Saskatchewan·First Person

The dingy apartment of my 20s left an indelible mark on me

Everyone probably has that place they used to rent in their early 20s that stands out in their memory. You know the one. It’s where 90 per cent of your best stories happened.

Everyone has one of those places. It’s where 90% of your best stories happened

Sean Dunham, right, in his former apartment in Regina. Dunham says he thinks everyone has that one place that was the constant backdrop to their early 20s. (Jason Cawood)

This story was originally published on Nov. 5, 2021.

This First Person column was written by Sean Dunham, a performer and humourist in Regina.

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Everyone probably has that place they used to rent in their early 20s that stands out in their memory. 

You know the one. It's where 90 per cent of your best stories happened. It was the backdrop to every dramatic and funny moment, like Monica's purple apartment in Friends, or how New York was the fifth character in Sex And The City

Mine was the York Apartments at 1555 14th Ave. in Regina, right beside the General Hospital. The building was demolished last month. The removal felt quite sudden from my vantage point. I knew nothing of its intended tear down, having not lived there for a decade, but I still felt that I should have received a nice note or short text. 

I won't pretend I know anything about architectural safety — I thought a stud-finder was a dating app — but it was with a heavy heart that I saw that building go down. 

It was a pleasure to have a few short, formative years there. That building represented memories and friendships that are still so valuable to me. 

York Apartments was built in 1941. People used to say it was originally nurses' quarters. It's not hard to imagine a nurse-themed season of American Horror Story taking place there. 

York Apartments before it was demolished. (Google Earth)

It was U-shaped and covered in plain white stucco, with a Tim Burton-esque spiral staircase in the middle courtyard inspiring its most widely used moniker, Melrose Place. Unlike its glamourous 1990s TV California namesake, it did not have a sexy crystal blue pool in the courtyard. Instead, there was a sunken cement pad that trapped every piece of flying garbage within a two-block radius. The wind would then send the refuse swirling into the air. It honestly became sort of comforting to be greeted by that trash twister. 

Two of my closest friends moved into unit 224 in 2009. It was a two-bedroom, one-bathroom ground-floor apartment. I spent every waking moment there until I eventually moved in myself in 2010. At one memorable point, we had four people staying there, each paying a bank-breaking $160 a month in rent. 

It wasn't perfect. The radiators sounded like two brass instruments participating in Fight Club and would scald the thigh of any who dared approach from the wrong angle. The front door had a gap wide enough for the cat to escape. It was cause for celebration if the bathroom sink drained properly. Being so close to the General Hospital, we were no strangers to waking bolt upright early Sunday morning thanks to anti-abortion protesters, their mournful Hail Marys piercing our wine hangovers. 

Sean Sunham, left, during one of many fun nights in apartment 224 at York Apartments. (Jason Cawood)

The important thing was it was our space. We were free to live how we wanted, which was like slobs. 

It had a futon that was 85 per cent stain, and a mirror shard that simply lived on a stool instead of being hung. There was a hockey stick in the corner. No one played hockey. 

It had one of those couches that just suddenly appears in a 20-something's apartment, its origin unknown. Every stitch of firmness had long been coaxed out from years of dutiful butt-to-cushion work. It never quite looked correct unless someone had crashed on it, a Gatorade keeping a steady watch.

It was the kind of apartment that served as the hub of the friend group. You knew you could ring 224 and find someone to buzz you in, whether or not any of the people inside actually lived there. On any given Thursday, you could find people stacked like cordwood in the apartment, or lining the hallway blue with cigarette smoke, before we skidded in our fashionable and impractical footwear to nearby O'Hanlons for the Thursday night dance party. You would have been able to set a clock by it, if we'd had a clock. 

When we finally moved out of 224 for good in 2012, three of my former roommates and I got tattoos of a door with the number 224 inscribed. Those years made an indelible imprint on me, literally. 

Sean Dunham shows off the tattoo he got to commemorate apartment 224. (Victoria Bohay)

In recent years the once beautiful (some disagree on this fact) York building had begun to look its age. It had a permanent scaffolding skeleton in its sternum keeping it from collapsing in on itself. The white stucco was so cracked it looked like it was covered with Post-it notes. 

It seems silly to reminisce about a place where your version of groceries was a Cheeseburger Bite from 7-Eleven, but it represented an era my friends and I will never return to. The destruction of Melrose released so many touching memories (and potentially carcinogenic fumes). For that I am grateful. 

All that remained after the demolition of the York Apartments. (Sean Dunham)

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Sean Dunham is a performer, humourist and co-host of the radio show and podcast Spoiler Alert! He lives, works and plays on Treaty 4 lands.


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