design. Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons, Safeway's go-to architects starting in 1954, and designers of the Martina-style stores, moved on in 1965.

Shopping Centre in 2014

This store was constructed in 1969 as the anchor tenant of the Sturgeon Park Shopping Centre.

The three-acre site that spanned 3045 to 3059 Ness Avenue included the 28,000 square foot Safeway store and an attached strip mall that contained six retail units. It was surrounded by parking for 200 cars.

The developer of the mall was Swancoat Developments, which continued to own the property until 2018.

December 10, 1969, Winnipeg Free Press

The new store boasted walk-in refrigerated rooms where the dairy, produce and meats were kept. There was also a walk-in freezer section. This was the first Safeway in the city that captured heat from the 120-horse power motors in the refrigeration units and channeled it back into the store in colder months.

There was also a prepared meal section, in-store bakery, in-store deli and a lunch counter.

Throughout the decades, the store remained remarkably intact with no major renovations to its facade and no additions to the building.

In 2014, Sobeys completed its takeover of Canada Safeway Ltd. and announced the closure of five Winnipeg stores, including this one. The building has been vacant ever since.

In July 2018, Seymour Pacific Developments received permission to construct a mixed-use development on this site consisting of a pair of four-storey buildings with 119 residential and four retail units.

In November 2018, the strip mall was demolished with the Safeway is to be demolished in December.

Friday, November 2, 2018

448 Sherbrook Street - Oddson House

Place: Thorstein Oddson House
Address: 448 Sherbrook Street (Map)
Constructed: 1905 - 06
Architect: Paul Melsted Clemens

Oddson House was built in 1905 - 06 for Thorsteinn Oddson.

Born and raised in Iceland, Oddson came to Manitoba in 1887 with wife Rakel. After working as a carpenter and running a hardware store in Selkirk, the family moved to Winnipeg in 1901.

Oddson then partnered with fellow Icelanders Skuli Hansson and John Vopni in a real estate, investment and insurance firm. Though their offices were located downtown, the company concentrated most of their efforts on the West End.

In 1905, Oddson purchased the large lot at 448 Sherbrook Street on which to build a new family home.

May 17, 1897, Winnipeg Tribune

The lot had always been extra wide. The original house that stood here, ca 1896 - 1904, was that of Henry and Lizzie Buley and took up even more than the two lots it occupied when Oddson bought it, indicating it was also a hobby farm or had pasture land for horses.

Buley was the business agent for the city's typographical union and the family was very involved with Holy Trinity Anglican Church. When the church decided to create "St. Matthews Mission" to serve the West End in 1897, the Buley home was its first location hosting evening worship services and a Sunday school for 40 children.

It was the Buleys that purchased land at the corner of Sherbrook and Ellice on which the mission built its first church. A new building was constructed in 1908 and is now the West End Cultural Centre.

Paul Melsted Clemens fonds, Archives of Manitoba

The architect of Oddson's new home was fellow Icelander Paul Melsted Clemens who designed dozens of buildings, mostly apartment blocks, for Oddson and other developers. 

Melsted's drawings for the proposed residence can be found at the Manitoba Provincial Archives. They show a two-and-a-half storey, 2,856 square foot structure with two parlours a den, dining room and kitchen on the main floor. Upstairs, there were five bedrooms and a bathroom. There are no drawings for the partial top floor.

A generous veranda skirted two sides of the house and a master bedroom balcony, now removed, overlooked Sherbrook Street.

The Oddson family continued living in the home until 1924 when Thorstein and Rakel retired to Los Angeles.

The house then began its life as a boarding house offering rooms to rent with light housekeeping service.

Initially, it appears to have had a two-room suite on the main floor and the rest of the house was one unit. In 1927, it had as many as four residents at a time. Most renters were short-term and none appear to have lived there for more than a year.

August 27, 1942, Winnipeg Tribune

By the Second World War there were as many as eight people listed as living at this address, though some were away on active duty and at least one was the wife of someone on active duty. This was common during the war years for families or couples to downsize their living accommodations to boarding houses when the "man of the house" went off to war for little pay.

One such woman was Mary McConnell. Her husband, George, and sons, George Jr. (23) and Bill, were all part of the Dieppe raid in August 1942. Twice in 1942 George Jr., who was described by his mother as "all legs", was listed as missing in action but later discovered to be safe. In late August, though, he was listed as wounded.

It appears that all of the McConnell men survived the war.

One woman at 448 Sherbrook who wasn't as lucky was Jeanette Murray. Her son, Cyril, who also listed 448 Sherbrook as his home address was killed in action.

