Virtual Exhibit

Lacombe Flatiron Building

Through the Years

A Long Standing Statement of Lacombe’s History…

Lacombe’s Flatiron Building was designed by architects Morley Hogle and Huntley Ward Davis and constructed in 1903. The Flatiron Building was then occupied by the Merchant’s Bank of Canada in 1904. The style of the building was well-suited to a bank. The tall, grand architecture brought to mind ideas of strength and security, themes that a bank would wish to exude. The Merchant’s Bank occupied the Flatiron Building until 1922 when the space was purchased by the Bank of Montreal, which operated from this location from 1922 until 1967. In 2001, the building was privately purchased and major renovations were undertaken, with updates coming to completion in 2003. Lacombe Tourism then occupied the Flatiron Building. The building is now home to Lacombe Museums as of 2022. Both the building’s unique architectural style and its association with two financial institutions set the Flatiron Building apart.

A Timeline of the Flatiron Building

The data in the timeline is based on research found in the Lacombe & District Historical Society/Lacombe Museum records. Please send any corrections to [email protected]

The Flatiron Style

In the heart of Lacombe, the Flatiron Building is a prominent example of architectural distinction. Its roots trace back to the turn of the 20th century, a time when the Edwardian Classical Revival style was all the rage, and buildings were more than structures—they were statements of innovation.

Picture this: the year is 1904 in Lacombe, and the Flatiron Building emerges as a bold endeavor that costs a pretty penny—$30,000. This investment created a landmark that would shape the fledging communities skyline. The choice of the Edwardian Classical Revival style wasn’t just a whim; it was a deliberate nod to values of grace and sophistication in design. The building’s triangular form stands as a probable homage to the iconic Fuller Building in New York completed just two years prior. The shape, reminiscent of a household flat iron, captures attention and sets the stage for what lies within.

What truly makes a Flatiron Building a captivating sight is its role as a representative of a larger architectural trend. It’s not just a solitary structure; it’s part of a family of flatiron buildings dotting the North American landscape. From New York to Lacombe, these buildings shared a common language of design celebrating both form and function.

Imagine early 20th-century Lacombe as you stand before the Flatiron Building. Picture the vibrant life that once flowed through the front doors as the town’s residents bustled about, businesses thriving. Take a moment to soak in the history and intrigue that the Flatiron Building exudes as you appreciate the artistry that shaped its enduring presence in the heart of Lacombe.

Morley Hogle & Huntley Ward Davis

At the heart of the Flatiron Building’s design lie the creative minds of two architects, Morley Hogle and Huntley Ward Davis. Their collaboration forged an architectural legacy that continues to grace the streets of Lacombe, a testament to their partnership.

Morley Hogle’s formative years were steeped in the artistic ambiance of Montreal, a city that would become a source of inspiration for his architectural designs. It was here that Hogle honed his skills. His tenure with the office of Taylor & Gordon after 1897 marked the beginning of his professional journey, paving the way for a promising future.

The intersection of Hogle’s path with that of Huntley Ward Davis marked the beginning of a dynamic collaboration. Davis, much like Hogle, was a young architect with a fervent passion for design. As destiny would have it, their association flourished, and a partnership was forged.

A defining chapter in their partnership unfolded through their work for the Merchant’s Bank of Canada. With branches stretching from the western expanse of Alberta to the eastern reaches of Quebec, their designs became a cornerstone of the bank’s physical presence. A distinctive hallmark of their architectural approach was the embrace of the Beaux-Arts style, a mode of expression drawing inspiration from classical Greek and Roman architecture. This aesthetic infused their creations with a sense of grandeur, suited to the aspirations of the era.

Their shared tenure under the tutelage of Taylor & Gordon served as a catalyst for the refinement of their architectural skills. The teachings and influences gleaned from their mentors contributed to the signature that would characterize their joint ventures.

Morley Hogle’s journey was cut short in January 1920, when he died of pneumonia at the age of 50. However, his indelible contributions and architectural prowess continue to echo through the buildings he helped shape. Huntley Ward Davis continued in his craft for another two decades. The Flatiron Building stands not only as a testament to their collective skill, but also as a beacon of continuity.

