Own­ers en­joy first highrise condo

Build­ing dat­ing back to 1969 first in Canada

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - New Condos - PA­TRICK LANGSTON

If this was 1969, and you said “con­do­minium” to a buddy, you’d prob­a­bly be met with a blank, pos­si­bly du­bi­ous stare.

Not from Ottawa res­i­dent Ma­bel Brown.

Four decades ago, an en­cour­ag­ing brother prompted Brown to scare up $3,000 for a down pay­ment on a two-bed­room apart­ment at Hori­zon House, Canada’s first condo highrise.

Built by the com­pany now known as Minto Group Inc. in the city’s west end, the build­ing is an Ottawa land­mark. And Brown is still a con­tented res­i­dent.

“My brother was in real es­tate and in­sur­ance,” re­calls Brown. “He said, ‘There’s one thing I know: my best client is buy­ing one, and if it’s good enough for him, then it’s good.’ “

Her brother’s rec­om­men­da­tion, bol­stered by that of an ac­quain­tance who also bought a condo in the brick build­ing, con­vinced Brown to sign on.

“It sounded like a bet­ter idea than rent­ing,” she says.

Bet­ter in­deed. In 1969, she paid $18,000 for her roughly 900square-foot condo.

She says she’s re­cently seen ads for sim­i­lar units in her build­ing priced at $180,000. Condo fees have es­ca­lated as well, ac­cord­ing to an­other orig­i­nal res­i­dent: from $35 a month — with no fees for the first six months — to roughly $400 a month.

Re­tired for the past 15 years from her job as di­rec­tor of the Health Sciences Li­brary at the Ottawa Civic Hospi­tal, Brown was in her 30s when she bought her ground-floor condo. Brown’s view was mostly of empty fields.

Those empty fields are long gone, re­placed by hous­ing, bustling com­mer­cial ar­eas and busy road­ways.

The open­ing of the Hori­zon House was a no­table event. Reg­is­tered as Car­leton Con­do­minium Cor­po­ra­tion No. 1, “it was an op­por­tu­nity for peo­ple to own an apart­ment,” says Minto’s ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent Robert Green­berg.

Ameni­ties at the award-winning build­ing in­cluded an out­door pool, a party room and sur­pris­ingly spa­cious grounds.

More re­cently, adds Green­berg, condo de­vel­op­ers, ea­ger to con­trol costs, have largely shied away from ex­pen­sive ameni­ties, in­clud­ing fit­ness rooms.

Speak­ing of costs, in the early 1990s there was a nasty one for Hori­zon own­ers.

Their condo fees hadn’t pro­vided suf­fi­cient re­serves and they had to pony up roughly $20,000 each for ma­jor build­ing re­pairs.

Pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tion gov­ern­ing condo fee cal­cu­la­tions now pro­tect buy­ers in any de­vel­op­ment against such sur­prises.

Peggy Holton, an­other 40-year res­i­dent at Hori­zon, re­mem­bers that in the early years, liv­ing there was “kind of like be­ing in a vil­lage. Every­one was in it to­gether, and you got to rec­og­nize peo­ple. It was a very sta­ble pop­u­la­tion at first.

“Now the trend is a lot more peo­ple rent­ing (from own­ers).”

There’s still some of that old­time com­mu­nity spirit: This week, res­i­dents new and old marked Hori­zon House’s 40th an­niver­sary at their an­nual bar­be­cue.

Colleen Rushforth wasn’t sell­ing con­dos in 1969, but she has been for the past 21 years.

The big change in that time, says the real­tor with Keller Wil­liams Ottawa Realty Ltd., is that many con­dos have got­ten smaller.

That’s a re­sult of soar­ing land and constructi­on costs, as well as buy­ers whose busy off-premises lives — whether work­ing, so­cial­iz­ing or trav­el­ling — means they don’t need or want big homes.

Rushforth points to other condo trends: open-con­cept de­sign; ex­otic floor­ing (wal­nut is pop­u­lar); stain­less-steel ap­pli­ances in­cluded in the pack­age and “lots and lots of gran­ite.”

Rushforth’s projects have in­cluded an­other Minto con­do­minium build­ing: the el­e­gant, 32-storey glass-and-con­crete Metropole in West­boro Vil­lage, a trendy neigh­bour­hood about 10 kilo­me­tres from down­town Ottawa.

Opened in 2004, the award­win­ning 152-unit highrise fea­tures ex­pan­sive win­dows, many with a view of the Ottawa River, an in­door pool, and concierge ser­vices.

It also fre­quently bucks the small condo trend.

“This feels like a house, but without the base­ment,” says Eva Weiss­berger of the 3,345-square­foot pent­house she shares with her hus­band Ron­ald.

The cou­ple spends win­ters in Florida and felt that a condo, where they could lock the door and walk away, made more sense than hang­ing on to their sub­ur­ban home.

Be­sides, says Weiss­berger, a re­tired teacher, “my hus­band was al­ways more an ur­ban guy. The house was more for me and the kids.”

The cou­ple paid more than $1 mil­lion for their 29th-floor condo.

They also poured money into up­grades: a solid cherry kitchen with a mas­sive gran­ite is­land, mar­ble floor­ing in the hall and bath­rooms, her­ring­bone-pat­terned Brazil­ian Ja­toba wood else­where.

“I tried to make it look re­ally nice,” she says. “I wanted it to look per­fect.”

When the Weiss­berg­ers’ 14thfloor neigh­bours, Rhoda and Dr. Bert Ble­vis, went looking for a condo a few years back, they thought about down­town.

But the only units avail­able were re­sales, and that meant ma­jor ren­o­va­tions. As well, says Rhoda, “when the kids came to visit, they’d have to park at a me­ter.”

The Metropole proved to be an ideal choice.

Rhoda says she’s only about a seven-minute drive to down­town, and there are plenty of shop­ping and recre­ation op­tions within a short walk from the Metropole’s front door.

Maybe best of all, they don’t have to shovel any more snow. The cou­ple also likes the mix of res­i­dents, from young cou­ples to re­tirees.

There were ad­just­ments. Mov­ing from a four-bed­room house to a two-bed­room condo meant ma­jor purg­ing.

“The kids will thank us one day. We got rid of all my hus­band’s old text­books and things.”

Like the Weiss­berg­ers, the Ble­vises are en­am­oured of the Metropole, es­pe­cially what’s out­side the win­dows.

Eva Weiss­berger seems to speak for all res­i­dents when she says, “I love the view. It’s like you’ve died and gone to heaven.”

Wayne Cuddington, Ottawa Ci­ti­zen

Ma­bel Brown bought a two-bed­room apart­ment in 1969 in Canada’s first highrise condo build­ing.

Julie Oliver, Ottawa Ci­ti­zen

Condo owner Eva Weiss­berger, cen­tre, en­joys the view from the 29th floor with her neigh­bour, Rhoda Ble­vis, who lives on the 14th floor.

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