News / Edmonton

Edmonton's El Mirador's future uncertain

Historic building at stake after new development announced.

A historic photo of the El Mirador

Supplied. City of Edmonton archives.

A historic photo of the El Mirador

When people talk about the El Mirador apartments they always mention the inner courtyard.

“It’s a sunny, beautiful place to be in,” says Chris Vander Hoek, a former resident and intern architect.

“The architecture is that pueblo, almost Mexican style with the terra cotta,” he says.

“When you walk into the courtyard you’re transported to a different place.”

The three-storey walk up on 108 Street was built in 1936, and has long occupied a unique spot in the city. But news broke this week there are plans to build residential towers on the site, though there’s been no decision about the El Mirador’s fate.

Kathryn Ivany, the city archivist, hopes they’re able to save it.

“Our downtown is not all that diverse, so it’s something different from all the high rise buildings or even some of the lofts that are left that have been repurposed.”

She says she recognizes that the proximity to downtown and a growing population means it’s much more cost effective to build high-density housing.

However, the value of historic buildings can be measured in other ways, she says, pointing to Whyte Avenue or 104 Street as areas that have drawn crowds in part because of their historic look.

When these buildings go, “we lose some of our spirit, and we lose our sense of place for people who have lived here longer than three years,” Ivany says.

She says that while Edmonton has one of the best heritage management programs in the country, it’s not a mandatory program and is reliant on the cooperation of developers.

She says tax incentives or a greater awareness of the intrinsic value of historic buildings would make keeping historic buildings more feasible.

“I think the other thing is that consumers of downtown have to express that there is a market,” she says, “that these are the buildings that they want.”

Vander Hoek hopes at least parts of the El Mirador remain because it works in a unique way.

“Edmonton really seems to be missing this really social, low-rise housing,” he says, noting it’s the rare building where a central communal space means you actually meet your neighbours.

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