Last Updated on December 12, 2020 by Irene Seto
Anderson Estates is one of Calgary’s rare historic properties that has retained much of its original charm and vintage structure. Located at 808 18 Avenue S.W, the residential complex is an old throwback to pre-war era living that has rarely survived in Calgary’s limited stock of heritage buildings. The building is also known as Anderson Apartments, the Anderson Building or just simply “the Anderson”.
Unique architecture and design of Anderson Estates
You’ll find this beautiful Calgary heritage building one block over from the Shoppers Drugs Mart on 17th Avenue. You can see the distinct red brick building from a number of different directions. However, you don’t really get to fully appreciate Anderson Estates until you walk right up to the gates where the unique H-shaped design comes in view. This building plan was common in other cities, but no other building in Calgary continued with this particular design feature.
The front entrance is exquisite as the entire building wraps around and envelopes you. Looking up, you’ll feel both awed and overwhelmed by the imposing layers of bricks, cupola domed top and symmetrical panes of windows staring back at you.
Some listings have the construction completed as 1911, but the official plaque on the building says it was completed in 1912. The six-story Anderson Estates Apartments was the largest multi-family structure at the time offering rental units to the burgeoning Calgary populace before being converted to condominium ownership in 2000.
I am no architecture buff so for those looking for more historical details on Andersons Estates, check out this link here for more details.
Calgary’s one-of-a-kind bird cage elevator
One of the standout features of the building is the bird cage elevator. If you’re used to the modern automated elevator, this lift is a novelty experience for the uninitiated. Calling for the elevator uses the typical up or down buttons. As the sign indicates, the outer door needs to be opened manually. The brass door is sturdy and heavy so you’ll get a good bicep workout opening this door on a regular basis. The ride itself is slow and steady therefore giving you lots of time to peek out through the bars. This manual bird cage elevator requires much more patience than a regular elevator. But it’s all part of the charm of this historic building.
Inside Anderson Estates apartments
The apartments inside Anderson Estates are just as enthralling to see as the outside. Wandering through the hallways, you can see many doors but the number of units is actually less. I’m not sure if apartments would have had multiple doors at one point or some rooms were combined over the years (probably the latter). But when you see how cozy the current units are, it would seem surprising that the apartments could have been any smaller (relative to modern day standards of course).
Some of the units have been renovated, while others stick close to the original design features. But all the apartments house some really neat features you only find in character buildings like this. Between the kitchen and the living/dining room is a beautiful built-in China cabinet with glass-paned wood doors. Right below the cabinet is a 6-inch pass-through panel that lets you hand over dishes from the kitchen to the dining room. The entire unit is framed in beautiful oak panelling. The oak is further used in baseboards, ledges and window frames adding to a homey feel throughout the apartment. Hardwood floors and ceiling mouldings further add to the distinct character of the rooms.
The kitchen is the definition of ‘live within your means’ as the galley-sized space leaves little room to maneuver in. At one point, I tried to open both an oven door and the dishwasher door and it just wasn’t possible! It’s a really, really tight space! Despite the size, the kitchen surprisingly packs in quite a bit of counter space and cupboard space.
The bathroom is similarly spaced with a large claw foot bathtub filling the space. I can appreciate a soothing bubble bath every now and again but it doesn’t seem practical in today’s lifestyle. One enterprising owner probably felt the same way I did. They were able to petition for changes and consequently installed a traditional shower instead – it’s the only shower in the entire building!
Anderson Estates in pop culture
Because of the unique features of Anderson Estates, the building has been used for a variety of cultural projects.
Calgary artist Jann Arden filmed her music video for her massive 90s hit, “Insensitive,” in and around the building. You’ll see glimpses of the marble stairways, the oak doors and the iconic elevator. In the final minute of the video, banners are thrown down from the roof covering the inner-H section of the front entrance.
The FX series Fargo filmed season 1, 2 and 3 at Anderson Estates. It stood in for Gus Grimly’s (played by Colin Hanks) apartment in the television series.
Most recently, the complex was used for director Jason Reitman’s Rust City production, also better known as the upcoming Ghostbusters 3 film. I can’t wait to see how they make use of Anderson Estates for this movie. In the right setting, it can have a decidedly haunted feel to it which makes it a great fit for the sequel.
If you’re wondering how I gained access to Anderson Estates, the complex held an open house to show off some of the units earlier in the year. It’s clear that there is a truly close knit community of owners in this building that enjoy sharing their markedly distinctive home with other Calgarians. If you want to see more, check out the Anderson Estates Facebook group. If you can ever get inside this heritage building (legally), I highly recommend checking out this piece of Calgary history.