Friday, October 30, 2020

The hidden history of West Wellington's Gastropub building!

(Illustration sourced from Wellington Gastropub Facebook)

The building at 1323-1325 Wellington Street is one of West Wellington's most recognizable. This unique, imposing building is today the home of popular upscale eatery The Wellington Gastropub and the fairly new Joe's Italian Kitchen. Long-time neighbourhood residents will surely recall some of its more recent tenants, but I think the full history of the building would come as a surprise to many. Most notably: did you know that this building actually started life as a two separate houses, built at different times? And would you have guessed that half of the building dates back to 1922, making it one of the oldest buildings on the strip?

The story begins with William Stewart, a messenger with the secretary's branch of the Department of Public Works. Stewart was 36 years old when he appeared at the Wellington Village lot auction sale in June of 1920. He and his wife Margaret lived in a small house on Armstrong Street, but clearly had bigger dreams. 

At the big auction, Stewart must have had his heart set on one lot in particular, lot 747 fronting on Wellington Street, just to the east of Clarendon Avenue. The bidding was intense on this particular lot. Though the lots of either side went for $425 and $450, the bidding reached $700 on lot 747. This was the highest price paid for any single lot at this auction. Though no one would argue it's a prime location, the reasons why this lot specifically went so high are lost to time.

Two years later, in March of 1922, Stewart took out a building permit from the City of Ottawa in the amount of $3,000 to construct his brick veneer residence. The permit was listed in the Citizen's monthly listing of recent building permits issued:

Ottawa Citizen, March 31, 1922

William Stewart appears to have been a successful man, with money behind him. (The 1921 Census listed his salary as $4,300 per year, certainly an upper-mid level salary for the era). He paid cash for the construction of his home, requiring no mortgage.

How great it would be to find an original photo of the single home on this site! But alas, photos from the 1920s in general are rare, and the Stewarts had no children so finding a possible descendant with a photo is next to impossible. Even the aerial photo collection on Booth Street has no photos of the neighbourhood during the period between when the house was built and when it was added on to. 

The house was originally given the civic address of 1331, and forms what is today the western half of the building (the half closest to Ross Avenue). The Stewarts moved in by late 1922, where they would remain for the next 30 years.

The Stewarts were both Scottish-born, both coming to Canada as young adults, Margaret in 1903 and William in 1905. They had married in 1913. William came from a family of masons, and though he was listed on the 1911 Census as working as one in Ottawa, by the 1920s, he had switched careers. It is very likely though, that Stewart and his family physically constructed the house themselves. 

The building expands

In 1926, Stewart took out a permit to build again on his property, building a new two-storey dwelling attached to original house. Unlike the first house, which was brick veneer (which had a wood-frame interior that made up the structural support for the home), this half was a solid brick home (where the masonry made up the structural support).  It's just interesting that Stewart chose to build the new attached portion in a different way.

The new structure was purpose-built with commercial space on the ground floor, and a residence upstairs. It was given the original civic address of 1329 Wellington. Though the two structures were attached, they were treated as fully separate dwellings.

The difference in the two sides is best shown in the 1948 fire insurance plan, shown below. The entire block of the north side of Wellington from Ross to Grange is shown. 

The fire plan exaggerates how the original structures were built on a straight line together, versus along the somewhat diagonal line that Wellington runs on. The building was constructed when larger setbacks were still required, but also because Stewart initially built on the lot as a house, he likely did not want to build right to the sidewalk anyways. So it is for these two reasons why the sizable patio space fortunately exists today!

Also note in the plan how shallow the future Bagelshop building is (1325 in blue). It would come several years after Stewart's houses, allowing for the marked side windows of 1329 (the little cross by the back corner in the plan) to still have a view, until the Bagelshop building was added on to in the 1990s.

By early 1927, the first occupant of the new half of the building moved in. Frederick J. Taylor had been operating a candy shop downtown on Percy Street, but moved his business west, to the growing neighborhood of Wellington Village. 

The first evidence of Taylor's shop being opens comes from an ad in the Citizen from June 1927, where the store was listed in a directory of Ottawa "Service Grocers", offering home delivery of groceries to "busy housewives". The ad was too large to show in full, so I've clipped off the descriptive top of the ad, and included the listing at the bottom of Taylor.

Ottawa Citizen, June 16, 1927

Ottawa Citizen, June 16, 1927

Fred Taylor, his wife Gladys, and their 4 young kids moved in upstairs. Taylor operated his shop as an independent grocery shop, but in early 1930, with the depression hitting, decided to become franchised, for the cost savings. His shop became a "Red & White" grocery store.

Ottawa Journal, January 23, 1930
Taylor receives special mention at 
the bottom, center.

