Sunday, November 17, 2013

Riley Lodge: Our Story - The Beginning

As some of you are already aware, the Gothic Mansion was sold back in August - August 23rd, 2013 to be precise. At least one thinks  it was August 23rd, but since that piece of paperwork is packed away in a box, whereabouts unknown, it's impossible to check the accuracy of the statement. Anyway, it was near the end of August, and while the exact date is somewhat fuzzy, the memory of the tears shed that day on the drive back to Calgary from the Crappy Little Trailer to sign the paperwork is not.

Best. Realtor. Ever.

And now that the exhausting task of downsizing which we started way back in January is finally done, it seems as good a time as any to tell our story of Riley Lodge. And who knows, at some point in the distant future the offspring might actually be interested in how we kept ourselves occupied before their arrival. In the meantime, the new owners are interested right now.

Therefore, the insomniac  will try to recall as much as possible, bearing in mind this story started way back in 1986 and that was a VERY long time ago. Thank goodness she made copious notes and saved all the paperwork - she must have had a premonition her memory would become rather suspect as she got older.

It will be a fairly detailed account and, for that reason, quite boring. Even more boring than usual ...

It all began in October of 1986, when we learned the house located at 819 Crowchild Trail was available for relocation; the life-changing news relayed via phone by the insomniac's  Sainted Mother, who excitedly announced, “You know that house you used to go to kindergarten in? It's for sale! And it has to be moved!!” Since we were already looking to buy a new/old home, we started tossing around the idea of whether or not we could afford to take on a project of that magnitude (is this not all beginning to sound a little familiar?). 

After much waffling about, on November 13th (a very auspicious day, being the insomniac's  birthday), she finally sent a letter to the City of Calgary Municipal Heritage Properties Authority, indicating our interest in purchasing Riley Lodge. At that time, we had been through the house twice, once with Mr. John Coulson of the Land Department, and once with a general contractor, Mr. Herb Veckenstedt. In the letter, we included financial details showing that with the sale of our current house and some money we would borrow, we had the funds available to restore the house - as well as the necessary skills; the spouse at that time having had various careers as a cement finisher, roofer, cribber and carpenter, and the insomniac  having had much experience in office work and computer programming - because those are particularly handy skills to have when taking on the restoration of a very large and dilapidated house.

We also discussed with the Land Department a piece of property that was only three blocks away from Riley Lodge as a possible site to relocate the house to. We asked to lease the land from the City until the restoration was complete which would allow us to invest all our capital into the restoration, with an option to purchase the land once the major work was done.  

We laid out our plan of action to the City - first and foremost being to restore the structural condition of the house, including replacing the original wiring, plumbing and heating, adding insulation (other than a bit of horse hair and crumpled newspaper in the walls, there was none) and replacing the roof, which was leaking badly. We also included a detailed financial plan of the costs of restoration, as well as an estimated cost for moving the house.

Two weeks later, the City advised they were prepared to recommend our proposal to the Heritage Properties Authority at their December meeting. Later that month, the HPA asked that City Council grant us a three-month option and right of first refusal on the property we had chosen, on the condition a subsoil and slope stability report be done and the site proven safe to develop.

To set the record straight, the insomniac  would like to point out a few errors in the following newspaper article:

  1. The house was not designated a heritage property at that time.

  2. The insomniac  did not say Yipee. And if she had, it would have been spelled correctly. However, it seems more likely it was an unprintable expletive of excitement that was uttered.

  3. The relocation was not to 282-18th Avenue NW but rather 2821-8th Avenue NW.

  4. It was never said the house would be opened to the public at least one day per year. The exact wording in our letter stated, “We would also consider  making future arrangements with the City to open the house to the public.”

    However, once we started looking into that possibility and phrases such as Liability Insurance and Property Theft were mentioned on a pretty regular basis, we eventually dismissed the idea. Not that it prevents people from asking, even now, when the house is open to the public. Presumably so they can come in and case the joint have a good look around. 

Click to enlarge.

Once the subsoil and slope stability reports were complete and the land given the go-ahead for development, the relocation of Riley Lodge was added to City Council's agenda for January 26, 1987. The ward alderman asked Council to table the decision until he had an opportunity to meet with and further discuss the relocation with Parkdale community residents, who were opposed to having the house moved to the 8th Avenue location. The insomniac  attended the meeting with the community members and left in tears, convinced we would never obtain permission to relocate the house. The residents were not just opposed - they were hostile.

The relocation was again added to Council's agenda for February 16th, and again it was tabled. On March 2nd, another meeting was held with the Parkdale residents, who presented their case against the relocation while the insomniac  presented ours. The matter was approved by Council that afternoon, by a close vote of 8 to 6. On March 5th, we picked up the house key from Mr. Coulson. Finally, after months of uncertainty, she was ours.

