Diamond History – Downtown

Too much chagrin, many Calgarians have witness the demolition of several historic buildings just to be replaced by newer, more modern looking, glass and steel structures.  Ask anyone on the street and you will receive numerous opinions or rants depending on which side of the fence you view Calgary.  My goal is not to form any opinions, my goal is to talk about the history that lies deep within the sandstone walls that has shaped our downtown.

Many buildings in the core area are registered historic buildings and some have been recognized as a “National Historic Site of Canada”; including Old City Hall  which still remains the “only surviving regional example of the monumental civic halls erected in several Prairie cities before 1930” (Canada Historic Places).   In 1992 Stephen Avenue was also declared a Historic Site due to the numerous historic buildings lining the street.   My conclusion, with this much history taking place there must also be some skeletons in the closet waiting to speak…

The Doll Block: Most notably, but often unheard of is the “Largest Diamond Heist in Calgary history” story.   This unfortunate event took place in “The Doll Block” located at 116 8th Avenue SE, now part of the Hyatt Hotel and Telus Convention Centre.    The Doll Block was original built in 1907 by Louis Henry Doll, who had a grand interest in jewellery making.   His original plan was to create a retail business specializing in diamonds, in which he would call “Doll’s Diamond Palace.”  However, after the tragic death of his ten year old daughter, which happened that same year, he lost interest in what was promised to be a successful business venture.   A few years later in 1910, his apprentice, Ernest Black moved into the building and became a very prosperous watch repair businessman, in addition to running the jewellery business.    The business had become very lucrative, at least in the eyes of some local robbers who decided to steal approximately $11,000 worth of diamonds during the Christmas rush of 1911.

First Spiritualist Church and Lyceum: 402 7th Avenue S.E :  After the First World War (1915-1918), many families turned to “mediums” to remain in contact with their loved ones who had perished during the war.   Known for her sensitivity, Ada Garrard originally took out an ad in the local newspaper looking for others that had a natural curiosity of the psychic world.   Surprisingly, she received many responses and soon groups were formed.  Arrangements would be made for meeting locations – either private or rentals – to help assist with the séances and socials.  This work became so profitable, that in 1929 they held a celebration to burn the mortgage papers of the old German Moravian Church, which they purchased in 1920.  This would remain their current location until 1972 when the area when through the first urban renewal project.

Costello Block, 504 – 8th Avenue S.E.:   This building opened in 1910 as a multi-purpose building.  The ground floors were kept aside for business, while the upper two floors became apartments, which housed both blue and white collar residents.   At the beginning it was known as a respectable building; however, the times were changing and during the eras of World War I, the Great Depression, and Prohibition,  residents of the building started to find life more difficult.  Not known for any major crimes the police still made frequent house-calls to the building.   Filled with bootleggers and prostitutes, the building soon fell into a state of decline.  The Costello Block was demolished in 1964, to the delight of the police officers and neighbouring area; but with that, some of the nostalgia that once was, also disappeared.

Alberta Hotel, 804 1st Street SW:  Calgary is known to many as the “Sandstone City”. After the Great Fire of 1886, which burned various buildings including hotels, warehouses, and stores, the city suggested that major buildings be built with sandstone to help withstand extensive fire damage. The first building to take this suggestion was the Alberta Hotel.   During the hotels glory days, it presumably had the longest bar between Winnipeg and China, which would attract unique individuals and cowboys alike. In addition your mainstream characters, numerous high profile guests also enjoyed staying at this luxury hotel; most notably, the Prime Minister of Canada, in the 1930’s.  The popularity of this hotel was so great that the owners had to expand it twice, once in 1891 and 1906.  Sadly during the Prohibition era, the hotel couldn’t keep afloat, so it was transformed into a commercial building.

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