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Council designates Whitney Block as Municipal Historic Resource

Lethbridge City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to designate a new Municipal Historic Resource.

The three-storey Whitney Block, located at 411 3 Avenue South, is a square, brick commercial building located close to Galt Gardens in the downtown core – and now becomes the 30th Municipal Historic Resource in Lethbridge.

After the new owner applied for historic designation, the Historic Places Advisory Committee worked with the owner on a mutually agreeable Statement of Significance, which sets out the heritage value of the property. Following the required 60-day waiting period, Bylaw 6425 returned to City Council for second and third reading, which were carried on Tuesday.

“The Whitney Block’s rich commercial history attests to the continued commercial viability of the building given its key location in the downtown area, its large capacity, and its attractive design,” says Ross Kilgour, Senior Community Planner. “We are pleased that Council has approved this designation and are also thrilled that the owner is working on bringing new life to this important building.”

The Whitney Block was built in 1907 by David J. Whitney, a rancher and owner of the Ideal Farm. His brother, Frank Whitney, operated Whitney Real Estate from the Whitney building and resided there. The building was designed by Medicine Hat architect William T. Williams. Originally, it had a sign on the top parapet which read “Whitney Block.”

Constructed during a period of commercial and residential expansion, the Whitney Block is significant for its associations with the commercial development of Lethbridge. It fulfilled local demand for office space for the growing and diversifying service economy in the early 20th century.

During its time, the building – which was originally freestanding but now has another building attached – has housed hotels, a restaurant, a residence, an upholstery shop, O’Riley’s Irish Pub, and one of the first queer theatres known variously as Bordello, Club Didi’s and Theatre Outré. The Whitney Block was last home to The Owl, before they moved east to a different location on 3 Avenue.

The character-defining elements for the Whitney Block include: the prominent cornice on the third storey; the original materials, including the brick detailing on the front/south façade and the brick pilasters on the second and third storeys; the pattern of fenestration on the second and third storeys on the front/south façade, including original sandstone and brick window surrounds; and the cornice and brass/metal frieze on the first storey of the front/south façade.

Lethbridge’s heritage program was established in 2007 with the adoption of the Heritage Management Plan, which was then updated in 2023. Designation of Municipal Historic Resources allows the City to ensure the protection of Lethbridge’s historic places for the appreciation of future generations.

There is no financial cost to the Municipality because of designation. A plaque would be paid for out of Historic Places Advisory Committee’s existing budget.

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