Murray was a Kelvin grad who enlisted in August 1940. Initially, he trained troops in anti-gas warfare here in Canada before joining the Winnipeg Light Infantry and going overseas in March 1942. There, he was transferred to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and died on December 7, 1943. He is buried in the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery.

After the war, the home continued on as a rooming with with three to six residents listed each year. They had occupations such as taxi driver, retail clerk, mechanic, telephone operator and all stayed for brief periods.

One exception was retired couple Walter and Emily Baldwin.

Thorvaldur (Walter) was born in Baldur in 1890 and came to Winnipeg at the age of 20. He was a mechanic by trade who worked on garment industry machinery at places such as the Northern Shirt Company and Rice Knitting.

Ingeborg Arina (Emily) Oddleifsson was born and raised in the Arborg area and attended school at Geysir.  In 1905, at the age of thirteen, she came to Winnipeg to continue her education.

The two married in 1916 and had three children. They were members of First Lutheran Church on Victor Street and long-time residents of 1065 Dominion Street before moving to 448 Sherbrook in the early 1950s where Walter's occupation was listed as retired.

The Baldwins are sometimes listed in the annual Henderson Directories as "residents" and sometimes as "homeowners". They could have been the live-in caretakers who performed the light housekeeping advertised in classified ads or they may have been the owners and rented out the five or so rooms as Mr. Baldwin would have only been around 60 when they moved in, which is quire early for retirement.

The couple were still living at the home when Walter died in 1968. Emily died at the Tudor Nursing home at Selkirk in 1982.

Top: Boarded up in 2018. Bottom: Under renovation in 2009

The house continued on as a rooming house, offering no services like housekeeping, until the 2010s. During this time it appears to have had a quiet existence with no newspaper reports of fires or major crimes taking place there.

It was listed for sale in 2006 and was likely vacant by that point as the ad states that it was a "former rooming house". The local neighbourhood association noted that the house was "vacant, derelict and under repair" in January 2008. Those repairs continued through the summer of 2009.

The house was sold in late 2009 for an unknown price and again in 2016 for $277,000.

In October 2018 the house was boarded up and is expected to be demolished.

Oddson House to be demolished? West End Dumplings
Thorstein Oddson's West End West End Dumplings
My photo album of 448 Sherbrook

Friday, September 21, 2018

239 Selkirk Avenue - Former Queen's Theatre

© 2018, Christian Cassidy
Selkirk Avenue, Winnipeg 
Place: Former Queen's Theatre / Hebrew Sick Benefit Association Hall 
Address: 239 Selkirk Avenue
Constructed: 1889
Architect: John W. Grieves

This building was constructed in 1889 as the second home of the North Presbyterian Church which renamed itself St. Giles Church in 1895. It replaced a smaller wooden church on Main Street at Aberdeen.

The land was purchased for $600 and architect John Grieves, a member of the congregation, was hired to design the building. The $2,899 construction contract was let to Bears and Read on July 2, 1889 and the first service was held here by Rev. John Hogg on December 1, 1889.

After just a few years the congregation had again grown too big for its church. A balcony was added but a larger space is what they needed.

In 1907, construction began on that new building at Burrows Avenue and Charles Street and the final church service was held here on March 8, 1908.

Source: Winnipeg 1912 by Jim Blanchard

The Hebrew Sick Benefit Association (HSBA) purchased the building and converted it into a hall and meeting rooms.

The HSBA was founded in 1906 and was one of several “mutual benefit societies” that provided social services to its members. Such societies were common, particularly in ethnic communities, in the days before a government social safety net that provided things like unemployment insurance, disability payments and funeral costs. The HSBA also maintained a cemetery on McPhillips Street.

Their plans for the building also included the creation of a theatre space, to be named the Queen's, for the the Yiddish Dramatic Club which offered home-grown, live theatre for the Jewish community ranging from simple skits to high dramatic works. 

Drawings for the theatre conversion were submitted to the city in September 1908 and by early October events were taking place at the hall. The earliest ones noted in mainstream newspapers were a series of Liberal candidate rallies for the October 1908 provincial election. Other early events at the hall include union meetings and even wrestling bouts.

Top: Interior in 1930 (Jewish Museum of Canada)
Bottom: June 1, 1922, Winnipeg Tribune

When exactly the theatre opened is unclear. The first listings for events happening specifically at the Queen's start in 1909, but in newspaper mentions the terms HSBA Hall and Queen's Theatre were often used interchangeably.

Aside from local events ranging from plays and teas to religious services and wedding receptions, the Queen's also hosted travelling Jewish theatre companies. International stars of the Jewish theatre such as New York-based actor / director Jacob Ben-Ami, actress Keni Liptzin and Austria's Rudolph Schildkraut, all tread the boards here.

