History of The Pendennis Building

The Pendennis:  Historic Hotel filled with Story and Character Builds Solid Foundation for Modern Workplace

From its early beginnings as an unassuming boarding shack on the east end of Jasper Avenue, the Pendennis Building quickly rose to become a prominent fixture in the cultural, social and commercial development of downtown Edmonton.  Within the sturdy brick walls of the remodeled century-old structure live stories of the city’s Wild West past; from the colourful people who owned and visited the building to the many barriers the property encountered and overcame throughout the years.

According to the City of Edmonton Archives, the original Pendennis Building on Jasper Avenue is traced back to an 1898 wooden property referred to as the old “California Rooming House.” It’s thought to have provided shelter to eager prospectors panning for gold in the North Saskatchewan River, or those on an adventurous cross-country journey seeking fortune in the Yukon Klondike Gold Rush.

The old rooming house eventually became known as the Pendennis Hotel, which officially opened in August of 1904. Shortly after, the Edmonton Bulletin described it as an impressive three-story structure with a second-floor parlor and third floor bedrooms, and a bar, office, and large and small dining rooms on the main floor, where families could gather together.  Mr. Nathan Bell was the hotel manager, and in 1907 he bought the old building with a vision to expand and rebuild the forty-four room building into the most luxurious and desirable hotel in Alberta.

In 1911 Mr. Bell purchased the adjacent property to the east, and in 1912 an addition was added and a new brick facade was built right around the original building. It was designed by the Calgary architectural firm of Lang, Major & Co. and was a fine example of Edwardian style architecture. The three storey structure had a full basement, ground floor bar and dining room while the upper floors contained the parlour and bedrooms.  The design was typical of turn-of-the-century apartments with the exterior having ornamental detail on the façade, double windows topped with a curved pediment and also displayed billboards above the parapet.

The newly renovated Pendennis Hotel contained fifty-nine rooms, was furnished with comfortable beds, carpet floors, and every room was equipped with an electric bell for service.  Each floor had hot and cold water and bathrooms, steam heat, electric lights and a number of suites had private baths as well.  On the main floor there was a large office, a cigar and newsstand, writing room and barber shop.  It also housed a beautifully decorated 48 seat dining room and was known to serve the finest meals in Edmonton.

Guests could enjoy the beautiful Pendennis Hotel accommodations and services for $2.00 a day.   According to the Edmonton Journal in 1913, the “handsome structure rebuilt last year now is one of the most complete and modern houses in the city.”  

While the building itself has stories to tell, the one of Mr. Nathan Bell is interesting as well.  The Edmonton Journal in 1913 notes that Mr. Bell made his fortune in Dawson City, Yukon during the Gold Rush, where he also operated the Bell Hotel.  He came from a hotel family in Calgary, received training in catering, and worked in the cigar manufacturing business.  The Edmonton Journal article also boasted that “in Mr. Bell is found a man of wide experience in the west, and one who harmonizes perfectly with the hotel business.  He was the first hotel operator to purchase his site and building and his contribution of a hundred-thousand dollar hostelry to Edmonton is evidence of his foresight and faith in the city’s present and future.”

The Pendennis flourished at a time when the new Dominion of Canada was expanding out west and more people were travelling and settling in Edmonton.  It was located in a vital part of the city, on the north side of the Saskatchewan River in the Boyle community.  This was near the centre of culture and activity and connected to downtown trade and business. It was the place to be, and where people liked to gather. The Pendennis Hotel located at the east end of Jasper Avenue, is captured in the distance in photographs in the important celebration when Alberta became a province – Inauguration Day, on September 1, 1905.    

The population of Edmonton grew rapidly from 8,350 in 1904 to over 53,000 by 1912 when the major hotel renovation was complete.  During that time, Canada continued to lure new settlers to the country with promises of a “land of health and sunshine; of good crops and railways extending everywhere.” The luxurious, modern Pendennis impressed visitors and Canadians as they experienced the exciting new capital city and province of Alberta.

Mr. Bell was only able to hang on to his good fortunes for a few years, however, as the economic downturn from World War 1 and prohibition in 1916 led to foreclosure of the hotel in 1920.  Soon after, the Pendennis Building changed hands and was turned into apartments for many years.

In 1945, the Pendennis Building became a rooming house called the Kenmo Lodge.  According to the City of Edmonton Archives, it was jointly owned by Ethel Mary Kennedy & Stenner Mogen – the Kenmo name was a combination of their last names. In 1965 Fanny Spector purchased the building and at the time it was valued at $70,000.  The property which continued to be a rooming house for decades, was also known as the Stanley Block, and finally The Lodge Hotel. As the years passed the building eventually became vacant and fell into disarray.

Despite the decline of the Pendennis, the integrity of the building remained. Apart from some alterations made to the ground level, the original exterior character of the property was largely unaltered and remained intact. Recognizing the historical importance of the building and its stories and links to Edmonton’s past, The Lodge Hotel was designated as a Municipal Historic Resource by the city of Edmonton in 2001. 

In recent years, the local Ukrainian community (UCAMA) assumed ownership and began to renovate it for a Ukrainian Museum.  During the internal demolition of The Lodge Hotel the original Pendennis Hotel’s walls were found undisturbed and according to local architect David Murray, many interesting artifacts were discovered relating back to the original hotel as well. These include authentic maps and papers, snake oil drugs, an ammunition box, early cosmetics, medical records, and new immigrant information. Various other fascinating tools and objects were also found, with possible connections to California Gold Rush explorers.

While new links and stories to the past continued to evolve, the plans for the museum redevelopment eventually fell apart.   Over the years, LEDR Developments became aware of the unique, historic project and purchased the building in 2019. 

Seeing the full potential for a magnificent redesign, LEDR has invested in construction and repairs and has worked to preserve the characteristics of the historic building while ensuring it operates and functions in a modern, safe and efficient way.   The result today is a stunning 33,000 square-foot rebuild featuring three stories that open into the main floor, surrounded by the original 1912 brick.  It is topped off by a 2,000 square-foot balcony and a third-floor patio that overlooks the entire river valley.  This allows beautiful light to stream in through the gallery and into each floor. LEDR has spent $13.7 million to complete the shell of the building to allow future tenants to custom design the interior to create their own dream workspace.

Over the course of the past century, the Pendennis Hotel has proven to be rich in history, memories, experiences and design.  It always has, and will continue to be a strong foundation in the Edmonton downtown core. With the mix of old character and the finest materials giving it new life, the upscale modern work environment is now available for lease. 

The door is open to exciting opportunities for forward-thinking businesses, and the next great chapter in the Pendennis Building story is ready to be told.