Click to enlarge.

The following pictures were taken on January 1, 1987. From the insomniac's  notes of that day: “Photographed interior and exterior of house. Front door wide open - house broken into and a pickaxe left lying in the library. I brought it home!”

Pretty sure we still have that pickaxe around somewhere.

Probably out in the sea can ...







As you can tell, the insomniac's  photography skills haven't improved all that much over the years. If memory serves (and it probably doesn't) it was a bottom-of-the-line Yashica that produced these outstanding photos. Still, it did manage to capture the desolate look of the place, didn't it?

Next, the months of preparation to ready the house for the big move ...

IA


Postscript: The insomniac  would like to thank both Mr. Coulson and Mr. Anderson of the City of Calgary Land Department. If not for your efforts on our behalf, it's likely Riley Lodge would have become just one more historic building destined for the landfill, in a city renowned for bulldozing its history rather than preserving it ...

38 comments:

  1. That's one interesting story, Insomniac! Very brave, and courageous! Waiting for continuation - a big move!

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    1. Why thank you, Hindustanka! I don't know about courageous, though. Stubborn is probably a little more accurate of a description. ;o)

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  2. Wow, you certainly have a background of huge undertakings. I am glad you were able to save it. Maybe it is the fact that the Americas are so "new". Our architectural history is so often destroyed.

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    1. After Riley Lodge, the Little Gothic Cottage seems easy-peasy. But that's because we don't have to do any of the hard stuff this time!

      I'm glad we were able to save it too, Fran. And I'm extremely glad it didn't get bought by a developer and bulldozed to put up condos. When you see all the beautiful old buildings in Europe, it seems such a shame that we don't preserve things like that over here, doesn't it?

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  3. "The insomniac did not say Yipee. And if she had, it would have been spelled correctly." Laughing out loud!!! ;D

    I can just imagine how heart-rending it must be to say goodbye to the Gothic Mansion, even though you're moving on to something just as special. I hope the new owners appreciate their treasure! :)



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    1. Even way back then the newspapers obviously needed a better proofreader! ;o)

      It's definitely bittersweet, Little Gothic Horrors. I'm so excited about our new place, but I do have a very strong emotional attachment to this house. It does make it easier knowing that the next owners are also very excited about their new house though. :o)

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  4. That house is amazing, with an equally amazing story to go with it.
    Good luck with the move! :)

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    1. She is an amazing house and she does have a really good story - and with a Happy Ending, to boot!

      Thank you! :o)

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  5. This is fascinating Lyn! I'm agog to read Episode Two. Say, why were the residents against the Mansion being relocated? The word "nightmare" features in the newspaper clipping, but I put that down to journalistic hyperbole.

    Ali

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    1. Really? You find it fascinating? You're not just saying that to make me feel good? LOL

      You know, I've never really understood that myself, Ali. We heard rumours that people were worried we were just going to move it and never fix it up, or that it was going to become an abortion clinic like it was in the old days, or that we were going to open a hairdressing salon in it. Seriously.

      To this day, I still don't understand what all the fuss was about, but it got really nasty. I guess people just don't like change, especially when it's in their neighbourhood. ;o)

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  6. Oh my, you MOVED the whole thing?? That's insane, but somehow still not as unexpected coming from you as from someone else... :)

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    1. I know - it's mind-boggling isn't it, Ms. Misantropia? Wait until you see the pictures of the truck that moved it ... wow.

      Many voiced that exact same opinion - that we were crazy. ;o)

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  7. This is fascinating! I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the saga. I simply cannot imagine taking on such a HUGE project. It must have cost a fortune to move that place, let alone restore it.

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    1. Awww thanks, Debra She Who Seeks. It's nice to hear that you're enjoying reading about it! :o)

      Even though it was a huge project, we've never regretted it for a minute. We feel blessed to have been able to live in a house like this. And yeah, we quit counting how much we'd spent after reaching a certain number. Sometimes it's just better not to know. ;o)

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  8. I suspect that the Insomniac may be feeling a bit of melancholy now that she and the Gothic Mansion, aka Riley Lodge, will soon be parting ways. After living there for so long and building such a rich history how can one not pause to reflect? This is a fascinating story though, and I'm looking forward to Part 2.

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    1. She is, Nightwind. She is indeed. Just a few more weeks of reflection, and then she'll be ready to move on. :o)

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  9. How awesome of you!!! No wonder it was so hard to part with the house after all your history with it. I'm not sure I could have let it go, unless threatened with foreclosure. But from many things you've said, it sounds like you did the right thing each time, even in letting it go when it was time. ::HUGS::

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    1. Well, I don't know about awesome, Lucretia - but thanks! :D

      It is time and it does feel right ... no matter how many tears I may shed between now and possession date. ;o)

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  10. P.S. I believe it WAS the 23rd of August. You wrote me a letter that day and told me it had sold, and I still have the letter.

