Bright New Life in the St. Louis

East Village Master Developer CMLC has moved headquarters by trading one historical landmark for another. The team has gone from the historic Hillier Block on 8 Ave. SE to the historic St. Louis Hotel right across the street. Before setting up shop in Hillier Block, CMLC occupied yet another heritage building that was restored and renovated – the historic Simmons Building on the bank of the Bow, now EV’s favourite gathering/noshing headquarters.

In addition to housing CMLC’s offices, the fully upgraded building includes main floor community space and a New Central Library construction site office in the basement. Once the NCL is built, the storied St. Louis basement and the main floor space will house retail.

It looks, in a word, amazing – inside and out.

Renovations began with the fortification of the historic building with a new steel structure. Mimicking the style of the façade installed in 1949, the St. Louis’s refurbished front façade includes three light wells clad with white paneling to cast light throughout the building. There’s a four-stop elevator, concrete-topped floors with existing milled floors exposed below, and exposed brick, mechanical, electrical and structural elements to evoke the original building’s rustic feel.

The St. Louis Hotel was built by Colonel James Walker in 1914 in anticipation of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway’s arrival at Fort Calgary. It underwent a major renovation in 1959, and in 2008 the City of Calgary designated the building as a Municipal Historic Resource. CMLC officially kicked off the current restoration and renovation program in spring 2015, and by all accounts, it should be good for another 100+ years.

The move out of Hillier Block, which CMLC has used as its headquarters since April 2012, makes way for a new Library Experience Centre. CMLC designed this storytelling initiative to familiarize Calgarians with the library construction program, Calgary Public Library’s long-term strategy and the exciting programs the New Central Library will deliver. The Hillier will undergo a main floor retrofit to accommodate its new function.

If you visit, you’ll see that the past is present everywhere. The St. Louis’ elevator artwork pays homage to the building’s old uses – it was home to the entirely fake ‘World Famous Indoor Horse Races’, and, of course, it was a favourite hangout of former Calgary Mayor and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein. A collage in the elevator designed by Uppercut comprises photos from the personal collection of the estate of George Stephenson Sr. as well as photos of Ralph Klein (used with permission from Mrs. Klein).

Older Calgarians will recall these imaginary horse races, which took place in the hotel’s basement bar every Friday from about 1985 to 1995. Dubbed the ‘World Famous Indoor Horse Races’, they were the creations of George Stephenson Sr. – a member of the ‘East End Petroleum Club’ that convened regularly at the St. Louis.

It all began at a St. Louis bar table when George called a made-up horse race for his buddies. The horse races soon went public, complete with race sheets and the names of the imaginary horses for each imaginary race. He called four races over the lunch hour every Friday, and he had two favourite horses that made repeat appearances: ‘Hoof Hearted’ and ‘Old Army’. The winnings were often donated to local charities. In its heyday, the St. Louis was so popular on Fridays, if you didn’t arrive by 11:30, you couldn’t get in.

Hoof Hearted by a nose? If you listen carefully, you just might be able to hear it.  

Check back next week for a blog post from EV Resident Ambassador Zoey featuring her behind the scenes tour of the new St Louis hotel!