. pryce-jones department store

 

1906

1117 1 Street SW

 

At one time, the largest department store in Calgary, this building was built to house the Pryce-Jones Department Store. Seen as a direct competition to the Hudson’s Bay Company, it forced the Bay to build a much larger downtown location. The building has managed to survive by continuously being repurposed to fit the needs of the 1st street area.

Building Design and Construction

Designed by Hodgson & Bates Architects, it was built quickly and lacks many of the details common to the era. For instance, sandstone capitals were not installed due to the expense of carving.

Despite lacking some details, the building retains the original continuous lintels and sills, as well as piers in a 'stacked slab pattern'. William Bates was the architect who designed the building. He also designed the Burns Building across from City Hall and many other prominent buildings of the pre-World War I era.

The Pryce Jones Department Store

Opened on Tuesday, February 14, 1911, on the northwest corner of 12th Avenue and First Street SW, the Pryce-Jones department store was billed as a "Metropolitan Store for the Metropolis of the Last West." Management invited customers to participate in the store's success. "We have a mission to fill in Calgary and we plan with your assistance to make this store second to none, not even the huge metropolitan stores of the East. We believe the sublime optimism which is fostered and thrives only on the fenceless prairies of the West will aid us in doing this. We want your co-operation and patronage; in return we will give you good service, reasonable prices and the finest goods the world produces."

Calgary's Pryce Jones department store was the Canadian branch of a famous mail-order house established in Newtown, Wales, around 1851. Rumours of the company's Calgary plans surfaced in June 1910, when Albert Pryce Jones, who was visiting from Wales and staying at the Braemar Lodge, bought property on First Street SW and commissioned the local architectural firm of Hodgson and Bates to draft plans for a store. Two months later, local contractor George H. Archibald and Company were at work constructing the three-storey (plus basement) reinforced-concrete-and-brick structure. The project proceeded quickly and by November the local newspaper profiled the building as it neared completion.

Special Features of the Store

The store, open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays until 9:30 p.m., featured street-level display windows, glass showcases, mirrored pillars, solid quartered oak counters and fittings, and electric tungsten lamps with shades of brushed brass.

Newspaper articles leading up to the grand opening described the layout of the store floor by floor:

• Basement: groceries, candies, Venetian cut glass, crockery, hardware, china, leather goods, and the mail-order department.

• Ground floor: silks, notions, laces, ribbons, hosiery, gloves, velvets, dress goods, tweeds, flannels, gents' furnishings, men's and boys' clothing, hats, caps, art, and needlework.
• First floor: corsets, children's and babies' wear, perambulators, ladies' white wear and dresses, household linens, curtains, house furnishings, blankets, and rugs.
• Top floor: carpets, linoleums, oil cloths, bedsteads, mattresses, pillows, carpet sweepers, general offices, dressmaking rooms, writing room, and the crowning glory, the Royal Welsh Tea Room, furnished in the Mission style, where an orchestra played daily from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and from 3:45 to 5:15 p.m.

With 100 employees, an established mail-order business and consumer goods of every description, Pryce Jones was a direct challenge to the Hudson's Bay Company. The Bay felt threatened. Less than a month after the Valentine's Day opening, the Bay bought property at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Second Street SW from Senator James Lougheed and, in 1912, started construction of a $1.5 million store to rival the upstart competition from the "old country."
Although a primary focus of Pryce Jones was the mail-order catalogue business, it was not a new concept to Calgarians who were familiar with the catalogues published by the Toronto based Eaton's Company since 1884. The index of the 176-page catalogue listed more than 307 items ranging from knitted flannelette underwear (75 cents), watch fobs ($1-$2.50), and hair barrettes (10 to 45 cents) to sheep-lined coats ($5-$8). Terms were strictly cash with the order; the prices quoted included delivery. "We guarantee every article you select to be absolutely as described, and if not satisfactory, you can return it at our expense and, we will, without question refund your money."

The first catalogue for Pryce-Jones Department Store

 

 

Pryce Jones Goes Under

Albert-Pryce-JonesThe managing director, Colonel A. W. Pryce Jones, left Calgary in the fall of 1916 when he volunteered for overseas front line service as the Commanding Officer of the 113th Lethbridge Highlanders. A. W. Pryce Jones’ own son had been killed while serving with the 50th Battalion earlier that year. Colonel Pryce Jones survived The Great War retiring from service in 1919 after, according to his military service file, being “struck of strength”.

The move ultimately doomed the store. With the new and improved Bay store and the loss of their managing director, the store did not survive and closed later in 1916.

The Senator saves it

Unlike the company, the building survived and, around 1924, Senator James Lougheed and Taylor Limited renovated the old department store that had become known as First Street's "eyesore." As the Traders' Building, it housed commercial and retail tenants. It became the home of such tenants as Garbutt's Business College and the Caldwell Knitting Company.

The Military Takes Over

The Federal Government bought the building in 1942 to serve as headquarters for Military District No. 13. It was renovated again in the late 1940s to accommodate federal government offices including local branches of the National Employment Service and the Income Tax Department, while retaining some military presence through the Calgary branch of Veteran’s Affairs.

The Building Returns to Civilian Life

In the 1960s-70s the area along 1st street began to become a major hub for live music and some of Calgary’s top music acts. Again the building reinvented itself. In 1974 it became the Refinery nightclub, where live acts included B.B. King, Jerry Doucette, and the Association.

In 1995, the building was retrofitted to accommodate condominiums and renamed the Manhattan Lofts. It contains 24 residential condominiums, and is one of the few true residential lofts in the city.

Written with the Assistance of the Calgary Military Museums 

 

. to offer comments, corrections, or improvements to this article, email us at:  heritage@beltline.caAn introductory letter inside the first Canadian Catalogue