Tuesday, September 14, 2021

161 Langside Street - Preston Court

© 2021, Christian Cassidy

Preston Court / Winnebago Apartments / Granton Apartments / Stevens Court / West Broadway Square
Address: 161 Langside Street (Map)
Constructed: 1910
Architect: P. C. (Peter Cornelius) Samwel
Developer: J. E. Wilson

1913 Henderson Directory

Preston Court opened in late 1910 at 161 Langside Street and the intersection of what was then Preston Avenue, (in 1967 it was changed to Sara Avenue.)  

The architect of this 35-unit building was P. C. (Peter Cornelius) Samwel. Born and trained in Holland, after practising for a few years in Amsterdam he came to Winnipeg in 1910 with his wife.

Here, he opened an office in the Builders' Exchange Building on Portage Avenue and they settled on Mulvey Avenue. After about eight years here they relocated to the U.S.A. where he continued to work in Florida and California.

May 18, 1910, Engineering and Contract Record

This appears to have been Samwel's second Winnipeg commission and one of a series of five designed in the spring of 1910 for developer J. C. Wilson. It put Samwel on the map as a designer of apartment blocks and he went on to design around twenty blocks, some for Wilson.

Tenders for the construction of the $100,000 building were advertised in May and the project was built by day labour under Wilson's supervision.

The Winnipeg street directory shows that in the fall of 1910 about 75 per cent of the suites were filled. There were no “grand opening” ads for the building. In fact, there are very few "for rent" ads in its first couple of years. This suggests that the building likely opened in phases and was well received in what was then the newly established and fashionable West Broadway / Wolseley area. range form 3 to 6 rooms.

A partial list of tenants from 1910 shows it was an upper middle-class building with suites ranging from three to six rooms in size. Some had a room for a domestic servant.

The first batch of residents included a lot of travelling salesmen, a doctor, and a diplomat. Even J. C. Wilson, the building's developer, moved into suite 6. (Note, street directories listed only the the head of the household. Most of them had a family as well. See links below for a transcribed residents' list of the 1911 census.)

- John Blair, secretary treasurer of Grand Trunk Pacific Grain Elevator Co, suite 17
- Iliver Clark, real estate agent, suite 10
- Elmer Emeny, bookkeeper at Trans Continental Townsite Company, suite 4
- Stuart Gibson, auditor at McClary Manufacturing Company, suite 25
- Gladys Gibson, stenographer at Union Trust Company, suite 25
- Joseph Gibson, travelling salesman, Laing Bros, suite 3
- Mr. Hansen, Manager of Empire Cream Separator Company, suite 8 
- William Innes, caretaker, suite 5
- William Kewley, post office clerk 9
- James McBride, consul general of the U.S.A., suite 19
- W. H. McKinnon, travelling salesman for the Maple Leaf Milling Co
- N. Mallock, civil engineer, suite 19
- Alexander Meindl, physician, suite 11
- Arthur Proctor, dentist, suite 14
- Louis Sholes, manager of Brodesser (grain) Elevator Company, suite 16
- May Stevens, stenographer for the general superintendent of the C.P.R., suite 26
- Russell Waugh, owner of two grocery store, suite 12
- J. F. W. Wright, clerk at city comptroller's office, suite 32

Famed journalist and activist E. Cora Hind received visitors at her new home in suite 34 on May 6, 1911. She stayed for just a couple of years.

There were also some early musical residents such as Henry Koerner, a well-known baritone on local stages and churches, who arrived in January 1913.

In 1916, the Hill Brothers moved in. They ran the grocery store across the street.

Music teacher Edith Knowles arrived in September 1918. She was a singing coach and advertised the "Care and training of children's voices and physical culture a specialty." Her students gave annual recitals and she was also coach of the Victoria Girls Baseball team. Knowles married a Vancouver man in October 1919 and it appears that she relocated there.

December 21, 1918, Winnipeg Tribune

There were several World War I soldiers associated with Preston Court. Newspaper stories list several wounded  returning to the city, including: Pte. Charles Raymond of suite 18 in 1916; W. Currie in December 1916; and S. Currie of suite 21 in May 1917. David Allman of suite 5 went missing in October 1917 but managed to survive the war.

The only death that that appears to have a connection to this building is that of Victor Robert Keeling. When the CNR trainman enlisted in April 1916 with the 221st Battalion he lived with his mother and sister at 122 Langside Street. Soon after he left for England in April 1917 they moved to suite 18 Preston Court.

According to papers in his military file, Keeling was with the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade  when he was reported "wounded and missing after action" on March 24, 1918. He was never heard from again and nine months later was officially declared dead.

February 27, 1935, Winnipeg Tribune

The Weldon family moved to suite 7 around 1925 from the family home at 692 Langside. James Weldon, 74, Euphemia, 64, and to of their four children, Percy, 31, and Donna, 19. 

James was born in Elgin County, Ontario in 1851 and came to Winnipeg in 1874, the year it became a city. He made money in the 1880s real estate boom when the railways came to town and opened a grocery store with his brothers on Market Avenue near Princess Street that they ran for over 20 years.

After retiring from the grocery business, he opened a small vegetable stall on Market Square to keep himself busy. 

Euphemia was from St. Catherines, Ontario and came to Winnipeg in 1883. In 1891, she married James in 1891 and raised their four children. She died in in 1932 at the age of 73. 

October 22, 1931, Winnipeg Tribune

In the 1930s, James Weldon became a bit of celebrity as one of the dwindling numbers of city pioneers or “old timers” - those who arrived before or in the year the city was created. Newspapers wished him a happy birthday each year and the Winnipeg Tribune printed a couple of interviews with him talking about the early days and to get his take on current issues.

In October 1931, the Tribune found the 80-year-old “fit as a fiddle” working his stall. When asked about the Depression, Weldon said: "People listen too much to what the croakers have to say. We've had hard times before, worse depressions than this one, and we've always come though safely." 

James Weldon died at his home in February 1935 at the age of 83.

The building unusually underwent a number of name changes. Preston Court was problematic as there was a Preston Block on Hargrave Street. Newspapers sometimes confused the two names, so it is likely that the post office and delivery drivers did the same.

The first name change to Winnebago Apartments came around 1918. The name does not appear to have been taken to heart as many residents still used the old one in classified ads and social notices. Even the rental company reverted back to Preston after a couple of years.

In 1925, Winnebago was officially dropped in favour of Granton Apartments.

In 1939, Peter Anderson, an Icelandic developer and property manager, took over ownership of the building and invested $5,000 to renovate the main floor and some of the smaller suites. Soon after the renovations, the building was marketed as Stevens Court. This name appeared in rental ads into the 1980s.

By the 1960s, the number of suites has increased from 35 to around 50. This was likely done by subdividing some of the larger suites. According to a recent prospectus for the building, it contains 49 suites comprised of 14 bachelor, 26 one-bedroom, and 9 two-bedroom units.

The building is marketed today as West Broadway Square.

Transcribed 1911 census of 161 Langside: page 1, page 2, page 3.

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