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Brighton Block

Edmonton

Other Names:
Brighton (Brown) Block
Ernest Brown (Brighton) Block
Ernest Brown Block

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Brighton Block consists of a three-storey Edwardian-era brick mixed-use building in a mid-block location on the north side of Jasper Avenue in the Boyle Community.

Heritage Value
The Brighton Block is significant because of its association with the notable photographer Ernest Brown. He constructed this building between 1911-13, to contain his studio and workshop. Brown’s business flourished until 1923, when he suffered financial difficulties and lost the building. In 1947, the Province purchased his photographic collection, which is one of its most important photographic holdings of Edmonton buildings, streetscapes, social and commercial life at the time.

Also significant for its architecture, the building is a large, excellent example of an Edwardian-era combination commercial and residential building using superior quality materials and construction. The parapet served as an important billboard to advertise Brown’s photography business. Painted advertisements are still found on the front of the building and are well recognized in the community.

There is significance associated with the building’s architect, Architect James Henderson, who designed many residential, civic and commercial buildings in Edmonton.

The significance also derives from its association with the development of the Boyle community, one of Edmonton’s older settled neighbourhoods. It was once the location of a number of large-scale institutional, commercial and residential buildings fundamental to the development of the city. This building is one of a collection of surviving, important Jasper Avenue buildings associated with Edmonton’s early social and commercial life. (Source: Digital File 995878 City of Edmonton Planning and Development Department.)


Character-Defining Elements
The Edwardian-era architecture of the building is expressed in character-defining elements such as:
- form, scale and massing;
- two-part building construction, as evidenced in the moderately asymmetrical facade composition and the double central facade pilasters;
- tall, main floor wood storefronts with recessed entrances with large display windows;
- red pressed-brick facade construction with limestone trims and accents;
- painted signs extending across the brick parapet;
- tall ground floor limestone pilasters;
- segmented arch brick pediments in the parapet;
- upper and lower pressed-metal cornices that extend the full width of the building;
- pressed-metal capitals on the upper pilasters;
- two rows of wood double-hung windows at the second and third floor levels;
- side and central lightwell recesses;
- inlayed terrazzo floors;
- plaster classical columns and Ionic capitals;
- decorative metal ceilings;
- decorative, wood ornamentation;
- ceiling skylights


Location



Street Address: 9670 Jasper Avenue
Community: Edmonton
Boundaries: Lots 34 and 35, Block 2, Plan D
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
24
53
4
3 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
D
D
2
2
35
34



Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
53.542824 -113.484448 Secondary Source NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Local Governments (AB)
Designation Status: Municipal Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2001/06/12

Historical Information

Built: 1911 To 1912
Significant Date(s) 1911 To 1920
Theme(s) Expressing Intellectual and Cultural Life : Learning and the Arts
Historic Function(s): Commerce / Commercial Services : Office or Office Building
Residence : Multiple Dwelling
Current Function(s): Commerce / Commercial Services : Office or Office Building
Residence : Multiple Dwelling
Architect: James Henderson
Builder: Peter Rule
Context: HISTORICAL CONTEXT

When word spread, in 1879, that the Canadian Pacific Railway would soon swing northwest from Brandon, Manitoba and pass near Fort Edmonton on its way through the Yellowhead Pass, a community began to evolve on the high ground above the Fort. Since land west of what is now 101st Street was part of the Hudson's Bay Company Reserve, the core of the incipient community lay to the east, along what was known as High Street. Although commercial development west of 101st Street began in 1891, the business core of the newly incorporated Town of Edmonton would remain at the east end of Jasper Avenue well into the 20th century.

Among the businesses to operate along what would eventually become known as the Jasper East Block was the photographic studio of Charles W. Mathers, a branch studio of the Calgary firm of Bourne & May. From a small studio two lots east of the Jasper House Hotel, Mathers developed some of the most significant documentary photographic images of what is now Alberta, and Edmonton in particular, around the turn of the 20th century. In 1903, Mathers hired a newly arrived immigrant from Newcastle, England named Ernest Brown to be his assistant. With a growing passion for photography, and an apparent belief that prospects for business in Edmonton would continue to expand, Brown was able to purchase the studio from Mathers, along with the impressive collection of glass plate negatives, and the property itself.

Though not as highly regarded as Mathers as a photographer, Brown was able to do even more business that his predecessor in the rapidly growing City and district. Portrait photography became a specialty, as many of the nouveau riche wanted photos of themselves and their families undertaken professionally. Brown also continued to add to the vast collection of documentary images begun by Mathers. By 1911, business was so good that Brown decided to construct a new building on the same lot as the old studio. Given its location on prime commercial land, it only made sense that Brown would construct a large building which could accommodate other businesses in addition to a photographic studio, office and storage area. Thus, with James Henderson as architect and the Peter Rule Construction Company as contractors, a three-storey, orange brick office building was erected during 1911-12 in two stages, first the eastern portion, then the western. It was intended to accommodate various offices and even apartments during these years of frantic commercial expansion.

Among the first tenants of the Brown Block were a clothier, a printer and a stationery store on the first floor and the office of Peter Rule on the second. The main tenant, of course, was the Ernest Brown Studio, and on the upper façade of the building were the words "Everything Photographic." The studio proper and supply store were on the ground floor, while Brown's enlargement department and picture framing shop were in the basement.

For the first few years, Brown did a roaring business as Edmonton's leading photographer. In March 1914, his assets were listed as $265,000. During this time, the images of many significant events and people were captured through his shutters, along with countless scenes of a routine nature, but invaluable to posterity. Communities, people and events happening in the district around Edmonton were also the subject of his attention. However, with the recession that accompanied World War I, business declined. Feeling the financial pinch personally, Brown decided to incorporate Ernest Brown Ltd. and transfer his photographic assets to the Company in 1923 for $55,000. The following year, Dominion Life Assurance acquired the building and land for $27,500. By that time, the photographic equipment, supplies, and, most importantly, the documentary negatives had been acquired by Brown's associate, Gladys Reeves.

Brown himself moved to Vegreville, opened a smaller photographic studio, and began to collect historical artifacts. Two years later, he was back in Edmonton, working for Gladys Reeves in her photographic studio and operating a Pioneers Days Museum on 97th Street. The value of his (and Mathers') turn of the century documentary images had now grown, and Brown was able to add to his income by selling the rights to use certain of the images to magazines and large businesses for display purposes. In 1947, the provincial government purchased the 50,000-glass plate collection, as well as Brown's photographic equipment and artifacts for $50,000. In later years, they would come to constitute the most valued photographic collection in the Provincial Archives.

Following Brown's departure from Edmonton in 1924, the Brown Block itself was taken over by
Credit Foncier, and under this stewardship, it became known as the Brighton Block. The building then went through several owners before being acquired by the Toma family in 1950. Various businesses operated from within it over the years, including the American Dairy Lunch and the Georgia Steam Baths. In later years, much of the building has sat vacant.



HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE

The historical significance of the Brighton Block lies in its provision of structural evidence of the commercial core of the east end of downtown Edmonton during the early part of the twentieth century. Though not dominated by large office blocks, the district remained a lively commercial center. One of the most familiar businesses there at the time was the photographic studio of Ernest Brown, who was then Edmonton's leading photographer. To a large extent, the building is significant in its direct connection to Brown, and as the first repository for the Ernest Brown photographic collection, many of the images of which had been taken earlier by Charles Mathers.

(Historical Interest Summary)

Additional Information

Object Number: 4664-0019
Designation File:
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 4907
Website Link: http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/planning_development/historic-resources.aspx
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2110)
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