Admittedly, I have been slow to warm up to the cold concrete of the Brutalist aesthetic. Like most, I had found the style cold, inflexible, and forbidding. As many examples of these concrete creations approach an age at which their heritage must be considered, a number of advocates have appeared to rehabilitate the image of this misunderstood style. While those advocates like Sarah Gelbard or Shawn Micallef might not win everyone over, I’ve personally found the arguments convincing.
In the same way that Ottawa grew out during the 1950s and 1960s, it also grew up. The names were even the same: Robert Campeau, Garfield Weston, Ken Greene, and of course, Bill “Mr. Kanata” Teron. The Teron Building, located on the northeast corner of Laurier and O’Connor was Teron’s second office building in Ottawa and, at the time of construction, his tallest.
As someone who has generally studied Ottawa’s urban history through the lens of residential development more so than its commercial or industrial development, the construction of office space in the city appears to be related, but different. That is, there is no question that we’re all dominated by the ebbs and flows of federal government growth and activity, but office space seems to (in my own casual observation) to lag relative to residential construction. Having been here for 13 years (and seeking answers to my questions for as long), it always seems that the city either has a surplus or a deficit of office space, with the opposite impending in all projections.
In any event, the Imperial Building was constructed in 1957 for Brouse Holdings (an organization which continues to operate today) in the midst of an acute shortage of office space. The building’s architect was J. Morris Wolfson (who, among other things designed the Tiffany Apartments in the Deep Cut and would go on to design McArthur Plaza) and the contractor was James More and Sons. It was to cost $325,000. Much like the Wesley Building at Holland and Wellington, the Imperial Building was also designed such that floors could be added at a later date as demand increased.
The federal government, significantly larger than it was prior to the war, had snapped up much of what was available in the city and was hungry for more: much more. It didn’t help that Ottawa’s private sector had the same heightened demands.
Brouse Holdings was created following the death of Mr. Harry Brouse on August 8, 1924. As he did not leave a final will and testament, the courts divided his estate – chiefly real estate valued at over $500,000 (approximately $6.8 million today) – between his widow and two children. Rather than quickly liquidate the assets, the tradition of investment and development continued long after his sudden, surprise passing. An article in the April 23, 1925 edition of the Journal listed am impressive number of assets.**
The new Imperial Building opened in the Spring of 1957 and was announced in the same way that new office blocks and apartments were at the time: with a full-page newspaper spread complete with picture and advertisements of the contractors who worked on it.
As can be seen from the above, the building was first completed at four stories and was later extended to the seven that it is today. Like many of the offices on Bank constructed during 50s and 60s, the tradition of ground floor, street-facing retail was continued. No inward-facing, maze-like mall space.
At opening, the two main retail tenants were Chuck Delfino Men’s Wear (whose plaques still grace the building’s exterior), and Sol Kronick Furniture (who had relocated from across the street into the modern new store). Among the longer-lasting office tenants of the upper floors were law firms, real estate firms, and perhaps most interestingly, an insurance firm that specialized in the coverage of hockey players and other athletes.
Although I am uncertain as to the specific date that the Imperial was renovated to add the new floors (it does not seem to be in place on geoOttawa’s 1965 aerial map, but most certainly is apparent by the 1976 aerial photos), it does seem that they were added rather quickly. The Journal’s Gord Lomer reported at the end of 1964 that Art MacDonald, a member of the Centennial Commission had his office on the building’s sixth floor.
** For the purposes of retaining focus in this short piece, I’ll mention here that Harry Brouse was an exceptionally interesting figure in the development of Ottawa during the early part of the 20th century. As the developer of numerous office blocks, the Imperial (Barrymore’s) and Family theatres, as well as the inventor of a gum vending machine (Peerless Vending Co.), the Brouse name both loomed – and continues to loom – large in the Ottawa area. I will be assembling a piece on him as well.