Old building with old issues seeks a little TLC

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
November 26th, 2009

On the corner of 1st and Spokane in upper Rossland sits a tie to the city’s past that many people in town may not be familiar with. While bland-looking from the outside, the grey and beige two tone stucco seniors’ lodge contains a spectacular link to the folks who built this city over a century ago. For decades, the stucco facade has hidden a beautiful example of turn-of-the-century architecture and brickwork.

Still functioning actively as the Rossland Seniors Lodge #45, the building is showing its age and is in need of repair work to keep it functional. Les Anderson, a member of the lodge, came before council this past Monday night and aired his frustration with the city on their lack of service in addressing his issue and again repeated a request for assistance.

Anderson’s issue stems from the back third of the building, which is in need of repairs and has been non-functional for the lodge for a number of years. The building itself, the seniors believe, is sound. The foundation underneath the back section of the building however, being constructed out of wood, has been rotting.

“We’re not letting anyone use that back room at all because we’re not sure how much weight can be put on it the way it is,” explained Anderson. “We don’t know who would be responsible if someone did go back there like a group and too much weight was put on it and it collapsed. We have some insurance, but we can’t afford a whole bunch.”

The seniors have made it clear that they are not asking for any funds from the city, but rather a few hours from the city’s engineer to have a look at the building, assess the damage and let them know what’s wrong and how they could fix it.

“All we want is the city engineer to give us the specs on how to fix the floor,” added Anderson. “We’ll get the money ourselves, somehow, to do the work. We’ll go to all the different organizations that give grants and raise money ourselves but the city even doesn’t want to do that much for us.”

The group’s frustration in dealing with the city is what prompted Anderson to appear before council this week as a delegation. According to Anderson, he has called, dropped in and dropped off information to City Hall or the city’s building inspector at least six times and hasn’t got a response yet.

The reason why the group wants and feels that they need the city’s engineer to look at it, assess the damage, and propose a solution is because the building itself is owned by the city.

While the original origins of the building are unknown, Anderson has been digging through old photos and archives. So far he has been able to date the building back to at least 1910, when it was owned by BC Tel. At that time, the building still exhibited its decorative brickwork. BC Tel it appears did not construct the building, however, but purchased it from parties unknown. A likely former owner may have been the Kootenay Telegraph and Telephone Company, which operated in the late 1800s, or possibly its predecessor–the Vernon & Nelson Telephone company.

In 1959, BC Tel wanted to unload the building and intended to gift it to the city. At that time the city council of the day wanted to give it to the seniors to use as their lodge. Reading through various newspaper articles of the day that the lodge has archived, it appears there was quite a ‘squabble’ over the building. The city wanted the seniors to pay the full taxes on the building, which for the same reasons as today, wasn’t feasible for the group. In the end, the agreement was put in place that the city would retain ownership of the building, grant itself a tax exemption, and the seniors would just have to pay the utility bills.

While the seniors don’t have a copy of any official agreement, their issue is that the city still owns the building and they feel the city needs to help them fix it up. Recognizing that asking for money would be “a dead end street”, Anderson and group have kept their request to just getting the engineer to tell them how to fix it.

“If this falls down, where are the seniors going to go?” asked Anderson. “Rossland has nothing for seniors. We’ve been building this city and paying taxes for 60 to 80 years. It really feels like they are trying to push the seniors out of town these days.”

One avenue the seniors have been considering (and have had early stage talks about with some groups) is finding some heritage money to restore the building. Apart from the building itself, which the group believes is the oldest continually-used building in Rossland other than the courthouse, the history of the people who helped build and shape Rossland is on display just inside the door.

As you walk in the front door, on your right is a real heritage treasure. Nearly 2,000 names and signatures fill the wall. Starting as early as the turn of the 20th century, each brick in the wall has been signed by what amounts to the founding families of Rossland. Starting from the top left corner are names now synonymous with Rossland: the Eslings and the Wises, on through the Albos to Les himself, whose name is on the far right. Acting as Rossland’s own Ellis Island, the seniors informed me that each year they have a few people from out of town stop by to see if they can trace their parents, grand-parents and great grand-parents families.

See attached file for picture of the name wall.

The building may have potential to be restored. It’s believed that the old brickwork is still intact under the plaster. While it would be a big job to bring the building back to its former glory, Anderson and his group want to give it a try. Until they can get something worked out with the city, however, the group seems to be stuck at a standstill and a somewhat unknown gem of Rossland history will continue to deteriorate.

The seniors groups welcome anyone interested in the building or the wall of names to give them a call; they will gladly show off its historical charms.

As it stands now council will go through the usual process with delegations and will have a response to Mr. Anderson’s concerns within two weeks at their next regular council meeting.

Categories: Issues

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