It is hard to imagine that what is today Joe's Italian Kitchen (recently Macarons et Madeleines) was once a chain grocery store!

Below is an aerial photo of the block between Ross and Grange, from May of 1933. It shows a garage at the rear of the property, with three distinct paths off Wellington (for the Stewarts, the shop at 1329, and to what looks like a side entrance to the upstairs apartment above 1329).

Wellington Street aerial photo May 1933

The move to a chain store couldn't help keep Taylor afloat. By that fall, he was out of business. In fact, the 1930s as a whole would not be kind to the businesses that made a go in this location. A total of six different businesses operated in this space during the decade, all failing in about two years or some far less.

This list includes: J.C. Christie's fruit store (1931), Margaret Arbuckle's ice cream shop (1932), James D. Brannen's fruit and grocery store (1933-1934), Laura Moore's confectionary and lunch diner (1935-1937), and Kelly's News Service (operated by Clifford Kelly, 1938-1939).

In early 1940, the shop finally got a longer-term tenant in Watley's News Service, a lunch counter, confectionary and news stand operated by Frank and Nelita Watley. They would remain in business until around 1947. 

There is little trace of any of these businesses in old newspapers and documents. The most interesting thing I could find on any of them was this article about a woman passing away from a heart attack inside Watley's on her way to a funeral next door. The article itself isn't that interesting, but that headline...!

Ottawa Journal
February 8, 1945

The John and Dorothy Carr era

William Stewart's wife Margaret passed away in July of 1951, the obituary in the newspaper noting that she had been sick for 15 years. She was 69 years old. The funeral was held next door at Radmore Stewart Funeral Home (no relation).

A year later the widower William sold the property to John and Dorothy Carr, who would own it for the next 11 years. 

The Carrs had already arrived back in 1949 as tenants when they had opened the Clarendon Grocery in the former Watley's spot, and moved into the residence upstairs. 

Ottawa Citizen, August 26, 1949

After leasing for a couple of years, they had the opportunity to purchase the entire property outright and did so. The Carrs would become a neighbourhood mainstay, remaining in this location and operating their business until 1963.

In the fall of 1954, all of the buildings on this block of Wellington Street were renumbered to accommodate the new large commercial block that was built at the northeast corner of Ross (now Supply and Demand, Sasloves, Pubblico, Massage Addict, etc.). So the building changed from 1329/1331 Wellington to the current 1323/1325 numbers.

Notably at this time, after Stewart moved out in late 1952, the Carrs rented out the house for two years to a family, but in 1954 made the decision to renovate, and turn the ground floor of the west half of the building in a commercial space, maintaining the upstairs as a small apartment, mirroring the way the east half of the building was set up. It appears the new commercial space at 1325 Wellington was first offered for rent in November of 1954.

Ottawa Citizen, November 24, 1954

In the summer of 1955, the Carrs got out of the grocery and butcher business, as supermarkets and big chains had changed the grocery business substantially by this time. The Carrs re-branded from the Clarendon Grocery to the Clarendon Smoke Shop. The business would also become known for its barbershop chairs, becoming one of the neighbourhood's go-to spots for haircuts.

Everything for sale when the grocery store closed.
Ottawa Citizen, August 13, 1955

The shop also sold gardening equipment for a time:

Ottawa Citizen, September 20, 1957

In 1963, Carr went out of business, and like he did with the grocery store, ran an ad selling off all his barber and smoke shop articles:

Ottawa Citizen, September 16, 1963

The building then sat pretty much completely vacant over the next four years, to the point where it became listed in the City's Property Standards project, where derelict properties were catalogued and photographed, and the owners obligated to either improve the building, or demolish it. It is thanks to this project that a photo of the building from October of 1966 survives:

1323-1325 Wellington Street West as it appeared
on October 27, 1966.
(Source: Ottawa Archives CA-24329)

As you can see, the ground floor business (formerly the Smoke Shop) remains empty. A new business had just recently opened at 1325 on the left, called Television Supply Co., offering rentals of TVs and equipment. It was there only a brief period.

In late 1966, 1323 Wellington became a Nearly New Shop briefly as well, but that too was short lived, and the entire building was vacant for most of 1967.

The Café Black Forest

In January of 1968, Fridolin Gramling purchased the building, and immediately set about renovating it in to a German restaurant, the Café Black Forest. 

The renovation saw the restaurant take over the entirety of the building, and truly combined into one contiguous space. The upstairs was converted in a large eating area, while the downstairs of 1323 was where the pastry shop was located. The old downstairs of 1325 (the west half) appears to have temporarily been residential where Gramling resided until about 1971, and possibly used as storage afterwards. What the Black Forest was perhaps best known for was its spacious outdoor patio, then called the west end's first and only outdoor café.