A listing of Canadian buildings designed by Taylor, Davis & Hogle, and  Davis & Hogle can be found here.

Lacombe’s first bank, the old Merchant’s Bank of Canada, opened for business on February 28, 1901. Arrangements had been made to rent a room in the school, but when bank employees arrived, the room was not ready. In order to open on the date advertised, a room was rented at the Victoria Hotel from which business was conducted for 10 days. In 1904, the bank moved to its new headquarters, the three-story brick building still situated at the west corner of the “flatiron” block.

Lacombe First Century, p. 18

No Building Taller

Upon the completion of the Flatiron Building, a stipulation was etched into the City’s Land Use Bylaw, shaping the skyline enveloping the Flatiron Building. The decree required that no building within a radius of 100 meters from the Flatiron Building could rise above its height by more than 10 meters.

Take a moment to stroll along the Flatiron Block, and a distinctive sight will unfold before your eyes: multiple structures, none rivaling the height of the Flatiron Building itself. This regulation, born from a desire to preserve the Flatiron Building’s prominence, paints a portrait of urban planning.

In the early 20th century, when the Flatiron Building was conceived with the precise intent of housing a bank, the principles of design were linked to conveying a sense of trust, solidity, and reassurance. The rule served as a proclamation of these values. As you view the Flatiron Building, its towering form evokes a sense of strength and security. Such attributes were more than aesthetics; they were coveted traits, essential for an establishment entrusted with safeguarding financial assets.

Picture the streets of a former era, where the Flatiron Building stood as a statement of stability amidst the ebb and flow of daily life. Its imposing stature not only caught the eye, but also instilled a sense of confidence within those who passed.

The height restriction encapsulates the essence of an era, a time when buildings spoke a silent language, conveying messages with their presence alone.

Did You Know

Despite their appearance, all buildings in the block are completely independent from their neighbours. If you look at the following photos, it is clear to see where the Flatiron Building ends and its closest neighbour, the Union Bank, begins.

Our Flatiron Through the Years

It feels as if the Flatiron has always been overlooking our community. Enjoy this selection of images from our Archives showcasing the Lacombe Flatiron Building over the decades.

The button in the top left of the map window, to the left of “Flatiron Buildings” will open a list of locations that are available to explore. Clicking on a building in the list will highlight its location on the map. You may need to zoom in on Lacombe with the buttons on the map, or your mouse, before you explore.

The Flatiron Style Trend

Across the globe, examples of the Flatiron Building style can be seen utilized to inspire visions of strength when associated with certain regions, organizations, and ideals. Beyond Lacombe, there are many examples of this architecture being used in different contexts across cultures. This trend emerged particularly in the Edwardian era, peaking in popularity from the 1900s-1910s.

Across Canada

Stretching across the diverse Canadian landscape, six unique flatiron buildings emerge from British Columbia to Quebec. These structures, with construction spanning from the late 1800s to as recent as 1988, offer a remarkable window into Canadian architectural history.

Each flatiron building unveils a tale of design and the evolving tastes of the times. Consider the spectrum of construction dates, spanning nearly a century. This breadth speaks volumes about the longevity of the flatiron design. The late 1800s ushered in the first whispers of this trend, while 1988 brought the final flourish—an affirmation that even in a modern age, the allure of the flatiron design endures.

The undeniable link between these buildings lies in their triangular design. This shared preference is evidence of the interconnectedness of architectural trends, changing tastes, and influences reaching far beyond Canadian shores. The existence of these triangular blocks is evidence of the interplay of global currents and local creativity. The flatiron buildings tell a story of an era that embraced new forms, challenged conventions, and created structures that were not just utilitarian, but emblematic of an evolving cultural identity.

Gibson Block, Edmonton AB – built 1913

9608 Jasper Avenue

In 1913, the four-storey Gibson Block building graced the urban landscape, spanning four city lots with a design for commercial use. Embodying the aspirations of its era, this building housed retail establishments on its ground floor while offering office spaces on its upper levels. Over time, the Gibson Block building has witnessed the evolution of Edmonton as a noteworthy Canadian city, its significance transforming in tandem with the city’s own journey.

