Saturday, 12 May 2012

A modernist gem on Burnell Street

Northern Sales Building
Circa 1953 Northern Sales Building on Lombard (2012)

A modernist building in the news recently (for all the right reasons) is the Northern Sales Building at 135 Lombard Street. Considered one of the finer examples of modernist architecture in the city, it was built in 1953 and last year underwent a major restoration.

Former Winnipeg Builders Exchange
The circa 1956 Winnipeg Builders' Exchange on Burnell (2012)

While researching the Burnell Street walking tour I came across a later, smaller sister of the Northern Sales building with many of the same design elements.

The Winnipeg Builders' Exchange building was designed by the same firm, Waisman Ross and Associates, and built three years later. It has a similar look and feel to the Northern Sales Building but on a smaller scale. It also included an open air courtyard in the middle of the building.

June 6, 1956, Winnipeg Free Press

Ground was broken on June 5 1956 and the building cost $50,000 to build. A brief article in the Winnipeg Free Press prior to its opening quoted an official from the Exchange saying that "The building 'incorporates many new ideas in planning, design and methods of construction." though I can't find further information about what those innovative ideas were. (Nov. 26 1956 WFP)

ca. 1957. Source: Winnipeg Building Index

An interesting features of the Winnipeg Builders Exchange is the giant mosaic by artist Takao Tanabe. Born near Prince George B.C. in 1926 the Tenake family spent four years in a British Columbia internment camp during World War II. When he was released he came to Winnipeg and studied at the Winnipeg School of Art at the University of Manitoba. He graduated in 1949 and for a couple of years continued to base himself in Winnipeg as his art was exhibited across the continent and in Europe.

Source: Winnipeg Free Press, December 8, 1956

It was during this period that he was commissioned to do the approximately 12 x 12 foot mural for the Builders' Exchange Building. It was unveiled at the building's official opening by J. J. Bernard, Exchange president and Dr. Ferdinand Eckart of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. It depicts the building industry throughout history.

In the late 50s Tenake left for New York and travelled the world before settling back to his native British Columbia where he is still creating art. In 2003 he was awarded the Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts.

Taken ca. 1957. Source: Winnipeg Building Index

Over the decades the building has had some unsympathetic renovations. The courtyard was filled in for additional office space, though the mural remains, and the front entrance was filled in. The building has also been expanded to the rear on two occasions.

The Winnipeg Builders' Exchange, created in 1904, changed their name in 1978 to the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association and are now the Winnipeg Construction Association. The organization outgrew the Burnell Street offices and in October 2011 moved to new premises at Waverley and McGillivray. The following month the Winnipeg regional office of the Commissionaires moved in.

290 Burnell Street Winnipeg Building Index (over 35 photos ca 1956 - 57 showing construction and the finished building, inside and out). Compare that to similar photos of  135 Lombard !)

1 comment:

One Man Committee said...

Great post! I don't think that I've noticed this building before, but I'll be looking for it.