Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Portage at Carlton: Window Park

Window Park

Place: Window Park
Address: Portage Avenue at Carlton Street
Opened: June 7, 1985
Cost: $537,000
Architects: Stechesen Katz, Lombard North (Landscape Architects)

This park was a project of the Core Area Initiative (CAI) which  was very active in the demolition and redevelopment of the north side of Portage Avenue throughout the 1980s. Its projects, some under the name of its North Portage Development Corporation, included the expansion of and new housing around Central Park, Place Promenade apartments and Portage Place Mall

In September 1981 Air Canada announced the construction of a new Air Canada Data Centre at Ellice and Carlton that would bring between 700 and 900 jobs to the downtown. The adjacent park was part of the project at a cost of $537,000 split between the CAI ($400,000), Air Canada ($95,000) and the City of Winnipeg $142,000.


Circa 1977. Source: Winnipeg Tribune Archives

In spring 1982 the province began expropriating the properties on the park site. They consisted of a low-rise apartment block which housed Long John Silver's Arcade on the main floor and two smaller retail stores. The former NEFCO Building and former Bank of Commerce at the east end of the block remained standing. (Later, the owner of the former NEFCO building claimed that he and the CAI tried to negotiate the purchase of the building but they could not reach agreement on the price - the CAI denied that they wanted it.)


October 4, 1984, Winnipeg Free Press

Work on the park, originally called "Window on Air Canada" and later shorted to "Window Park", got underway 1984 with Len Stechesen of Stechesen Katz Architects and Jim Taylor of the landscape architect consortium Lombard North as the leads. 

There was support for the park. The idea of a downtown oasis in which office workers could grab some food and relax under the sun next to a fountain had great appeal. Some proponents thought it was too rushed to build the park prior to knowing exactly what would go on the land around it, (Portage Place had not been finalized yet).


Around Downtown


The centrepiece of the park is a fountain surrounded on the east by a pergola topped in pink tile, (now faded to grey.) The sliver of pink was considered a good contrast to the blue facade of the Air Canada Building. Raised concrete and grassed areas provide seating for visitors. The grounds are also home to a number of shards from demolished downtown buildings, (see below for a list.)

The park opened on June 7, 1985. Organizers emphasized the splash of pink tile by serving pink lemonade, wearing pink ties and giving out pink carnations, (which led to the nickname "Pink Park", which lasted for many years.) 

Matt Kiernan, assistant general manager of Core Area Initiative said at the opening ceremony that the park was:


"...an example of the kind of project that can achieve more than one objective ... a good example of what can happen when three levels of government get together." 
June 17, 1985, Winnipeg Free Press


Window Park

The park's design wasn't without criticism, however. An August 20 1985 Winnipeg Free Press editorial said:


"Vandals clothed with public authority have demolished a Portage Avenue building, closed a public lane, barricaded the lane with concrete fortifications and cluttered the lot with scraps of construction debris collected ... from around the city. They call it Window Park. The people of Winnipeg have other names for it. It is the kind of window that would be much improved by having a brick put through it."

Artist Tony Tascona said "I despise it. It looks like some architect wanted to play artist."


339 Portage Ave's west wall: 1980s (source); 2011 (source)

One unrealized aspect of the park was that the east border, along the brick wall of the former NEFCO building, was to be lined with an awning and power outlets to allow for food and retail vendors but that did not happen. In the 1990s new owners of that building renovated and installed hundreds of windows and a new building entrance off of the park.

These are the shards from demolished buildings that are located in the park:

Window Park
Limestone columns: Northern Crown Bank Building 
Portage and Maryland, 1908 - 1983.

Around Downtown
Cast-iron column: McIntyre Block 
Main Street, 1899 - 1979.

Window Park
Limestone pots: Devon Court Apartments 
Broadway, 1909 - 1981.

Related:
Air Canada Park Winnipeg Building Index

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