The Barra Castle Today….January 2013
Although, not quite a century old building, the Barra Castle is worthy of mention.
The Barra Castle was located at 399 Queen Street South in Kitchener, in the Victoria Park Heritage Conservation District, still listed on the “heritage walking tour”.
Barra Castle was built by Molly Barra Marquette in 1930, and is claimed by some that she modeled it after her childhood home in Russia. Many different stories about her and the building’s existence exist. In the 1928 City directory Molly Marquette is listed as living at 260 King Street East Apt F., Kitchener along with Harold (a salesman), Hilda (an operator), and Dorothea (works for Mutual Life Insurance). By 1930 they all have moved into Castle Barra at 399 Queen Street South, Kitchener. However, it is also noted she was born in 1882 in Shawnee Pottawatomie County in Okalahoma and passed away in 1952 in Kitchener. An interesting history I am sure!
Barra Castle was a rare local example of neo-Gothic architecture.
The castle was initially used as a private residence, eventually rental apartments were added at the back of the building. During the 1980s, it was considered a prestigious apartment building and a great place to live. Some apartments had up to 2000 square feet of living space. There were Moorish archways, tiled bathroom floors, old sinks and tubs, sunrooms, hardwood floors, high ceilings, original trim and detailed wooden banisters in the stairways.
In 2007 I became a home owner in this historical district and walked by this building on a daily basis. It saddened me to see such an interesting building in distress and I could visualize it becoming a fabulous condo conversion. During 2007 the tenants were evicted after inspectors found serious fire and electrical code violations. Electricity, water and gas was shut down. Since that time, the building was boarded up resulting in deterioration and break-ins by vagrants. In 2009, it happened. The Barra Castle was purchased by a developer for a condo development. Sadly a happy ending was not the end result.
When the Barra Castle was purchased by a developer, Heritage Kitchener voted in favour of the owner’s plans to restore approximately 3000 square feet at the front of the building, while at the same time removing the back areas.
On May 28, 2010, demolition was scheduled to prepare the site for high-end condominiums. This project was to be done in three stages: first, demolish the rear sections; then, sometime in 2010, renovate and restore the original front part of the 1930’s landmark (facing Queen Street South); and, in 2011, construct a new six-storey building at the back with 36 units. Press releases said the building would be completed and occupied in late 2012.
Sadly… the front facade was not retained and the entire building is now gone. Nothing is left other than an empty lot on a high traffic street in downtown Kitchener, now a “sore spot” for locals and heritage lovers.
As quoted by a letter to the Waterloo Region Record (September 8), from the Executive of the North Waterloo Region Branch of ACO; “It came so quickly. Almost before anyone – especially lovers of heritage – were able to respond.”. This quote sums it up….we were all shocked to see a vacant lot.
Barra Castle no longer exists….only in our memory.