In the course of our daily reporting, we often uncover unusual projects, places, or connections that don't make the final cut. Instead of keeping it to ourselves, we're pleased to share our weekly Architrivia.
On January 11, 1973, the Calgary Herald had the opportunity to run a story about its own impending demise, at least from an architectural standpoint. Demolition crews were preparing to knock down its former headquarters in downtown Calgary. While coverage of the controversial demolition had been fast and furious at the time, the article contained some rare good news: as a show of goodwill (amid strong public pressure), the developer was going to rescue every last one of the 240 Royal Doulton-commissioned gargoyles on the 1912/13-built Gothic Revival structure.
Once a main fixture of the former Brown- and Vallance-designed Calgary Herald Building, the gargoyles were designed by English sculptor Mark V. Marshall, an employee of the Royal Doulton China Company who was hired by the Southam family (owner of the Calgary Herald, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, and others) to add a sense of charm and whimsy to the new headquarters of the Calgary Herald upon its completion in 1913.
Mixed in with miscellaneous monsters, dragons, and other creatures, several of the most prominent gargoyles were actually caricatures of the building's architects, along with a handful of the newspaper's most noteworthy employees. Included among them were the Editor, Type-Setter, and even the cleaning lady, known affectionately as Mrs. Mopp. A total of 240 gargoyles were reportedly brought down intact and carefully stowed away for future use. While 46 went to the City of Calgary, others were relocated to the side of the Calgary Herald Building's replacement, the Len Werry Building, which has occupied the site for the last 40 years.
Fashioned in a similar vein to other caricature-type gargoyles found on buildings from this era, like Toronto's Old City Hall and the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Mark V. Marshall's ghoulish tributes to the Calgary Herald's most prominent employees was done not out of spite, but as an honour to their hard work and dedication. While an unknown number of gargoyles went into public hands, auctioned off by the City for the future funding of heritage-related works, several others found a new home at the Sciences Building at the University of Calgary, where they have resided ever since.
Despite their significance, the fate of Calgary's lost gargoyles was cast once more into shadow upon their sudden removal from the side of the Len Werry Building back in early 2015. The Calgary Herald reported at the time that the developer for the upcoming Telus Sky project was taking steps to once again store the gargoyles for safekeeping, and that they will either be restored to their former location, or perhaps be incorporated into the Telus Sky tower's Sky Lounge.
Set for completion in 2017, the Telus Sky tower will abut quite closely to the Len Werry Building, which itself will be partially re-clad. If the gargoyles' new home is to be somewhere upon the redesigned Len Werry Building, it will likely have to be somewhere else, as the new 59-storey development will largely block their former home from view.
Wherever Calgary's lost gargoyles end up, whether upon the redesigned facade of the Len Werry Building or within the swanky confines of the soon-to-be-completed Telus Sky tower, it is hopeful that they will once again grace the environs of downtown Calgary, given their careful treatment during construction and their by now well-publicized historical significance.
While only time will tell the fate of the lost gargoyles, what can be said for certain is that their history has been nothing if not exceptional. Begun as the creation of a Royal Doulton master sculptor in England, brought crate by crate to the Canadian Prairies via ship and locomotive, installed, removed, installed, and removed once more, Calgary's lost gargoyles have yet to find to their final resting place.
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