Wednesday, June 9, 2010

265 Portage Avenue - The Avenue Building

The Avenue Building
Project: The Avenue Building (Website) 
Address: 265 Portage Avenue Map
Architect: James Cadham
Opened: March 18, 1905. Reopened April 3, 2012.


June 22, 1904, Winnipeg Tribune

In Spring 1904 construction on Winnipeg's T. Eaton Co. store was underway. Anticipating the coming shift away from Main Street as Winnipeg's premiere retail street, a number of smaller retail blocks began to pop up along Portage Avenue. The Avenue Building, financed by Mark Fortune, was one of the first.

Avenue Building grand opening
March 17, 1905, Manitoba Free Press

The Avenue was initially three storeys tall but built so that three more could be added at a future date. 

The grand opening took place on March 18, 1905. The main floor was divided into four retail spaces with the upper storeys a mixture of retail, manufacturing and offices. Initial retail tenants, most of which relocated from Main Street, were Schofield's Café and Confectionery; E. B. Nixon Groceries, MacDonald & Fleming's Hardware and Stiles & Humphries clothing store. The upper floors included Malcolm's Millinery Parlour, an Elk's Hall and a numerous small offices.

It was an immediate success and, as expected, the opening of Eaton's four months later ensured that Portage Avenue became the city's premiere retail strip.

Source: Peel's

Mark Fortune died when the R.M.S. Titanic sank on April 15, 1912. Soon after, the family sold the property to "wholesale king" and former Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba Sir Daniel McMillan

Within months of taking ownership, though, The Avenue was razed by fire. (The photos above show dates of 1931 and 1920 but I believe them to be of the 1913 fire as the Avenue had three additional stories by 1914.)

February 25, 1913, Manitoba Free Press

The fire was discovered at 2:30 a.m. on the morning of February 25, 1913. By the time fire crews arrived, "...
the flames had made such headway that all hope of anything contained within the walls of the building was given up", (Manitoba Free Press, Feb 25, 1913). Their main job was to save the neighbouring Hample and Kensington buildings.

Faulty wiring was blamed for the blaze
that completely gutted the top floor which was home to the offices and billiard hall of the Winnipeg Bowling and Billiard Club. Fire and water damage spread to to other tenants, including the Nickel Boot Shop, Bowes Dairy Lunch, Harry's Lunch Counter and Stiles and Humphries.

The Avenue Building was salvaged and McMillan had architect William Fingland add those three additional storeys.

Avenue Building fire, January 1931

In January 1931 the Avenue Building, still owned by McMillan, was again gutted by fire. The blaze began in the basement level and moved up the elevator shafts to engulfed the upper floors. The top two floors caved in sending firemen scrambling down the fire escape.

As with the first fire, nobody was seriously injured but about fifty businesses were destroyed including Humphries Ltd. (an original tenant), Boston Lunch, Richardson and Bishop Stationers and a photography studio. Neighbouring businesses in the Hample Building and Dingwall's on the main floor of the Paris Building also suffered damage.

The Avenue was again rebuilt and continued to be an important retail block along Portage Avenue for the next six decades. 

In the 1990s, the building's age and lack of maintenance began to catch up with it. Owner Izzy Pfeffer had to pare down the amount of space for lease.

Avenue Building, Portage AvenueThe Avenue Building
The Avenue BuildingThe Avenue Building

Upper floor tenants such as the Academy of Dance and
Dr. Finkleman left. Soon, the main floor arcade and Dunn Jewelers were gone. The final tenant, Dominion News, moved out in 1999 leaving the building vacant.

Portage Avenue

Since that time,  the Avenue Building was the focus of at least two redevelopment plans that did not pan out. One called for it to be demolished to make way for an expansion of the Kensington Building. Another, by a Saskatchewan-based developer to turn it into a mixed use building also failed.

In April 2010 Centreventure announced that they had reached a conditional agreement with Mark and Rick Hofer, the team who had recently redeveloped The Edge on Princess. The Avenue and neighbouring Hample Building would be combined and redeveloped as mixed-use with apartments on the upper floors, taking advantage of a recently announced provincial tax credit for the creation of downtown residential units.

Avenue Building

On June 8, 2010 the deal was formally announced. The Province will contribute $ 575,000 and the City up to $800,000 toward the project expected to cost a total of $8.5m. Completion is expected in 2012.

Avenue Building Renovation Forging Ahead
  Free Press (Jun 2010)

Development Project Receives Financial Support Gov't of Manitoba (Jun 2010)
Avenue Building gets $8.5m lease on life CBC (Jun 2010)
Core eyesore gets new life Wpg Free Press (Apr 2010 )

My photo album of the Avenue Building
The Avenue Building U of M Building index
My Avenue Building Photo Gallery
Paging Dr. Finkleman West End Dumplings


Avenue Building

The Avenue Building
December 2010

Avenue Building
June 2011

Avenue Building 
October 2011

The Avenue Building
April 3, 2012

The Avenue Building
April 3, 2012

The Avenue Building
April 3, 2012

On April 3, 2012 the newly redeveloped Avenue and Hample Building was officially reopened.


Original tenants of the Avenue Building: 

Above: Evening Telegram, February 1905

Evening Telegram, 1906

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