Monday, April 9, 2012

Somerset Street Reconstruction Part 10: City Centre

In the previous part of the 15-part series on the 2011 reconstruction of Somerset Street West, I rounded out the reconstruction of the roads and sidewalks. But there is another project tied into it, the north-south pathway along the O-Train corridor. Much of this corridor goes along the City Centre complex and it's worthwhile to take a minute to make a brief tour around the complex before talking about the pathway in the next post.

The complex, officially 250 City Centre Avenue, is comprised of an office tower and industrial bays that span from Albert Street to Somerset Street West along the O-Train line. For many years its dingy white sides and illuminated red lettering were a familiar eyesore to residents of Ottawa, as seen here in a photo from September 2008:

In the parking lot of the City Centre building there is a little red brick building. During the summer, it's covered over in vines, but in winter and spring you can make out its shape:

Local history buff David Jeanes did some digging on the building's history which Eric Darwin posted on West Side Action in February, including a 1912 fire insurance map. The best guess, says the post, is that it was built in 1902 after the great fire of 1900, along Somerset Street before the street was raised onto the viaduct/bridge that we're now familiar with. Both are quoted in a March 2012 Centretown News story on the house which tells of the current tenants, and that the house was originally a woodworking factory.

Eric has also posted a few entries on his blog about the Carling-Bayview Community Design Plan (CDP). The plan was originally conceived to guide development along the O-Train corridor once the former North-South LRT project was built, but when that transit project was scrapped, the CDP was shelved. With a new transit plan, and a renewed interest in develompent along property owners in the corridor, the plan has been revived. Eric's keen eye spotted this coming along back in 2009 when he saw some bore hole drilling in the City Centre's parking lot and suggested the owner was reviving 15-year-old plans to redevelop the lot with condos.

Since then, the CDP has been revived, and the Dalhousie and Hintonburg community associations held a forum in March to share these plans with the public (since the City has insisted in an 'online-only consultation' for this project). Eric blogged some schematics of the planned development envelopes, which includes buildings as tall as 30 storeys.

These plans are what drew the community to start looking at this little red brick building building for its heritage value to see if it should be protected and integrated into whatever gets built, instead of just being razed.

Facing this building, right along the Somerset Street viaduct, is a big green billboard that isn't in very good shape, and I don't think anyone will cry for it to be given heritage protection. But for novelty, it is notable in its size: the parking and one-way signs on it are standard size, and it looks like there are four by eight foot pieces of plywood on its face, making it about forty feet long and fifteen feet high.

Getting back to the City Centre building itself, it got a bit of a makeover in early 2010 as the site was used in a Hollywood film starring Cuba Gooding, Jr. You can see the building was cleaned and whitewashed in the background of the photo of the red brick building, and below you can see the new paint scheme. Even the second-floor railing of the industrial bay section has been painted a new colour:

Since then, other film crews have used the site as a backdrop. The street they're standing on is now called City Centre avenue, but was previously Champagne Avenue (in fact, there is still a City-owned right of way all the way down to Gladstone, though most of it is closed off for the federally owned Oak Street warehouse). Champagne Avenue is notable for two things: first, there used to be a streetcar barn on the street (subsequently a bus barn and now barely recognizeable in its current use as a drive-through self storage facility); second, it is paved in concrete instead of the usual asphalt.

I don't know why it's paved in concrete, and I can't think of any other streets in Ottawa that are. Looking at the condition of the surface, that may be a good thing.

Another unique structure in the City Centre complex is a gigantic steel girder--122 feet long by 9 feet high--that was the biggest such girder in Ottawa when it was installed in the early 1960s, according to this contemporary account in the Ottawa Citizen.

The Wellington Street bridge referenced in the 1963 article above is long gone, but the alignment is still there for the future resuscitation of the street on this side of the tracks and for the construction of a footbridge over the O-Train tracks at some point in the future.

The girder is still there (though I don't know if it's still the largest in Ottawa), and was used to allow trains to tuck in to the trailway under the second-floor roadway, i.e. from the direction we're looking here:

You can actually see it from a few different angles. On Google Street View, you can see it from the Albert Street bridge and even across the O-Train tracks from Breezehill!

From this angle on the Albert street bridge over the O-Train, you can see the girder just to the right of the centre of the photo, as well as the new paint scheme of the tower. The girder forms part of a second-level roadway for the industrial bays.

The property line pretty much stops at the edge of the concrete. On the near side of the structure in the photo above, the land is owned by the City. Part of it is fenced off for the O-Train (and future dual-tracked electric LRT) right-of-way, and there is an access road for O-Train maintenance vehicles.

The corridor roughly going along the far side of the fence will soon be the site of a multi-use pathway, which is the subject of the next part of the series.


  1. Used to own the little red duplex at the corner of Somerset and was built in 1893...tall ceilings...giant much would never know from the outside!

    1. any idea who the owner is thanks.