Groat Estates heritage home will be restored to original glory
1910 home’s squeaky f looring ‘talks to you day and night’
The largest city-supported restoration of a heritage house is returning to glory a Groat Estates home built during Edmonton’s first big economic boom.
The stately Wallbridge Residence, constructed around 1910 for the Merchant’s Bank of Canada, is being overhauled at a cost of about $549,000, including up to $150,000 from Edmonton’s heritage reserve fund.
In return, this important piece of Edmonton’s narrative was designated last month as a municipal historic resource, meaning it is legally protected from demolition or major alterations.
The project includes replacing the asphalt shingles with top-quality cedar shingles, siding repairs, reconstructing the f loor of the front entry porch, repainting inside and out and refinishing the hardwood floors throughout.
“It’s going to look like a grand old house that’s esthetically great and does not show any sign of renovation work or alteration,” says Dr. Knut Vik, who with partner Frank Calder has lived there for almost 20 years. “We don’t want it to look like a new house.”
He likes the nearly century-old house right down to the noises it makes, quickly rejecting one offer to remove the squeaks from the hardwood flooring.
“I know many, many people that own old homes, and they love to be able to hear themselves walk,” he says.
“When you love an old home and live in it, it talks to you day and night.”
Vik admits the 21⁄ storey structure at 12606 104th Ave., with four bathrooms, five fireplaces and five bedrooms, is a big place for two people.
It measures about 500 square metres. The top floor has a large, open room with a grand piano, and they are also putting in shelves to create a library.
But Vik, a family physician, member of several provincial boards and former art gallery owner, says despite the inconvenience the overhaul is a labour of love.
“We made a pact that we would never, ever let a developer get his hands on this lot,” he says.
“We loved the house so much that we decided that whatever it takes we would save (it).”
The house belonged for many years to the family of prominent Edmonton lawyer James Wallbridge, but following his death in 1942 it was turned into the Kildonan Apartments.
This work was probably designed by Wallbridge’s daughter Jean, the third female architect registered in Alberta, who pioneered Edmonton multi-family dwellings with partner Mary Imrie.
The connection to Jean Wallbridge, who died in 1979, is the home’s most notable historical association, according to a city report.
Vik, who spoke to Wallbridge’s nephew about the home’s background and received boxes of archival material, called the apartment conversion “a work of genius.”
“They can’t quite figure out how she did it … Even the architect can’t say this was changed and that was changed,” he says.
“We don’t know where the original stairway to the second floor was, so there are still some mysteries.”
The local landmark remained in the Wallbridge family for almost 70 years until it was sold and turned back into a single-family home.
Heritage planner Robert Geldart says previous city grants for residential rehabilitation have been in the $25,000 to $50,000 range, helping with projects that tend to be expensive because of the need for historical accuracy.
Even with the increase for the Wallbridge residence, work such as mechanical and electrical upgrades still isn’t eligible for assistance from the $1-million heritage fund.
“It’s important because it’s an exceptionally large house for the day. It’s of historical and architectural importance,” Geldart says. “It was designed for a bank manager. That’s when the economy started to falter (around 1914). That’s why the bank sold it.”
Vik hopes most of the restoration work, which started this year, can be completed in 2009.
Then they’ll finally be able to put their furniture back where it belongs and properly display their manypieces of art.
“We just can’t leave the house. We’re suffering with it, but it’s going to be really worthwhile when we win the battle.”
The stately Wallbridge home in Groat Estates is getting a $549,000 overhaul.