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Feature Article


Written By: Lawrence Herzog
Published By: Real Estate Weekly
Article © Copyright Lawrence Herzog

John McIntosh speculated on a great future

The house John Robert McIntosh and Grace McBean built at 10325 Villa Avenue in one of Edmonton's most exclusive enclaves of the early 20th century is a physical remnant of one of the city's great early speculators. The man who designed the house, Alfred Merigon Calderon, was one of Edmonton's exceptional early architects.

McIntosh was a Quebec-born Canadian who moved to Edmonton from Colorado in 1902, and worked as a clerk, bookkeeper, investor and real estate developer. In 1904, he purchased a homestead in the Vegreville district, which he moved to and lived on for the next three years. A generous purchase offer persuaded him to move back to Edmonton and he started a real estate and brokerage business, specializing in property valuation and private financing.

One of his most successful ventures was the joint purchase of a 320-acre farm next to the shops of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Company. The district came to be known as Calder. In 1907, McIntosh married McBean, daughter of a prominent Montreal grain dealer. Four years later the couple decided to build a family house in the west end of the city, in the wealthy and exclusive neighbourhood of Groat Estates.

They bought lots five and six in May 1911 from James Carruthers at a cost of $3,000. Carruthers had purchased the property from Malcolm Groat in 1908, and subdivided it, creating the new district of Glenora. Included in his plan were the large estates on the east bank of Groat Ravine, and they were sold to such prominent citizens as James Kennedy Cornwall, Oliver Morvat Biggar, H.M.E. Evans, Charles W. Cross and Sidney B. Woods.

They drew lots to determine which property each would acquire and built grand "country" homes on their property among the more modest but still gracious brick homes on Villa Avenue. The reputation of the area seems to have, as one report put it, "aroused the suspicions of less well circumstanced Edmontonians who conferred upon the area the name "Robbers" Row" or "Robbers" Roost.""

McIntosh applied for a building permit on April 23, 1912, with Calderon listed as architect and G. McGlenaghan as builder. J.C. Sutherland was responsible for the painting and decorating. A mortgage of $8,000 was issued to McIntosh by the Dominion Life Assurance Company on November 22, 1912.

The two-and-a-half storey brick mansion Calderon designed was constructed on a stone foundation by local craftsman using mostly local materials. The house at 10325 Villa Avenue was originally built with a central hall and the projecting centre bay in the north facade remains as a remnant of this design.

The structure's roofline is unusual for its complexity. Basically a hipped roof, the addition of gable and shed dormers and larger gables on the north and south facades, alter the shape considerably.

Features on the main floor include oak flooring, panelling, French doors with bevelled glass panes, sculpted trim and three cathedral-style windows. The second floor has maple flooring, five bedrooms and a rear sundeck. Long before the days of energy efficiency, the house was built with brick more than 20 centimetres thick and another 10 centimetres of exterior brick veneer.

The 1913 Commemorative Issue of the Edmonton Journal lauded McIntosh for his "conception of duty well performed" in constructing a 'splendid business through which he has been of invaluable aid to Edmonton in securing investments and the developments of its commercial field." The article went on to say that his name is "identified with some of the best business flotations and industries in Alberta. He has constructed a handsome residence on Villa Avenue, and reinvested in that promise profit both to himself and in the advantages they will give Edmonton in its march upward and onward."

McIntosh continued his real estate business until 1920, when he was appointed land agent in Edmonton for the Hudson's Bay Company. He continued in that post until his retirement in 1946.

The couple turned the house into a revenue property in 1920, dividing the space into seven one-bedroom suites and calling the development the Ravina Apartments. They continued to live one of the suites until they sold the building to Astral Agencies in 1927 and moved to a smaller house across the street.

Lillian Kline became owner in 1944, purchasing the property for $17,000. In 1966, the two lots were subdivided and the west wing of the building was removed. The Kline family wanted to build a modern bungalow on the second lot but didn"t have the necessary clearance.

The residence remained apartments until 1978, when it was purchased by Alex and Anne McPherson for $95,000 and returned to use as a single family residence. They spent about $250,000 on a complete restoration that included new wiring and plumbing, 100 new window panes, brass light fixtures, fittings, and restored mouldings and trim.

At the McPherson's request, Alberta Culture designated the house a Provincial Historic Resource in 1982.

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