Ar­rest­ing ar­chitec

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - WORLD - By Chris­tian Cas­sidy

THE 1960s was a decade of great change in the city hall district of Win­nipeg. Un­til that time, most of the city’s ser­vices were head­quar­tered in a col­lec­tion of turn-of-the-cen­tury build­ings lo­cated within a cou­ple of blocks of each other. There was the old city hall with the mar­ket build­ing, which had been con­verted to civic of­fices in 1919, lo­cated be­hind it. The cen­tral fire hall was si­t­u­ated on what we now know as Old Mar­ket Square Park.

The Cen­tral Po­lice Sta­tion on Ru­pert Av­enue was the new­est of the civic build­ings. It was built in 1908 and ex­panded in 1911 to house a pro­jected po­lice force of 180 of­fi­cers. By the late 1950s, though, the de­part­ment con­sisted of nearly 450 of­fi­cers and about 100 civil­ian staff. The men’s jail, with a ca­pac­ity of 40, reg­u­larly held be­tween 65 and 90 pris­on­ers. Tech­nolo­gies not thought of when the build­ing was con­structed — such as traf­fic-sig­nal con­trol, ra­dio dis­patch and a 999 emer­gency call cen­tre — were shoe­horned in what­ever space could be found.

Po­lice chief Robert Taft, the lead­ing pro­po­nent for a new cen­tral po­lice sta­tion, com­plained at one po­lice com­mis­sion meet­ing: “I’m get­ting fran­tic. The jail is over­crowded, and my help are sit­ting in each other’s lap. We may lose com­pe­tent, well-trained help.”

Few doubted the need for a new po­lice head­quar­ters, but it was go­ing to have to wait un­til a site for the new city hall was cho­sen. The fron­trun­ner lo­ca­tion through the late 1950s and early 1960s was across from the leg­isla­tive build­ing. To­day it is Me­mo­rial Park, but at the time it was home to an ar­ray of Univer­sity of Man­i­toba build­ings that were slowly re­lo­cat­ing to the in­sti­tu­tion’s Fort Garry cam­pus.

It was as­sumed when the new city hall was com­pleted, the po­lice sta­tion would be built on the site of the old city hall.

To pre­pare for the even­tual move, the city held a ref­er­en­dum in Oc­to­ber 1960 to ap­prove the $4.2 mil­lion needed for the plan­ning and con­struc­tion of a new cen­tral po­lice sta­tion. It was nar­rowly de­feated. As a con­so­la­tion, Taft was given $6,000 to re­tain ar­chi­tects Li­b­ling Mich­ener and As­so­ci­ates, now known as LM Ar­chi­tec­tural Group, to at least start the plan­ning process.

A po­lit­i­cal clash be­tween mayor Stephen Juba and premier Duff Roblin scut­tled the Broad­way city hall deal, and the de­ci­sion was made to in­stead build the new city hall on the site of the old one. This shifted the site for the new po­lice sta­tion to the west, shar­ing the block with a pro­posed multi-storey parkade.

In April 1964, an­other ref­er­en­dum was held to ap­prove fund­ing for the new po­lice sta­tion. This time, it won. What made the project more palat­able to vot­ers was the lower price tag of $3.2 mil­lion. This was thanks in part to a fed­eral govern­ment in­fras­truc­ture pro­gram that would pick up 25 per cent of the con­struc­tion costs if the build­ing was com­pleted by March 31, 1966.

The vote could not have come soon enough for Taft and his force, as the old po­lice head­quar­ters was con­demned in April 1963 af­ter the city’s health de­part­ment de­clared it did not meet “min­i­mal ac­cept­able stan­dards” for health and safety.

Li­b­ling Mich­ener’s lead de­signer for the project was Les Stech­esen, a 1957 grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba’s fac­ulty of ar­chi­tec­ture. One of his first lo­cal projects was the Bridge Drive-In on Ju­bilee Av­enue (1958), but by this point in his ca­reer, he had been the lead de­signer on more sub­stan­tial build­ings such as St. Paul’s High School (1965). He went on to de­sign the Man­i­toba Teach­ers' So­ci­ety Build­ing (1966), the Leaf Rapids Town Cen­tre (1970) and the Royal Win­nipeg Bal­let School (1988).

Stech­esen had quite the task ahead of him. The new build­ing would not only be home to the city’s po­lice de­part­ment but also the ad­min­is­tra­tive head­quar­ters for the fire de­part­ment and the traf­fic-sig­nal divi­sion. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the men’s and women’s jails were a pair of pro­vin­cial mag­is­trates’ court­houses and Crown coun­sel of­fices. Each de­part­ment had their own ideas about what size and type of space they needed.

In the end, their com­pet­ing is­sues were worked out, and city coun­cil gave its bless­ing to the fi­nal de­sign of the Pub­lic Safety Build­ing in Septem­ber 1964.

Con­struc­tion did not be­gin un­til Jan­uary 1965. This left the con­trac­tor, Peter Leitch Con­struc­tion, with just 15 months to com­plete the build­ing if the city was go­ing to meet the fed­eral govern­ment’s March 31, 1966 fund­ing dead­line. In the end, the Pub­lic Safety Build­ing came in on time and on bud­get.

Though to­day its ap­pear­ance raises the ire of many Win­nipeg­gers, at the time there was lit­tle men­tion of it in news­pa­per sto­ries or at city coun­cil or com­mit­tee meet­ings.

This was likely be­cause the build­ing was seen as just one in a se­ries of mod­ernist struc­tures that had just been com­pleted or were in var­i­ous stages of de­vel­op­ment through­out the district. This in­cluded the other build­ings of the Civic Cen­tre, the Coun­cil and Ad­min­is­tra­tive build­ings (1962- 63) and Civic Parkade (1965) and the Cen­ten­nial Cen­tre’s Man­i­toba Theatre Cen­tre (1969-70), Cen­ten­nial Con­cert Hall (1967) and Man­i­toba Mu­seum and Plan­e­tar­ium (1968-70) was ex­pected oth­ers, such as a Metro Win­nipe ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing, would soon join them but they never did.

To em­pha­size this vari­a­tion in mod­ernist styles, Li­b­ling Mich­ener were granted a last­minute change to the site plan. They moved th Pub­lic Safety Build­ing to the south­east cor­ner of the block in­stead of di­rectly ad­ja­cent to the parkade. This al­lows for a sin­gle view of all of the Civic Cen­tre’s build­ings from Main Street

The six-storey, 117,906-square-foot PSB was ini­tially dubbed the Fortress in some me­dia ar­ti­cles, and that ap­pear­ance was no ac­ci­dent The build­ing was to be the head­quar­ters to the city’s pro­tec­tion ser­vices, and its strong, stoic fa­cade was meant to re­flect that.

The nar­row win­dows and bold mul­lions, whi dis­ap­pear at the court­house and jail por­tions the third and fourth floor, not only mim­icked bars, but were also a safety fea­ture. In the soc tur­moil of the 1960s, po­lice were con­cerned about snipers shoot­ing into the build­ing from nearby rooftops.

The Pub­lic Safety Build­ing had to wait a few weeks for its ten­ants. The city faced se­ri­ous flood­ing in the spring of 1966, and the po­lice

Con­struc­tion be­gan on the Pub­lic Safety Buildi

Po­lice chief Robert Taft (lef

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.