Hotel Europe, Vancouver BC – built 1909

43 Powell Street

Having complimented Vancouver’s dynamic landscape since its construction in 1909, the Hotel Europe stands to a commanding six storeys. This iconic structure became a backdrop for films, hosting Legends of the Fall and Never Ending Story, to name a few. The beginnings of this architectural marvel were part of a 22-year undertaking led by Italian entrepreneur Angelo B. Calori, who entrusted architects Parr and Fee with the task of crafting its design. The Hemphill Brothers of Vancouver brought the vision into reality, resulting in a building that echoes the iconic silhouette of New York City’s Fuller Building. Hotel Europe has retained its essence, a living embodiment of history in brick and mortar. While its role as a hotel has shifted, the building embarked on a new chapter in 1983 when its spaces were transformed into affordable housing units, overseen by the Affordable Housing Society.

Gooderham Building, Toronto ON – built 1891

49 Wellington Street East

A prominent part of Toronto’s historically resonant St. Lawrence Market District, the Gooderham Building’s origins are intertwined with the narrative of one of Canada’s most illustrious families. Crafted by architect David Roberts Jr. and brought to life in the year 1891, this building emerges as a testament to both artistic vision and a family’s enduring legacy. The heartbeat of the Gooderham Building resonates with the name displayed on its façade—the Gooderham family, whose imprint on Toronto’s landscape was as profound as it was impactful.

As the founder of Gooderham and Wort’s Distillery in 1837, William Gooderham laid the foundation for prosperity. Stepping into the 1880s, William Gooderham’s son George was charged with stewarding his father’s legacy. Turning to the architect David Roberts Jr., George sought a collaboration that would bring about the Gooderham Building. This building would be a testament to the family’s legacy, with a price tag of $18,000, a considerable sum at the time. By the time of George’s passing in 1905, he was the wealthiest man in Ontario—a distinction reverberating through every detail adorning the building’s exterior.

The Gooderham Building today represents not just an architectural marvel, but an era when families carved legacies in stone.

Rodier Building, Montreal QC – built 1875

914 Notre-Dame Street West

In the vibrant history of Montreal, the Rodier Building emerges as a captivating chapter. In 1875, Charles-Seraphin Rodier Jr., nephew of Montreal’s mayor, Charles-Seraphin Rodier, brought this architectural marvel into existence.

Charles-Seraphin Rodier Jr. played a multifaceted role in shaping the city’s narrative. Notably, Rodier’s contributions transcended mere architectural feats; his role as a city councilor and senator underscored his commitment to public service. As a co-founder of the Banque Jacques-Cartier, he steered the institution’s course, solidifying its place as a cornerstone of the city’s economic vitality. A testament to his influence, the Rodier Building stands not only as a structural triumph but also as a physical embodiment of his far-reaching impact. As a statesman, financier, and visionary, Charles-Seraphin Rodier Jr.’s legacy resonates through the halls of the Rodier Building.

Features of Lacombe’s Flatiron Building

Much like its counterparts across the nation, the Flatiron Building in Lacombe offers a window into the design sensibilities that shaped the early 20th century. The Edwardian Revivalist style held sway as a favored aesthetic choice in the realm of architectural design during this era. The influences of Edwardian influence are woven into every facet of the Flatiron Building’s design.

This structure, a hallmark of the Edwardian spirit, reflects the era’s penchant for fusing materials. Approaching the Flatiron Building, your gaze is drawn to the blend of materials. Brick and sandstone meld together, showcasing the craftsmanship of a former era. The contrasting textures of sandstone and brick evoke a sense of opulence.

The building’s height amplifies its narrow front, drawing your eyes upwards to appreciate the intricate details adorning its exterior. The ornate oyster hood gracefully poised above the front doors is the crowning jewel, epitomizing the Edwardian Revivalist style. Look up, and you’ll see the stone window frames. Each frame is a statement of the care and attention to detail defining this era, a nod to an age when even the most utilitarian elements were given a touch of artistic flair.

