Adios to Edmonton's Spanish-style apartment block and the unique community it fostered

Residents of a Spanish Colonial Revival style building in downtown Edmonton were officially notified this week that it's time to move out to make way for a new residential and commercial complex.

El Mirador tenants evicted for upcoming demolition

Edmonton’s historic El Mirador to come down

1 year ago
Duration 1:14
Residents of the eye-catching El Mirador apartment building are bidding their historic home farewell as plans to demolish the site for a new development move forward.

Gatherings in the cherished courtyard of Edmonton's El Mirador Apartments are coming to an end after residents were told they have to move out by June 30.

The El Mirador is among the buildings being demolished at 108th Street and Jasper Avenue to make way for a commercial and residential development at the intersection's northeast corner.

With its white stucco walls, spiralling staircases and balconies, the wrecking ball won't just sweep away Edmonton's only known piece of Spanish Revival architecture. It will also demolish a unique building design that has fostered a sense of community for decades.

"A lot of the tenants became our roommates and the courtyard is our living room and our party room," said Charlie May, who has lived at El Mirador for the past 16 years.

"Every night after work, people would come out here and we'd all get together, sometimes 15, 20 people even, and we'd stay out till it got dark. Just chatting, having a few beers," he told CBC News this week.

"Sometimes when people move out, we'd have big going-away parties —and I mean big parties, lots of fun. The most amazing wedding that I'd ever attended took place here. And the porches were full of people. The courtyard was full of people." 

The interior is just as impressive, with its original glass doorknobs, old fireplaces and hardwood floors.

'It's a beautiful building and it had a real heart. But now that's gone," May said. "It's very, very sad."

Charlie May, a longtime resident of El Mirador, has years of fond memories of socializing in the complex's unique courtyard. (Jamie McCannel/CBC)

Community by design

According to the Edmonton Historical Board, the El Mirador was built in stages. Its core was a wood-framed house built in 1912 which in 1935 saw the addition of a 12-unit apartment building on the home's front. Another addition, in 1937, was a U-shaped building that created the building's distinctive courtyard.

El Mirador is not the kind of architecture typically found in Alberta, but rather is of a flavour more common in southern California, the historical board says on its website. 

Unlike some building courtyards that sit unused, the design of El Mirador means tenants have to walk through the courtyard to get to their apartments. 

El Mirador's courtyard has hosted many parties through the decades. (Charlie May)

News of the demolition has put a damper on residents' annual spring ritual of buying flowers and sprucing up the courtyard to usher in another summer of making memories.

Phillip Thomarat recalled years of parties and potlucks, Christmas dinners and Taco Tuesdays at the apartment that has been home for the past 18 years.

Former residents still turn up for festivities — and many are expected to attend the final going-away bash.

"It is kind of like living in a goldfish bowl because everybody's doors faces onto the courtyard," Thomarat said.

But that helped foster the sense of community spirit, he said.

"Neighbours have always helped out. We've always made lots of friends. It's just a great community." 

Heidi and Dan Roy were married in the iconic El Mirador courtyard. (Submitted by Charlie May)

The incoming project by Pangman Development Corporation will see a mid-rise building connecting 35- and 45-storey towers that stretch up into the skyline. It's a development that aims to revitalize the area with hundreds of rental and condominium units as well as street-level retail space. 

"We're getting ready to start construction this summer," Pangman told CBC on Thursday. "We wanted to give tenants at least 90 days to find a new home."

Thomarat is pretty sure he won't find another home like El Mirador.

"In Edmonton, we have a lot of beautiful new buildings but this is something totally unique that I think should have been kept if possible," said Thomarat.

"It's a really good design for keeping people together and creating a community." 

El Mirador's unique design means tenants have to walk through the shared courtyard to reach their apartments. (Charlie May)

With files from Jamie McCannel