Calgary’s downtown skyline is a mosaic of skyscrapers, providing a variety of views whether you’re gazing at it from Scotsman’s Hill, the Bow River Pathways or the Calgary Tower’s observation deck.

“View of the Barron Building showing Uptown marquee, Calgary, Alberta.”, 1952-08, (CU1111123) by Calgary Herald. Courtesy of Glenbow Library and Archives Collection, Libraries and Cultural Resources Digital Collections, University of Calgary.

The first skyscraper was built in 1885 in Chicago but Calgary didn’t have one until the Barron Building’s construction in 1951. At 11 storeys, the Barron just surpasses a skyscraper’s general definition, which is a building over 10 storeys tall (or about 100 metres or 330 feet).

The Barron is located at 610 – 8th Avenue S.W. It’s a limestone building designed by Jack Cawston, a pioneer of art moderne style in Alberta, which is visible in the stark appearance of the Barron’s central tower. It was built by J.B. Barron, a local lawyer, to take advantage of oil companies seeking office space in Alberta following the discovery of oil in Leduc in 1947. It also contained a penthouse that Barron occupied until he died in 1965. On the ground floor was a theatre, the Uptown. It was unusual to have a building of mixed uses at the time, but Barron valued and had a passion for theatre. 

“Opening day of the second screen at the Uptown Theatre,” March 1973, Bill Onion Fonds, City of Calgary Archives, Item CalA 2011-006-6119

The Barron shifted Calgary’s downtown westward, past Eaton’s department store, and brought office space development to the area. It was first known as the Mobil Oil Building and housed other well-known names in the business, such as Shell and TransCanada Pipelines. More oil companies established their offices or headquarters in Calgary and a new era was born for the city. In 1989, the theatre was closed by Odeon, but it reopened in 1993 as an art house cinema and live theatre until burst water pipes forced its closure in 2011. 

Afterwards, the Barron sat empty and deteriorated. It ended up on The National Trust’s “List of Top 10 Endangered Places”, which made it ideal as a filming location for The Last of Us. It will have a new life off-screen as an office-conversion project worth approximately $100 million. This will create 118 residential spaces in the core, thus preserving in stone the history of Calgary’s transition to today’s global energy capital.

Barron Building undergoing renovations, April 2023. Photo courtesy of Anthony Imbrogno

– Anthony Imbrogno is a volunteer with The Calgary Heritage Initiative Society/Heritage Inspires YYC

– All copyright images cannot be shared without prior permission