Wednesday, 10 March 2010

A Tale of Two Second Empire Houses - 524 Balmoral Street

Neat House

A house that has always intrigued me is 524 Balmoral Street, just south of Sargent Avenue. It is not on the same grand scale as nearby homes on Young or facing Central Park. It is this coziness and mansard roof that gives it its charm.

Second Empire architecture had been a popular style in Ontario for decades but was falling out of favour by the 1880s when residential development in Winnipeg began to take off. For this reason, it is pretty rare in Manitoba and even more so further West.

July 1887 ad, Winnipeg Free Press

According to the Winnipeg Assessment Map this 904 sq ft home was built in 1886. This makes it a true pioneer home of the city's West End. Wesley Hall, for instance, opened in 1896 and the patch of swampy land that would eventually become Central park wasn't even purchased by the city, much less developed into park space, until 1893. 

Residential development began creeping this far west in the 1880s as commercial activity crowded out the residential neighbourhoods on the west side of the Exchange District, (one last remaining example of that residential district is the ca. 1882 Kelly House on Adelaide). Much of the land to the south of Ellice and especially south to Portage Avenue was still undeveloped.

It is unclear who the original owner of  524 Balmoral is. The Henderson Directories notes through the 1880s that the small number of structures that existed on Balmoral Avenue from Portage to Sargent did not have house numbers.

ca. 1944 (source)

The first listing in the Henderson Directory for this address comes in 1891: E. C. Beavis, an accountant who was new to town. Two years later, there was E. J. Brown, a flour and feed mill worker. In 1895 it was James Jackson, a bridge builder and carpenter who stayed until 1904 giving the home some stability in terms of ownership. 

After Jackson left, though, the short term ownership continued: 1905 - Walter Brown (traveling salesman); 1907 - Eugene A. Holston of Holston Sash, Doors and Millwork on Henry St; 1911 - David Bradshaw, a druggist at 493 Notre Dame; 1913 - Gary Nix, city licensing inspector; 1916 - Archibald McKinley; 1919 - Clement J Parsons, city foreman. 

It is not until 1920 that we find another longer-term owner: Otto Boutlier, a blacksmith and welder initially with the firm Boutlier and Richardson. He and wife Mida lived there together until 1943.

Mencini's 50th anniversary, April 1958, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1945 the Mencini Family, consisting of Patrick, Antonia and son Frank, took possession. Patrick was an employee of International Harvester at 404 Ross Street. They lived here until at least 1965.

An interesting aside, the Mencinis, seen above in their 50th wedding anniversary photo had a double wedding. Her twin sister married his twin brother at the same ceremony !

In 1945 Mrs. Mencini was nice enough to give Lillian Gibbons an interview for her "Stories Houses Tell" column in the Winnipeg Tribune and we get a sense of what the home looked like inside.

Balmoral Street House

While 524 may have had a revolving door of owners, the neighbouring house at 520 Balmoral, (it's the empty gap between the two houses in the photo above), housed post office worker Robert Miller, wife Catherine and their seven children beginning in 1888 until his death in the mid 1930's. She remained there until 1942 !

524 Balmoral Street
Balmoral Street House

I cannot find any mentions of 524 Balmoral in the Free Press since the 1960s, which indicates that the building had a quiet existence. Nobody lost in the wars, no fires or major crimes.

The house was allowed to fall into disrepair. The above photos is what it looked like in 2009 - 2010 when new dormers were installed. From the rear, though it appears to be a vacant building.

Second Empire House

UPDATE 2011: This summer, another batch of renovations, which include roof repairs and a new paint job, took place.

 Winter Streets

By contrast, another home, almost a twin to 524 Balmoral, had a very different recent history.

Kerr House which I write about in more detail here, was built for Francis Kerr and family just months after 524 Balmoral was built. It was located on Qu'Appelle Avenue, just a block away.

Kerr was the first principal of Carlton School and his neighbours included the likes of James H. McCarthy, Winnipeg's first chief librarian, and businessman / MLA Thomas Kellett.

Lonely Houses - 351 Assiniboine Ave
Above: on Qu'Appelle (source). Below: on Assiniboine Avenue 

In the 1980s it was threatened with demolition to make way for Sister Macnamara School. Its history was researched and it was found to be one of the few remaining Second Empire homes in the West.

The home was purchased and the cost of its move subsidized. It is now located on Assiniboine avenue near Hargrave, where it sits to this day.

My Flickr gallery of 524 Balmoral
Kerr House Historic Buildings Committee
Kerr House Winnipeg Downtown Places


Anonymous said...

Wow, I just passed by this house this morning and I was thinking that it would've been a really nice house if it got fixed.

Eurydice said...

So glad that it's got a new lease on life.

Eleanor Adaskin said...

I’ve been fascinated driving past this house for years. My 8-year old granddaughter Liviah & I refer to it as “The Storybook House”. I want her to write me a story of a family living in that house. Now I know that there were many more families whose stories were actually lived in that house. Wish someone could tell me one. Any descendants out there who could? The house has a magical quality. It reminds Liviah & me of the house in the movie “Up”, whose owner resists city progress, refuses to sell out to modern developers, and fastens huge numbers of balloons to float it away to where he & his late wife had always dreamed of going. Something about this house on Balmoral really touches me.