Reliance (Armour) Block, est. 1910 – 15 4th ST. N.E., Crescents Heights

The Reliance (Armour) Block, better know as Armour Block, is one of the oldest mixed-use buildings in the area, and serves to symbolize the historical, vibrant, high-street character and importance of Fourth Street NE.

Construction of the building began in 1909 for Thomas Wiggins, a previously established Riverside grocer. The building originated as a small two-storey structure to house his grocery business, with his residential quarters above. In 1910 it was extended south to form the two-storey Reliance Block, providing increased space for Wiggins, as well as two additional storefronts for a hardware store and meat market with apartments above. In 1911 a third storey was added, increasing its residential accommodations. The three-storey extension Armour Block was added in 1912 with early tenants being the Dominion Bank and a billiard hall. From 1915, until at least the Second World War, a basement space known as `Wiggins Hall’ was a community/dance hall.

Originally the main route to Edmonton, Fourth Street’s commercial importance was solidified in 1911 when it became a streetcar route. The Armour Block contributed to the retail street wall, serving local residents’ regular needs, while other small retailers, plus a substantial department store (Slingsbys) created a retail corridor. While the retail importance of the area gradually faded, the building continued to function as home of the Riverside Department Store (1950-77).

The upper floors of the building were developed as residential quarters for recent immigrants and other citizens in response to the acute housing shortage which occurred during the 1909-13 boom. Exemplifying the historical demographic character of the neighbourhood, residents included working-class occupants with a wide variety of nationalities. Notably, there were a disproportionate number of Jewish residents that called the building home over its early decades (relative to Calgary’s small Jewish population) and in 1915 the basement hall inaugurated the first ‘House of Israel’ congregation, service and celebration. The diversity of the building’s residents was illustrative of the community’s traditional multi-ethnic, working-class character.

The Armour Block is also significant for its Edwardian Commercial-style architecture, and is a rare example of a substantial, historic mixed-use building in the community. Defined by its multiple development phases, the red-brick façade displays compatible but discontinuous detailing. Uniting the building are storefronts with large display windows and recessed entries. Extant elements of the interior, such as the store’s pressed-metal ceilings, the basement hall’s finishes and the upper-storey staircases and layout offer hints to the typical but attractive, original appearance.

Article and photo provided by Discover Historic Calgary via