Take a good look at this picture, because in no time, this soon-to-be restored building will have changed a great deal. Gone will be the awnings and facade on the main floor as we see it today. Instead we will see the facade as those who lived in 1913 Highlands saw it.
The Gibbard Block has had many lives over the past 105 years. It started as a luxury apartment building with high end retail on the main floor – both befitting the exclusive community envisioned by developers Magrath and Holgate.
Starting in 1913, the City of Edmonton saw a catastrophic drop in the value of real estate that was brought on by several factors including the stock market crash and two world wars. The building changed hands often and by the 1940s, the once lovely apartments were worn and neglected. But it survived.
The building experienced a new life in 1982 when Ernst and Carole Eder bought the Gibbard Block and opened La Boheme, a respected restaurant and bed and breakfast. Many fond memories of spending special occasions there were shared by people who attended the Highlands Historical Society’s open house on March 31st.
Few original remnants of the building’s former glory remain. Of note is the pressed tin ceiling on the main floor. The rooms on the second and third floor have original solid oak flooring, mostly intact baseboards and trim, and interior five-panel doors.
The claw foot tubs are original even if the pedestals sinks are not. Each suite was unique; airy and full of light thanks to the many windows that graced each room. Natural lighting was also provided in the hallways thanks to the skylight on the third floor. A prominent feature in 1913, it will be restored by the new owners.
Although we couldn’t provide tours of the basement due to safety concerns, our photographer Ted Smith took pictures of the original boiler. It’s still in use today and it was working hard on the cool spring day of our open house.
Another object of interest was the acetylene generator (shown above). In 1912 it provided reliable illumination to all the suites at a time when electricity was anything but consistent. It is highly unusual to find such machinery intact and it is hoped that it will find a home in the Reynolds-Alberta Museum.
The Highlands Historical Society would like to thank the following people: the volunteers who helped make this event a success, Ted Smith who took many photographs for our use including the ones in this blog, the almost 300 visitors who came to see the building and share their stories and memories, and Sparrow Capital for granting us this opportunity to glimpse the past.
We look forward to the building’s future.