Fans of rare art deco Edmonton building raise money to preserve its history

Fans of Edmonton’s Graphic Arts Building say they are disappointed the building will be demolished but excited about a new plan to preserve its architectural history.

Since fences were installed around the building at 9523 Jasper Avenue on Friday, Yasushi Ohki, executive director of the non-profit Green Violin Community Development Company, thinks demolition is imminent. 

He tried to save the building and submitted a proposal to the City of Edmonton last year to move it, salvage its parts and level the land, but he learned a few months ago that a demolition contract had already been awarded. 

Ohki’s next move is to have an architectural model made to preserve the building’s history. 

He launched a $16,000 crowdfunding campaign on ATB’s BoostR platform over the long weekend to fund the project, which Jeff Pelton will build and Edmonton Public Library’s downtown Stanley A. Milner branch has agreed to display.

“It’s going to be amazing to keep the memory of the building alive,” he told CBC News on Monday.

Encased in acrylic, the 1/64 scale model will sit on a concrete pedestal that contains a time capsule.

When demolition crews arrive, Ohki plans to ask if he can keep a few of the building’s features, including the side door. 

He said the library has agreed to display the model in the short term, but he hopes it will permanently live inside whatever building replaces it on Jasper Avenue. He expects a tower will eventually be built on the land.

According to a walking tour brochure published by the city and the province in 2004, a tinsmithing business in 1913 was the building’s earliest known occupant.

It received its art-deco exterior when it became a graphic arts and photography studio in the 1930s, Ohki said. 

“This was a time Edmonton was weathering through the Depression,” said architect Darrel Babuk, principal of Boreas Architecture & Civic Design.

“Art deco was an architectural style that was meant to liven people up, to bring up their spirits, and it certainly did that,” he said.

Though it is not designated as a municipal historic resource, Babuk said the Graphic Arts Building is significant because it is one of very few art deco structures left in the city.

Architect Darrel Babuk says the Graphic Arts Building is a rare example of art deco architecture in Edmonton. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Ohki said over the years, the building has been home to many businesses, punk rock bands, and from 1999 onwards, a tattoo parlour. The city bought the building in 2015.

Finding the doors open on one occasion, he looked inside and surveyed the old hardwood floors and caved-in roof.

“The interior is in quite bad shape, but you still get the feel of what it must have been like when the Graphic Arts Building was one of many buildings on that block and a hub of activity, excitement and entertainment,” he said. 

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