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    1. What a relief! Maybe my memory isn't as bad as I think it is! Hahahahaha.....

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  11. What the hell was the neighbors problem with the move? Just don't like general construction?

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    1. I really don't know, Tante. But it was crazy - I believe a few of the neighbours actually sold their house before we arrived, that's how opposed they were. :o)

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  12. wowsers, what a love story, can't wait fo the next installment,
    I hopefully named our house the Dream Palace,

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    1. You know, I've never thought of it that way before tess, but it is - it really is a love story, isn't it?

      The Dream Palace - I like the sounds of that. :o)

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  13. Wow, that's fascinating! I love when empty homes get the love and attention they deserve ... Riley Lodge was obviously waiting for you and Wayne to come along ;)

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    1. You've said before that you're a firm believer that houses choose their occupants ... and when they're ready for you to move on, it's a mutual decision. I've never forgotten those words, Michelle. And I believe you're right. :o)

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  14. Wonderful house rescue story! You did a tremendous work on this beautiful house. A few years ago, I lived in an apartment for only five months. During that time I was looking for a house for my new family. There is a house in my neighbourhood with a large octagonal tower (always wanted a house with a tower), that was given for free if you moved it away. I had serious plans about it, but in the state both me and Johan were in, we would probably not be able to do that heavy work, so I skipped it and still regret it. Now someone has bought the house on the spot were it still stands and renovates it, lucky guy.

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    1. Awww thanks, linnea-maria! Aren't towers wonderful? There must be something about them that reminds us of fairy tales or something, and that's why they're so attractive to us!

      That's the bad thing about restoration - if you aren't able to do the work yourself (and luckily we were), then it's so expensive to hire someone to do it for you. We'd never have been able to afford it if that had been the case for us. I bet you do regret it, but I always believe there's a reason for everything. Maybe your special house with a tower is still in your future! :o)

      P.S. I love my little Dark Sow. Thank you so much. ♥

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  15. How on earth do you move a house made of bricks? I can just about get my head around the idea of moving a wooden house, but anything heavier just boggles my mind! I can't wait to see the next installment!

    I'm so glad that you were able to save the house though! We disregard a lot of our 18th, 19th and early 20th century heritage in the UK too, so much gets lost because it's 'not old enough' to be special. I could rant all day...

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    1. Well, even though I didn't have to move it personally, I believe the company that did do all the work was a little apprehensive. But as we know, it had a happy ending. ;o)

      Seriously? I can't believe you knock things down over there! I thought you guys saved everything! At least you have some lovely REALLY old buildings though. We have so little left in Calgary now - all the really magnificent mansions are pretty well gone. And yes - I could rant all day, too. ;o)

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  16. Wow, it was in a really bad shape. And you did a great job restoring it! :)
    I'm sure it depends in what country you live, town etc, but holy moly, that was one expensive land lot! :D
    Could'nt help to get irritated by what the folks had to say about you moving the house to that spot... they liked the open space there? LoL. Nice argument. xD
    And this was not boring at all, looking forward to the next post!

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    1. You know, a person kind of forgets how bad it actually did look until she starts going through all the old pictures again! And if you think the $50,000 was expensive back then, you should know that a piece of land half that size in our neighbourhood now sells for around $700,000 - and then they knock the little house on it down and build a bigger one! It's crazy!

      Yeah, they weren't terribly nice to us in the beginning. And I don't have a terribly thick skin, so it really hurt my feelings. I may never forgive some of those people. Not that I think they care. ;o)

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  17. Everything you touch turns to gold.
    I am truly amazed by this story, and although you faced some hurdles... boy, what a legacy you left behind with that house!
    I'm very excited to read part 2 on how they moved the house from point A to B!

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    1. Awww thanks, Madame MM! Although I wouldn't say EVERYTHING turns to gold ...

      It does feel like a nice legacy, although there are always regrets - things we wish we could have done if we'd had a bigger budget. Still, we did the very best that we could. :o)

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  18. Even though you didn't really say it - I can't get a picture out of my mind with you clicking your heels in the hair and shouting "Yipee!" It kind of breaks my heart this won't be your house anymore...
    P.S I am IMPRESSED those clippings are at your fingertips after all that time.

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    1. Well, I WAS a lot younger ... I probably could have clicked my heels without wincing back then! ;o)

      The insomniac  may be a hoarder, Mme. Polaire - but she's an organized  hoarder. LOL

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  19. I have seen whole buildings being moved on TV, but to do it yourself must be horrendous.

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    1. It was a bit of a scary proposition, Alastair - after all, there were no guarantees it was going to work out in our favour! Still, in the end, it was worth every moment of terror! :D

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