Lofty am­bi­tions for fac­tory

Build­ing turned into spa­cious loft hous­ing

Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - STEPHANIE WHIT­TAKER

Acen­tury ago, the clus­ter of new in­dus­trial build­ings on St. Alexan­dre St. in Montreal, rep­re­sented the emerg­ing in­dus­trial might of Canada.

The build­ings housed com­pa­nies that spe­cial­ized in pa­per pro­duc­tion and print­ing al­though one, the Gil­lette build­ing, man­u­fac­tured ra­zors.

The city’s com­merce was mov­ing north­ward in those days from Old Montreal.

In fact, the Montreal Stan­dard, a de­funct English-lan­guage news­pa­per, re­ferred to the area in a 1913 story as “the new down­town.”

That catch­phrase has been res­ur­rected by the Rose Group, a de­vel­op­ment com­pany that is con­vert­ing the Wil­son Build­ing, a for­mer pa­per bag fac­tory, into loft hous­ing.

It’s one of the last in­dus­trial build­ings in the neigh­bour­hood, known 100 years ago as the pa­per hill, to be trans­formed into hip, ur­ban hous­ing.

“What makes this build­ing unique is that it over­looks the green space around St. Pa­trick’s Basil­ica,” said Clif­ford Good­man, the project’s sales and de­vel­op­ment manger. “It’s a tran­quil niche within a five-minute walk of the core of down­town, from Place Ville Marie, Old Montreal and the Quartier des spec­ta­cles.”

The lofts, about 10 units on each floor, will range in size from 560 square feet to 1,550 square feet, he said. Prices will range from $200,000 to $600,000.

There are six floors, each 12,000 square feet, but an­other four storeys will be built atop the struc­ture. While the build­ing does not have her­itage sta­tus, it is his­tor­i­cal and as such, can­not be al­tered rad­i­cally on the ex­te­rior, says Que­bec’s cul­ture min­istry.

As a re­sult, says Good­man, the 10-foot-tall para­pet that runs around the perime­ter of the roof on three sides can­not be re­moved.

Win­dow colours also must meet the min­istry’s guide­lines, says Oren Vered, a part­ner in the de­vel­op­ment firm.

“The min­istry has cre­ated added value by pre­serv­ing the look of the city,” he says. “We’re keep­ing the real feel of the build­ing so that peo­ple aren’t just buy­ing a condo; they’re get­ting a piece of his­tory.”

Be­cause the de­vel­oper “can­not put win­dows in the para­pet, this level will be the build­ing’s sev­enth floor and it will con­tain ameni­ties, such as a lounge for res­i­dents with a flat-screen TV and a gym,” says Good­man.

The three added storeys above it will con­tain lofts.

Good­man says the new ad­di­tion will be some­what re­cessed from the edge of the build­ing to main­tain the struc­ture’s orig­i­nal look from the street.

The Wil­son build­ing is not the Rose Group’s first con­ver­sion in the pa­per hill neigh­bour­hood.

It also trans­formed the nearby Gil­lette build­ing into loft hous­ing. Ar­chi­tect Karl Fis­cher, who de­signed the Gil­lette lofts, will tackle the work on the Wil­son build­ing.

“We learned some­thing in de­sign­ing the Gil­lette build­ing and have brought the les­son here,” says Vered. “In­stead of hav­ing a work area on the back wall of the kitchen, which is in­ef­fi­cient, we’ve cre­ated the work space on the is­land.”

The kitchen’s back wall will in­stead be dom­i­nated by cab­i­netry, while the wide stain­less steel is­land will hold an in­te­grated sink and cook­top.

Fis­cher faced an­other de­sign chal­lenge: namely how to use space in the cen­tre of each floor that is not lit by nat­u­ral light.

The so­lu­tion, says Good­man, was to cre­ate stor­age ar­eas on each floor rather than in the base­ment.

The units will be clas­sic open lofts, without room di­vi­sions.

“Peo­ple who don’t like the lack of walls can have free-stand­ing mod­u­lar clos­ets to en­close ar­eas,” says Good­man. “They per­form like walls.”

Chan­tal Wil­son re­mem­bers well the build­ing where her fa­ther, Frank Howard Wil­son Jr., ran the pa­per com­pany that had been in the fam­ily for three gen­er­a­tions.

“The mill that made the pa­per was in Lachute but the offices with the man­u­fac­tur­ing and dis­tri­bu­tion were in the St. Alexan­dre St. build­ing,” she says. “I was three or four years old when my mother used to take me to visit my dad at work.”

Wil­son, 70, re­calls that the build­ing held be­tween 300 and 400 em­ploy­ees and the bags they pro­duced were used by su­per­mar­kets.

“It was a busy area and there was a lot of in­dus­try there. There was noth­ing fancy or lux­u­ri­ous about the in­te­rior of the build­ing.”

In re­cent years, the Wil­son build­ing has been home to var­i­ous com­mer­cial ten­ants who will be va­cat­ing in the months to come, says Good­man.

Once they leave, all of the in­te­ri­ors will be stripped down and the brick walls and con­crete floors and ceil­ings will be sand­blasted, he said.

To date, about 40 per cent of the units have been sold.

The story of how Montreal’s com­mer­cial cen­tre moved north­ward from Old Montreal a cen­tury ago has an in­ter­est­ing par­al­lel as the pa­per hill neigh­bour­hood is be­ing gen­tri­fied into a res­i­den­tial area.

“We’re at­tract­ing peo­ple from Old Montreal who want to move away from the touristy hus­tle and bus­tle in that neigh­bour­hood,” says Good­man. “You’re so much in the core of the city here but it’s a tran­quil en­clave.”

Brick sur­rounds a win­dow.

The six-storey Wil­son Build­ing is be­ing turned into loft hous­ing.

Pho­tos, Pierre Obendrauf, Montreal Gazette

High ceil­ings, large win­dows and brick walls help cre­ate a tex­tured, mod­ern look in the build­ing — once a pa­per bag fac­tory.

The bath­rooms in the de­vel­op­ment will be sleek and mod­ern.

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