December 8, 1934, Winnipeg Free Press

It appears that during the Depression the Queen's Theatre closed, though the hall and meeting spaces were still in use.

In December 1934, a two-alarm fire broke out on the mezzanine level which did significant damage to the roof. Both the Free Press and Tribune stories about the fire referred to the building as the "former Queen's theatre" noting that it had been empty for "some years". Earlier that year it had been rented to the Polish National Church.

At the time of the fire the building was vacant and the HSBA were studying options for its reuse which could have included converting all or part of it into housing. Its near-loss, however, seemed to reinvigorate interest in using it as a cultural space.

In January 1905, a building permit for $5,000 was issued to the HSBA to repair the building. In February A. Akman of Spruce Street began work which not only included rebuilding the damaged roof but the remodelling of the meeting spaces and auditorium, which presumably was the theatre interior.

It is believed that the renovation included the addition of the current art deco facade.

May 20, 1935, Winnipeg Tribune

On May 19, 1935, the hall was officially re-opened with a ceremony that included remarks from mayor John Queen and provincial attorney general W. J. Mayor.

Aside from the HSBA's space, the building became home to the Universal Athletic Club, General Monash branch of the Royal Canadian Legion - which was particularly active through WWII - and a  confectionery shop. The hall was again the scene of countless dances, banquets and special religious services.

January 21, 1941, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1941, another two-alarm fire started on the balcony level and destroyed the roof. It was likely due to an improperly disposed of cigarette in one of the upstairs meeting rooms earlier in the night.

It was a close call for Charles Stewart, the live-in caretaker of the hall, his wife, Margaret, and their two-year-old child. They fled into the frigid night at 4:40 a.m. after calling the fire department. Their  upstairs apartment was destroyed.

The building was repaired at a cost of $9,000 and was open in time for its annual "Queen Esther" fundraising festival in April. In 1943, it hosted western conference of Canadian Jewish Congress.

October 9, 1954, Winnipeg Free Press

Through the 1950s, the HSBA Hall was increasingly rented out to non-Jewish groups for use. (As with many ethnic groups, their members were moving out of their traditional neighbourhoods to the suburbs.)

The hall was rented on multiple occasions by the Canadian Peace Congress, Canadian Soviet Friendship Society, St. John's Bridge Club, the Labour Progressive Party and the Hong Kong Veterans Association. A groups called Champion rented it on October 11, 1954 for a concert by Pete Seeger who was early in his career as s solo folk singer.

In the 1960s, the HSBA merged with other organizations to form Beth Israel Synagogue in Garden City and the building began hosting regular bingos to support Beth Israel. This did not mean the end of the HSBA's activities. They still operated their cemetery and in 1971 opened HSBA Gardens, a retirement home on Sinclair Street.

In August 2002, Beth Israel, Bnay Abraham, and Rosh Pina synagogues merged to form Congregation Etz Chayim and the new organization inherited the HSBA Hall. After years of dwindling bingo revenues and difficulty finding volunteers to run it they sold the building in 2010.

The building came full circle as it was bought for use as a church: the Church of the Rock's North End Campus.

Friday, September 14, 2018

959 Main Street - Former Winnipeg Little Theatre

© 2018, Christian Cassidy

Place: Former Von's Theatre / Winnipeg Little Theatre
Address: 959 - 961 Main Street
Constructed: 1909
Architect: Unknown

Long-time Saskatchewan hotelier Ernst von Ferber opened his custom-built, $80,000 Von's Hotel in Regina in 1907. The following year, he purchased a hotel in Moose Jaw, the Royal George Hotel in Brandon and another Royal George in Emerson.

In 1909, Ferber, his wife and some of his grown children relocated to Winnipeg, (he was in his early 60s at the time).

In August, he took out a $14,000 building permit for this 350-seat theatre at 959 - 961 Main Street. His wife, Julia, opened a cafe in the neighbouring building, 963 Main Street, which became known as the Von Ferber Block.

Jan. 3, 1909, Winnipeg Free Press

"Von's Theatre" was originally a Vaudeville venue.

Starting in January 1910, it hosted a hosted a five-week run of Eddie Deloy’s comedy troupe. Deloy, an American, was a fixture in traveling shows, sometimes performing in blackface. The troupe was made up of about a dozen people including his sisters Tolla and Myrtle.

After the Deloys left in Mid-February, Von's advertised movies and then a return to musical comedy in March with the Yankee Girls Company.

After March, mentions of the theatre disappear from newspapers except for hosting a couple of political rallies in the July 1910 provincial election.

It appears that Von Ferber left the city by 1913, likely returning to Saskatchewan. In 1918, he was in Los Angeles for surgery and died from complications at the age of 72. His death notice noted that his widow and four children lived in Saskatchewan.

