As I have written about before, Elgin Street was not always the commercial and restaurant destination that it is today. Like a number of Ottawa neighbourhoods, it began as predominantly residential in nature and as the city grew, commercial uses came to be seen as a higher, better, and ultimately more profitable use. This meant, of course, the demolition of the old homes and apartments to make way for commercial blocks.
On December 17, 1954, the Ottawa Journal announced the the home standing on the corner of Elgin and Somerset, once the home of George F. Henderson, had been sold to Glabar Realty for $62,000. Subsequent reports in the new year list the seller as Margaret E. Henderson, George’s widow.
A.L. Achbar and E.M. Glatt of Glabar Realty Company Limited announced today that construction will start next Spring on a modern five-storey building with offices and stores at the southwest corner of Somerset and Elgin streets.
Glabar Realty bought the property from the estate of the late George F. Henderson for $62,000.
The new building will have a frontage on Elgin street of 110 feet and it to be completed in the Fall of next year. Baker Brothers are now demolishing the Henderson Residence which was long one of the big homes in Centre Ottawa. (emphasis mine)
Source: Ottawa Journal, December 17, 1954.
The stately home at 184 Somerset Street West was constructed around 1899 for Ottawa lawyer George F. Henderson. At that point he had already been a longtime Centretown resident, occupying the adjacent home at 190 Somerset (which was constructed some 10 years earlier).
George Henderson was an exceptionally accomplished lawyer. The small firm that he formed with Taylor McVeity (a future Mayor of Ottawa) in 1887 is the ancestral firm for Gowlings. Henderson not only served as the president of the County of Carleton Law Association, but was a Bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada, frequent natural gas and drainage referee, and in 1917 the loyal Conservative was made chair of the Borden Government’s Commission to Investigate the Business of William Davies Co. Ltd. and Matthews-Blackwell Ltd. (“Henderson Commission“).
If that wasn’t enough, he enjoyed directorships on the boards of the Ottawa Electric Railway Company, Ottawa Traction Company, Ottawa Light, Heat, and Power Company, Ottawa Gas Company, and the Ottawa Car Company. To boot, he was also a popular and long-serving president of the Ottawa Curling Club. When he died on July 27, 1938 at the age of 75, he was a senior member of the Henderson, Herridge, Gowling, and MacTavish law firm. To say the least, he was involved in a rather large number of enterprises that shaped the city.
Henderson’s widow Margaret (nee Brown) went on to remain living in the home for another fifteen years. She passed away in July of 1954 at the age of 90. As her estate (likely their only child – a daughter who lived in Montreal) sought to dispose of the property, E. Meyer Glatt (a local businessman with a number of interests and roles, including as the President of Baker Brothers Co. Ltd.) and A.L. Achbar (of A.L. Achbar Furniture in Hull) saw their opportunity to develop some prime real estate in Ottawa’s central area.
Glabar Realty (GLAtt and achBAR) had worked hard in the first few years of the 1950s to establish itself as a reputable home builder in the Greater Ottawa area. With two established subdivisions in the west end (Britannia Park and Glabar Park), it was time to set their sights on the downtown.
During the mid century period it was entirely common for a commercial building to constructed in two stages. Oftentimes the architects would provide plans for a building taller than what was initially constructed. Once the space was leased, or if demand seemed strong enough, the additional floors would be constructed. The Wesley Building (Wellington at Holland), Imperial Building (Bank at Cooper), and Hartman Building (Bank at Nepean) were all constructed in two stages. From the Glabar Building’s announcement in December of 1954 (above), we see that it was supposed to be constructed to five stories.
It is not entirely clear why the building did not grow any higher. Demand appears to have been quite high across the entire city and I was unable to locate any examples strong community opposition (the ad copy even referred to it as being “the site of the old Henderson home”), so perhaps Glabar found itself a little short on financing or desire. Whatever the reason, it remains two floors today. In addition to the number of doctors, lawyers, and dentists occupying offices on the second floor, the Glabar Building opened with the White Cross Pharmacy (still present), S. Beckvit, a tailor, and Elgin Housewares, which had moved from down the street.
Although things do have to change, it does seem a shame that the original white tiling and aluminum trim has been removed and replaced with the brown tile and arches that festoon it today.