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An enduring Alberta icon: Lacombe’s flatiron building

LACOMBE, Alta. — The distinctive flatiron building in Lacombe, Alta., has been a presence in the community for more than a century.

Built by the Merchants Bank of Canada in 1903-04 for $30,000, the landmark sits on a prominent corner of a triangular shaped block in the city’s downtown. Such dominant architecture was preferred by financial institutions of the time to convey a sense of power, security and reliability.

The name is derived from its resemblance to an old, cast-iron clothes iron.

“The triangular shaped block was the result of the merging of two sets of surveys,” said Edmonton architect David Murray, who was hired in 2002 to replicate the original exterior brick and sandstone details.

He said that early streets and businesses in Lacombe were built parallel to the existing railway, but the grid system used during the Dominion Land Surveys throughout the West intersected these, creating the uncommon triangular block.

Lacombe’s flatiron was built in the design of the 1902 Fuller Building in New York, considered to be the prototype for buildings situated on triangular lots.

“Architects saw this as a wonderful opportunity to create these unique buildings,” Murray said.

The building is Edwardian classical and evolved from the Beaux Arts style that was popular in public buildings in Canada in the late 19th to early 20th centuries.

Beaux Arts architecture features sculptural decoration employing French and Italian Baroque and Rococo design.

Details seen in Lacombe’s flatiron, designed by Montreal architects Morley Hogle and Huntly Davis, include the flat roof rimmed with layers of denticulated cornice detailing, a grand entrance with scalloped hood, arched windows, ornamental pillars and horizontal relief bands.

Inside are hardwood floors, portions of the original banking hall and giant columns that run through the upper two stories.

The building was occupied by the Merchants Bank of Canada until it was purchased in 1922 by the Bank of Montreal, which used it until 1967.

After that, it was occupied by many businesses, including a law office, medical offices, a rooming house, photography studio and antiques shop.

Designated as a provincial historic resource in 1990, it was purchased by private citizens in 2001 and restored in 2002, with PJB Design Consultants of Lacombe completing the interior renovations.

PJB owner Peter Bouwsema sits on Lacombe’s Heritage Resources Committee and is a city councillor.

“Renovating is more of a sustainable practice rather than tear down and start over,” he said.

“The flatiron building is the icon of Lacombe.”

Today, the main floor and basement are home to the Flatiron Museum and Interpretive Centre. A corporate office and rental suite occupy the top two floors.

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