Monday, January 2, 2012

339 Portage - NEFCO / APTN Building

Place: NEFCO / APTN Building
Address: 339 Portage Avenue (Map)
Opened: September 7, 1961
Architect: Blankstein, Coop, Gillmor and Hanna
Drake Construction
Cost: $1m (1961).
Size: Seven storeys, 40,000 sq ft .

This building was constructed in 1961 for NEFCO, an acronym for the North End Furniture Company.
The company's roots dated back to a 1932 used furniture store opened by Chaim Adelman at 843 Main Street, (if the address sounds familiar, it later became Kern Hill Furniture Co-op !) The store expanded through the 1950s and by 1958 had branches at Portage and Kennedy, 479 Selkirk Avenue and another on Main Street.

339 Portage Avenue
September 1961 ad

In 1960 NEFCO decided to go uptown. The company's expansion plans included this custom-built Portage Avenue store as well as the purchase of the former Campbell Brothers and Wilson Building on Princess Street as the NEFCO Furniture Warehouse. (The Main and Selkirk locations were closed later in the 60s.)

September 6, 1961, Winnipeg Free Press

The store was a big deal at the time given its size and location. Billed as Western Canada's largest furniture showroom with around 30,000 sq feet of sales floor over seven floors. The grand opening took place on September 7, 1961 with Mayor Juba cutting the ribbon.

The m
ost unique feature of the building is the "pre-cast concrete mural" that runs from the second to fifth floor leaving windows on just the ground and top floors.

The entire ground floor was one large display window, full of sample suites and model rooms. The entrance was set far back from the frontage to allow people to browse the suites even after store hours.

The top two floors
was NEFCO's "The Penthouse" which featured "an exclusive collection of home furnishings" and offered design consultants that could tackle a room or an entire home.

In 1966 NEFCO consolidated their sales at the warehouse location, re-branding it Penthouse Interiors. This building was purchased in 1966 by Montreal based Allen Furniture, a retail chain that operated in most of the country except on the prairies. (It may seem odd that they would sell to a competitor but NEFCO was going upscale and Adams was mid-range.)

March 10, 1978, Winnipeg Free Press

By 1976 Adams was gone and the building faced decades of economic uncertainty.

In 1978 former city councillor Al Golden bought the building. It was then renovated into a number of small retail spaces to become a boutique shopping complex called the Northside Centre. Tenants included Pantages Restaurant, a hair salon, fine jewellery store, art shops and a flower shop. A large tenant was Roche Bobois furniture, who took up the old Penthouse Furniture floors.

Two long-term 1980s retailers

In 1981 the building was foreclosed on and in 1983 it had a new owner. Within a year five tenants, including Roche Bobois, moved out. Mr Gold and Pantages remained. In 1985 it was reported that a deal was in the works to sell the building to the Core Area Initiative to expand the newly created Window Park in front of Air Canada Centre. That deal was not finalized and the building was soon foreclosed on again.

In 1989 the building was foreclosed on for a third time and that spelled the end for long term tenants Mr. Gold and Pantages

339 Portage west wall in 1980s (source) and 2011 (source)

In 1990 a Toronto investment company purchased the building and began a $1m upgrade. The interior was gutted and the main entrance was moved to the west wall, which was also opened up to the park with hundreds of windows.

Financial trouble struck yet again and the building was foreclosed on for a fourth and final time. In August 1991 it was put up for sale.

The new owners finished the space as an office building. One major tenant was the
Continuing Education Division of the University of Winnipeg who were there until 1996.

Aug 25 1999 WFP

In 1999 the newly created, Aboriginal People's Television Network leased three floors. Over time, the national network expanded to take up the entire building. In 2010 they purchased this building as well as the neighbouring 333 Portage, which they had previously used as temporary studio space for their coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

At a dozen years, APTN has been the building's longest tenant.

(More on APTN's expansion in a future post !)

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