Groat Es­tates her­itage home will be re­stored to orig­i­nal glory

1910 home’s squeaky f loor­ing ‘talks to you day and night’

Edmonton Journal - - CITY PLUS - GOR­DON KENT ED­MON­TON

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.”

CANDACE EL­LIOTT, THE JOUR­NAL

The stately Wallbridge home in Groat Es­tates is get­ting a $549,000 over­haul.

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