The Flatiron Building in Lacombe, with its Edwardian Revivalist style, beckons you to step into the shoes of those who first witnessed it. It invites you to see beyond its walls and glimpse the aspirations and dreams that created it.

Surviving Fire

A New Age of Stone

In the early years of Lacombe’s Flatiron block, buildings were mainly constructed from wood, a common material at that time. Only a small number of buildings in the downtown area were made from brick, which was considered more durable. The Flatiron Building stood out because it was built using both brick and sandstone, making it stronger and more resistant to fires. This choice of materials turned out to be significant, as the Flatiron Building managed to survive the fires that swept through Lacombe.

In 1906, a major fire engulfed the Flatiron block, destroying many of the surrounding buildings. Interestingly, the Flatiron Building was the only one left standing on the block after the fire. This event highlighted the building’s robust construction. The Flatiron Building’s survival indicated a shift in building practices.

The Flatiron Building played a role in marking a period of change in Lacombe’s downtown core. Its durability and survival through fire showcased the advantages of using brick and stone materials over wood. This event likely influenced the decision to move towards constructing more buildings using sturdier materials. Thus, the Flatiron Building serves as a tangible reminder of the shift from predominantly wooden structures to resilient brick and stone buildings in Lacombe’s evolving architectural landscape.

Bank Managers

For the bank within the Flatiron Building to function effectively, the presence of dedicated bank managers was essential. These managers held the responsibility of overseeing the day-to-day operations and ensuring the seamless functioning of the bank. During the initial years of banking activities conducted at the Flatiron Building, the role of bank managers extended beyond oversight. They played a pivotal role in connecting local farmers with their markets and addressing the financial requirements of the community.

Across the timeline of the Flatiron Building’s banking tenure, an array of bank managers assumed the mantle. Occupied by various banks over time, including the Merchant’s Bank of Canada and the Bank of Montreal, the Flatiron Building became a hub of financial activity under the watchful eye of the managers.

In a time before the digital age, communication was a blend of personal interaction and local announcements. Lacombe’s residents and farmers were kept informed through postings in the newspaper, a mode through which the bank’s services were broadcasted. These announcements offered insights into the offerings of the bank and provided a direct line of communication to the bank manager. Questions, concerns, and inquiries were met with an open door and a willing ear, as bank managers readily engaged with clients to address their needs and provide clarity.

Arthur Belcher, Bank Manager

Arthur Belcher emerges as a prominent figure in the history of the Flatiron Building, serving as a bank manager from around 1911 to 1934. His journey began as a junior at the Merchant’s Bank, where he embarked on a trajectory that would see him rise to the role of manager. This transition carried over even as the Merchant’s Bank was purchased by the Bank of Montreal in 1922.

Arthur Belcher’s professional life took him across Alberta’s cities, lending his expertise and guidance to various financial institutions. However, it was Lacombe that beckoned him back—a homecoming spanning eight years, solidifying his status as a rooted figure in the community.

Advertisement for the Merchant’s Bank of Canada in the Lacombe Globe.

Beyond banking, Arthur Belcher’s commitment to his community is evident. His involvement in a multitude of local institutions—including the Agricultural Society, the Board of Trade, the Golf Club, and the Curling Club—paints a portrait of an individual deeply ingrained in Lacombe’s civic life. Each role he undertook was a testament to his belief in active engagement and meaningful contributions.

As Arthur Belcher prepared to depart from Lacombe in 1934, an article in the Western Globe paid homage to his legacy. This farewell tribute underscored his profound impact, not just as a bank manager, but as a neighbor and engaged citizen. Through his endeavors, Arthur Belcher demonstrated that leadership extends beyond the confines of a title; it resides in the actions and the connections forged with the community.

E. W. McMullen, Bank Manager

While historical records offer only a fleeting glimpse into the life of one of the earliest bank managers, E. W. McMullen, a fragment from the archives of the Western Globe in 1934 provides a clue to his role. This brief snippet reveals that McMullen held the position of manager at the Merchant Bank during the span of 1906 to 1907.

