The Hecla Block: Beauty and Character
Restoration gives new life to a formerly burned-out hulk.
The historic Hecla Block (10141 – 95th Street) sat empty and derelict for most of the 1990s. First, the Edmonton Board of Health declared the building unfit for habitation, and then a fire virtually gutted the interior.
“It was a burnt-out hulk, really terrible,” says Frank Bowen, a commercial real estate appraiser who restored the building. “Just the four walls remained.”
Frank says, “The building needed to be saved, but I didn’t know if I could do it. It was a very difficult job.” The re-construction involved a new roof, new windows, new interiors, and more.
The fully restored 14-suite condominium opened in 2002. Its features include units of varying sizes with open brick exterior walls, hardwood floors, and a lot of light coming in from the large windows. Most of the units are designed as loft spaces with only the bathrooms enclosed.
Frank’s son Jeffrey Bowen has lived in the Hecla Block since 2011. Jeffrey especially likes the large, open, roof-top communal area, which is equipped with barbecues and patio features. The roof has a panoramic view of McNally High School, Alex Taylor School, the Riverdale community, and downtown Edmonton.
Jeffrey, who describes the building as “a special place,” also likes its location, close to the River Valley and downtown. “I have no issues with the neighbourhood,” he says, referring to the perceptions some Edmontonians have about Boyle Street.
“My dad saw the beauty and historical value of the Hecla,” Jeffrey says. “The area might not have been super-desirable then, but he saw the potential. Since the building first went on the market, there have been many positive developments nearby.”
The Edwardian-style, L-shaped, three-storey Hecla Block was constructed in 1914 during Edmonton’s pre-World War I boom. Most of the original residents were workers. This was unique in that other hotel apartments of this era, such as La Boheme and the Arlington, were designed to attract entrepreneurs and professionals.
The Hecla Block was designated a Municipal Historic Resource in 1999.
The Name “Hecla”
John Johnson, the building’s original owner and developer, was from Iceland. He named the Hecla Block after Mount Hecla, Iceland’s largest and most famous volcano. The name “Hecla” occurs in many places in North America where Icelandic immigrants settled – for example, Hecla-Grindstone Provincial Park in Manitoba, a strait and bay in Nunavut, and several towns in the United States.
Frank Bowen says, “Always these spots were a beautiful sanctuary or higher place that held special meaning as the reward at the end of a difficult journey, a place where you could be judged in life favourably.”
Perhaps he is talking about his own extraordinary efforts to save the Hecla Block.
Anita Jenkins is a retired writer and editor who lives in Boyle Street.