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Oliver Block designated as Municipal Historic Resource

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

The two-story Oliver Block, located at 316 5 Street South, will become the latest addition to the City of Lethbridge's Heritage Register. The Oliver Block is one of the early symbols of economic prosperity and showcases some of the most interesting painted brick detailing in the downtown area. The building was purchased in 2017, saved from demolition and extensively restored by current owner Hunter Heggie.

"The Oliver Block is significant for its association with early commercial development in Lethbridge and for its design," said Ross Kilgour, Senior Community Planner. "It is one of the finest buildings remaining from the early 1900s in our city and today's approval will ensure it will continue its storied history."

The Oliver Block was constructed in 1900, as Lethbridge was growing into a commercial hub in southern Alberta. The block replaced a two-story wood-framed structure that had been used as a theatre for moving pictures and traveling shows. The block was built in two phases so that the owner, William Oliver, a prominent early citizen and then Lethbridge Mayor from 1901-1904, could continue to operate his business during construction. The new Oliver Block was rented to various business interests, which included a billiards hall in the basement in 1914, the Bank of Toronto on the ground floor from 1913-1915, White Lunch and Stokes Drug Store.

City of Lethbridge fire bylaws passed in 1891 limited the types of materials allowed in construction in the commercial district and lead to the construction of many brick and stone buildings, including the brick Oliver Block. The odd rhythm of the bays and upper floor windows reveals that the Oliver building is actually composed of two distinct original buildings, one with a later addition, with a uniform brick façade. Readily available brick from local brickyards meant that decorative details such as the pilasters and corbelled brick entablature were much easier to incorporate into the building's design.

The character-defining elements include: its flat roof; the odd rhythm of the four bays and uniquely-sized windows for each; its five square brick pilasters with decorative projecting corbelled rectangular brickwork on the second story; the brick parapet with a brick inscription that reads "OLIVER"; painted wall signage on the side of the building including "STOKES DRUG CO"; "THE KODAK STORE" ghost sign on the northernmost brick pilaster at main floor level; and the six skylights on the flat roof, which provide natural light into the interior corridor spaces.

The Heart of Our City Housing Incentive Program (HOCHIP) also provided $30,000 per unit for three residential units at the Oliver. See a 30-second video from 2020 here.

Lethbridge's heritage program was established in 2007 with the adoption of the Heritage Management Plan. The Historic Places Advisory Committee was created by City Council to provide advice regarding the potential of a site for designation as a Municipal Historic Resource. Since 2007, City Council have designated 28 historic places within Lethbridge as Municipal Historic Resources. More information here.

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