Following his tenure in Lacombe’s banking scene, E. W. McMullen embarked on a westward journey, settling in the coastal city of Victoria, British Columbia. This relocation added a chapter to his story, as he navigated new horizons, perhaps embracing fresh opportunities and experiences.

However, the call of Lacombe proved strong, as evidenced by his visit in 1934. This homecoming, marked by the desire to “renew acquaintances,” hints at the enduring bonds that tied McMullen to the town and its inhabitants.

H. G. Morison

Bank Manager, 1915-1922

H. G. Morison’s journey began with the Merchant’s Bank in 1915, a pivotal year marked by both personal and global shifts. He ascended the ranks, eventually earning the title of manager—a role he maintained through the transition to the Bank of Montreal.

Amid the uncertain backdrop of World War I, H. G. Morison embraced a role of significance. Chairing the local Royal Airforce Committee, he utilized the Western Globe as a conduit to rally the community, informing Lacombe of the urgent need for mechanics and recruits during a time of global upheaval.

Amidst the clamor of war, Morison’s connection with the local farming community remained unwavering. Recognizing the pivotal role of agriculture in the region, he cultivated bonds with local farmers, as their endeavors were intricately linked with the services offered by the bank. Morison partook in cattle sales, a vital component of the local economy. The interlude of the war years saw these activities ceased from 1914 to 1918, a period marked by the global conflict. With the dawning of peace in 1919, Morison’s engagement in cattle sales resumed, showcasing his commitment to fostering community resilience.

The Flatiron Building in the 21st Century

A new era for Lacombe’s icon

In the year 2001, a new chapter began in the story of the Flatiron Building—one marked by a shift from public ownership to private hands, and a journey of renovations. This undertaking commenced in the year of acquisition, embarking on a process of restoration that breathed new life into the structure. An era of renewal emerged, culminating in the resplendent Flatiron Building that graces our present.

The Flatiron Building we know today is a harmonious amalgamation of heritage and modern utility. Within its historic walls, the Lacombe and District Historical Society (LDHS) has found a home. The building’s three levels now house the LDHS’s archival treasures, with a basement museum archive, a gallery space on the main floor, and an office/research room on the third floor.

The Flatiron Building’s outward façade remains a faithful tribute to the era of its birth, a tangible link to the architectural values of a past era. The mingling of original sandstone and brick masonry encapsulates the spirit of the early 20th century, a testament to the timeless strength that has weathered the passage of time.

Step within, and the narrative shifts—a transformation from the building’s earlier existence as a hub for banking transactions to a hub of historical exploration and community engagement.

A New Location for Lacombe Museums

In the year 2022, the Flatiron Building opened its doors to a new chapter of significance. The Lacombe and District Historical Society (LDHS) and Lacombe Museums ushered in an era of transformation. With this change came a rejuvenated mission for the building to serve as a resource for local history.

Within the walls of the Flatiron Building, local exhibition, research, and archival storage found a home. As an abode for local history, the Flatiron Building assumed a pivotal role, offering a space for visitors to explore the town’s history. Beyond its role as a repository of artifacts, the Flatiron Building emerges as a space for storytelling—where the lives of local residents, the architects of Lacombe’s identity, come to life.

The Flatiron Building, now under the stewardship of the LDHS, has earned its place as an emblem of heritage, as well as a cornerstone of memory and community connection. A visit to the Flatiron Building grants entry to a world where history is lovingly preserved, and echoes of the past resonate with the aspirations of the future.

The Flatiron Building stands tall in a triad of heritage resources—the Michener House Museum and the Blacksmith Shop—that capture the essence of Lacombe’s narrative. As it stands today, open year-round to curious minds and history enthusiasts, the Flatiron Building joins hands with its counterparts, inviting us to journey into the heart of a community’s history and find our place within its enduring story.

In a short video featured on Lacombe Online, Executive Director Melissa Blunden outlines LDHS’ aspirations and strategies for the Flatiron Building’s utilization. Significant developments have unfolded since its inception, encompassing the creation of a research room, revitalized basement archives, and an immersive gallery space on the main floor.

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