May 1, 1912, Winnipeg Free Press

In December 1911, H. H. Payne and H. A. Rice took out a permit to operate a cinema called the Royal Theatre. It closed briefly in 1913 and reopened in October under a new owner after "a thorough overhauling and all the latest equipment installed."

Yet another closure in 1919 saw the Royal rescued by Fred H Stewart, said to have had many years experience operating theatres in Los Angeles. Stewart invested about $7,000 in renovations to the place before reopening.

Throughout its time as the Royal, the theatre rarely advertised as it never showed big studio productions. It was smaller fare or independent films. It was also rented out for live events. A number of ethnic drama and dance groups used it for productions.

Time ran out for the Royal in 1922. From February to April it was leased to a church group to become a gospel hall before newspaper mentions of it disappear again.

Top: November 18, 1922, Winnipeg Tribune
Bottom: April 11, 1928, Winnipeg Tribune

In November 1922, the theatre's fortunes changed when the Community Players leased it to become their Winnipeg Little Theatre. Five years later, the company bought the building.

The Players were organized in 1921 to provide facilities for the production of plays written by Canadian authors and “dramatic works of the highest order” that could rarely be produced by professional companies due to commercial restraints.

After an extensive renovation of the theatre, which reduced it to a 300-seat live-venue, it opened on
December 7, 1922 with A. A. Milne’s Wurzel-Flummery and Edmond Rostand’s The Romancers. Other fare over the years included everything from Shakespeare to productions of popular Jewish and Icelandic plays translated into English.

October 16, 1930, Winnipeg Tribune

By the end of 1931, the Community Players had staged over 40 plays, 22 of them Canadian and a dozen by Winnipeg playwrights. They also had a subscription base of 750 members and their productions had become more elaborate. The small theatre was no longer able meeting their needs.

In the mid-1930s their productions were moved to the Playhouse and the Main Street theatre was sold off. In 1958, the Winnipeg Little Theatre and Theatre 77 merged to form the Manitoba Theatre Centre.

August 28, 1936, Winnipeg Tribune

On August 29, 1936, the theatre reopened as the Times. Owner W. Triller renovated the theatre "from the ground up" making it a 400-seat cinema wired for sound.

The Times was now a second-run cinema showing fare such as opening night's Broadway Lullaby of 1936 with Jack Benny.

In November 1938 it was under new management. H. B. Shawn from an independent theatre company came from Toronto to take over the Times and make it an exclusively foreign-film venue. It was said to be a first in Canada and a prototype for what the company wanted to do in Toronto.

Shawn promised to bring in top French, Russian, Yiddish and Swedish films of the era. Most would be with English subtitles to appeal to a wider audience.

The foreign film venture lasted only a few months and it closed in early 1939.

August 28, 1941, Winnipeg Tribune

On August 31, 1940, the Times reopened with Jack Kurk as manager. This time, it was part of the Western Theatres Ltd. chain. Western operated 25 theatres in Manitoba, including large houses like the Orpheum and and Uptown.

The Times, though, was linked with its smaller neighbourhood theatres like the Roxy, Rose, Osborne and Furby, though the Times had maybe half the number of seats of its cousins. The group often shared promotions like "foto-night " contests and were relegated to second-run and short films.

In 1941, Western curiously added Vaudeville acts to the Times' lineup, intermixing up to five live performances - singers, tap dancers, comedians, yodelers - with short films. By this time, Vaudeveille had pretty much run its course. The Beacon was the only other city theatre to offer it. The live performances only lasted about a year.

The Times continued on as the smallest member of the Western Chain through the 1940s until the around April 1957 when it was closed. The Times' fifty-year run as a theatre of one sort or another ended.

April 27, 1960, Winnipeg Tribune

In 1958, the Winnipeg Bag Company bought the building for use as a warehouse space. The maker of bags and cloths was located less than a block away at 977 Main Street near Pritchard.

On the night of April 26, 1960, fire gutted the neighbouring former Von Ferber block and caused extensive damage to the former theatre building.

The building was renovated, including the removal of the sloped floors and seats, amd found a new life as a retail space.

Ads from 1950, 1964 and 1995

Floors Moderne opened in 1950 at 581 Main Street selling tiles and rugs. The president of the company was Sam Kreger. It soon moved to 980 Main and when Polo Park Shopping Centre opened in 1959, it relocated there.

In the early 1960s Paul Kastes became co-owner and in 1964 the store relocated again to 959 Main Street where it remained until at least 1996. 

In 2003, it became The Fish Gallery filled to the brim with aquariums and exotic fish.