Photos of the Cafe Black Forest, from "The Key 1978"
The pastry shop is shown top left, with various eating
areas shown in the other three photos.

The best view I could find
of the front of the building
from "the Key 1979"

The name Café Black Forest reputedly came from the fact that it was designed to be a replica of a café in Germany's Black Forest. Gramling operated the business for 14 years, and was one of Ottawa's most popular restaurants during this period. 

Gramling at one point even had plans to expand to an adjacent lot and open a backyard beer garden, but this never occurred I don't believe.

Restaurant review from June 1971, Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa Citizen, June 4, 1977

The Black Forest's recipe for chocolate cake.
Ottawa Journal, August 9, 1979

In the fall of 1982, the Café Black Forest fell under new management, including apparently Ottawa Rough Rider great Tony Gabriel. They used name recognition and kept the Black Forest name, but quickly the restaurant began introducing Italian food. A year later, Italian was the main dish, with German food taking secondary status.

Ottawa Citizen, September 10, 1982

1985 and beyond

The Café Black Forest closed by early 1985, and had become Villa Alberelli, which had previously been located on Promenade du Portage in Hull but had closed in 1983. Owner-chef Frank Alberelli decided to reopen on Wellington Street. The photo below captures Alberelli's, which replaced part of the sign, but kept the obviously German "Taverne" segment of the sign. A bit tacky?

Ottawa Citizen, March 29, 1985

I can't tell how long Villa Alberelli stayed in business here, but it wasn't very long. 

It appears by 1987, the building had been split into three areas again, with an upstairs restaurant, and two downstairs shops.

The downstairs shop at 1323 for several years was a weight loss and tanning center called 'Slim A Weigh'. In May of 2000, Chris Green opened Harvest Loaf at 1323 Wellington offering "breads, pastries, croissants, muffins, take-out food and Lois 'N' Frima's ice cream". 

May 2012 photo with Harvest Loaf
(Google Streetview)

In 2015, it became Macarons et Madeleines, which closed in 2020, replaced by Joe's Italian Kitchen in July (bravely mid-pandemic).

The downstairs shop at 1325 was Wellington Travel for a couple of years, and then became a small country music club called the "B Ranch", which operated until 1999. Following this was the Kilimanjaro Boutique opened by Keen Kabadeh in 2003, and I'm not sure of others.

Meanwhile the upstairs had become a restaurant called Club Caribbean Place in 1987, later the Upstairs Bistro (opened by Pierre and Debi LaFramboise) in 1995, and then Lt. Pooley's Pub in 1999 after the original pub in Hintonburg burned in a fire. In 2005, it became the Tartan Pub & Grill, which lasted only a little over a year. 

On September 5th, 2006, the Wellington Gastropub opened, operated by Chris Deraiche and Shane Waldron. 14 years later, the business is still going strong (though Deraiche recently moved on from the Gastropub).

In the summer of 2015, the Gastropub took a page from what had made the Black Forest a success for so long, and re-established the front patio. The patio covering appears to have then required the sign to move from the middle of the building face to above the second floor windows. The before and after photos below show the voyage the sign made!

May 2015 photo with no patio yet, and the sign
in between storeys (Google Streetview)

July 2018 photo with new patio, and sign up top
(Google Streetview)

So there you have it, the full history of the building at 1323-1325 Wellington Street West! A full century of local history on my favourite commercial strip!

Monday, October 5, 2020

The Top Hat Grill & Jimmy's Restaurant - classic Wellington West diners!


In the October issue of the Kitchissippi Times, I wrote about the old Jimmy's Restaurant and Top Hat Grill which was a long-time landmark on Wellington Street West, by the corner of Clarendon. I was fortunate enough to speak to one of the children whose parents ran the Top Hat in the 40s and 50s (he himself helped out as a youngster too), and dug up a few anecdotes and history notes about the place too. Thanks to Tony Saikaley too for posting a series of great photos of the restaurant in the 70s, a couple of which were used in the Kitchissippi Times, but I've included two more below, showing the outside of the building. 

Finding a full street-level shot of the restaurant proved surprisingly elusive. I especially would have loved to have found one of the Top Hat! Maybe one exists somewhere out there... 

Please click the link below to read the article! Some really great stuff, this was a fun one to write. And you'll look differently at the Wine Rack next time you're inside!

Jimmy's Restaurant, circa late 1970s
(photo shared to Facebook by Tony Saikaley)

Jimmy's Restaurant, circa late 1970s 
(photo shared to Facebook by Tony Saikaley)