February 23 2021
Behind the Project: St. Louis Hotel Restoration
The restoration of the St. Louis Hotel was completed in 2016 but it remains an incredible example of how to give new life to a part of a city’s history. Recently, we sat down with Nick Berci from our Calgary office, who worked on the project, to discuss some of the finer details of how we renewed a building that otherwise would have been destined for demolition.
Thanks for sitting down with us today, Nick. Can you tell us about the project?
The St. Louis Hotel project was a restoration and redevelopment of a turn-of-the-century hotel and bar. The building itself holds a special place in the history of Calgary. In fact, it was an old haunt of Ralph Klein, one of Alberta’s most notable Premiers.
It stopped being a bar in 2006 and when we got involved it was a derelict building that had been gutted. There were parts of the floor where you couldn’t stand on because you’d be in serious danger of falling through.
As part of the early restoration work before we came to the project, there was temporary stability bracing put in place, but really, for the project team this time around, it was taking a building that could either be demolished or redeveloped and we chose to go the redevelopment route.
Entuitive provided structural consulting on this project.
Were there any challenges inherent in the work? If so, how did you solve for these?
Creating a Functional, Leasable Space
For us, the biggest challenge for the project overall was how to turn it into a useful building.
As a hotel in the early 1900s it’s load-carrying capacity would have been much less than what would qualify for a useful occupancy today. The goal was to create leasable space that anyone could move into, so it needed to be upgraded. We investigated a couple different paths for how to get there.
The first one was to repair and restore the structure as we found it, which was predominantly wood framing with surrounding brick walls. The other option, and the one we ended up going with, was to create a whole new steel frame from the inside out. This allowed us to increase the load-carrying capacity of the floors significantly. The first option might have only gotten us halfway there.
Preserving the History and Character of a Heritage Building
Another challenge was keeping the character of the building.
Our approach of creating a new steel frame also helped us here. We were able to re-support the old floors and add a new floor structure. When you stand in the building now and you look up, you see a hundred-year-old wood floor supported by steel beams and brick walls but when you look down you are standing on a new concrete floor.
It makes for a really interesting effect because the building originally had some steel in it. The main and second floors were supported by steel beams in the original design and we more or less piggy backed on that. Where there used to be one steel column or one steel beam there are now two.
Another interesting piece of restoration was preserving the natural light that comes into the building through the skylights. There are three light wells that come into the building. The original ones were in severe disrepair and could not be salvaged. Now they’re flat glass that span to a brick wall. You just need to look up and see the sky when standing on the main floor.
We replaced all the windows, including through the lightwells, which brings a lot of natural light into the building, another feature of older buildings. In those days, the more natural light you could get into the space, the better. It’s a major part of this building today in terms of both functionality and design.
We don’t build buildings like that anymore – it’s expensive to build like that. Most would say you’re wasting available floor area and building more walls, but the payoff is creating a beautiful space.
What’s Old and What’s New
What’s interesting is there aren’t too many clues between what is old and what is new. One giveaway is the old building was put together with rivets and the new one is put together with bolts. Unless you are in the industry, it’s unlikely you’ll pick up on that.
The other giveaway is the two columns right next to each other through the main level, which might seem a bit odd.
What was your favourite part about the project?
I vividly remember going into the building for the first time during the RFP phase when we were bidding on it. There were dead birds, holes in the floor, some of the old hotel rooms were still upstairs and not nice places to be.
My favourite, or at least the most rewarding, part of the project is having that memory of the building and going into the building now and knowing what went into the transformation. It truly isn’t the same place at all.
I’ve worked on a few heritage projects like this and seeing these old buildings get transformed into something entirely new is incredible. You would never build something like this today and being able to reinvigorate them into a space that people inherently love to be in is very rewarding.
Any final thoughts?
This is a project that I’m proud to be involved in. I still remember it very fondly and am proud that it makes a significant mark.
The St. Louis Hotel often ends up in the shots of the New Central Library – another Entuitive project that gets a lot of play. It’s neat to see it share the spotlight.
Thanks for chatting with us today. It’s been fascinating learning a bit more about the history and little quirks between old and new in the current building.
If you want to discuss this project in more detail, you can reach out to Nick here.