City moves to preserve two historic hotels

King Eddy’s legendary bar to reopen; St. Regis gains historical status
Laura Pedersen

The King Edward Hotel will reopen within a few years as a music museum and live venue, and the St. Regis Hotel will become a protected heritage site, the city announced last week. The King Edward, located at Ninth Ave. and Fourth St. S.W., will be taken over by the Cantos Music Foundation, a local organization that maintains a collection of historic musical instruments and paraphernalia.

“The King Eddy (will become) an expansion of our existing activities. That means our collection, our programs, and expanding it for things we don’t currently have room for,” says Andrew Mosker, Cantos’s executive director. “Our vision is to become a national music centre.”

The hotel once contained Calgary’s most prominent blues bar, and the redevelopment will likely feature a new bar with live music, including some blues.

The final details for the renovations haven’t been hammered out, but there will be a lot of work to do, says Chris Ollenberger of the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, the city organization that will help Cantos with the project. “The inside of the building doesn’t meet any safety standards,” he says. “(There) will be a complete gut of the inside.” In addition to the mould that prompted the city to shut the building down four years ago, the electrical work is shot, and two floors of the building have been colonized by birds.

The front part of the King Eddy — including the front door, the hotel’s sign and three floors — are protected as heritage sites, but the back of the building could be knocked down and rebuilt, says Ollenberger.

Built in 1906, the King Eddy is one of Calgary’s oldest hotels. It used to form part of what was dubbed “whisky row,” a stretch of hotels that sprang up along Ninth Ave. to serve travellers on the nearby railroad. During Alberta’s brief prohibition in the 1920s, the hotel was busted on more than one occasion for serving alcohol, and later made history as one of the city’s first establishments to serve black and white patrons in the same room.

By the 1940s, the area had gained a seedy reputation. The bar became a working-class hangout known for its cheap beer, and the rooms above it were soon rented out for longer periods to low-income tenants. In the 1970s and ’80s, the Eddy became a blues bar. It was the oldest such bar in the city — and the oldest continuously operating hotel — at the time it was closed.

Few of Calgary’s old hotels remain operational: the Alberta Hotel on Stephen Ave. is now an outdoor supply store, the National in Inglewood is sitting empty and the York at Seventh Ave. and Centre St. S.E. was demolished last year to make way for the Bow, a new skyscraper.

The St. Regis, built in 1913 on the same block as the York, still serves as a hotel, and looks set to be protected by the city. It’s not clear whether the Regis will remain a hotel, but the historical designation will mean the Bow development will allow for the preservation of the building.

Local historian Harry Sanders says that, even if the old buildings don’t retain their original function, it’s encouraging that the city is keeping them around. “There was a time when you could knock anything down,” he says. “Having the building there, it’s a reminder that this is an old neighbourhood.”

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