Between the Darkness and the Light – Lister Block

When it comes to iconic locations in the city of Hamilton within the exploration community, there is none more wildly known as the Lister Block. A steadfast icon of the decline and decay within downtown Hamilton. From my first trip in 2006 to my last trip in 2010 and into 2012 and beyond as a restored building, this post will explore three different scenes from the first trips (2006 and 2007) a chance to see the stripped-down interior in 2010 and the re-opening in 2012 at a Doors Open event we are checking out Lister Block between the Darkness and the Light.

Lister Block as it stood in 2006, the street level shops boarded up, the terracotta details filthy and the windows dark and mostly broken.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ7 – Leica DC Vario-Elmarit 1:2.8-3.3/6-72mm Asph.
Lister Block - HDR
In 2010 as the restoration work had started and scaffolding went up to start cleaning and repairing the exterior elements.
Nikon D300 – AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm 1:2.8G
The Lister
In 2012 with the restoration complete, there have been a few changes since then with a new tower on the James Street and King Williams Street sides.
Nikon D300 – AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm 1:2.8G

When Joseph Lister completed his first commercial building at the intersection of James and King Williams in 1852, everyone thought him mad for building far from the commercial centre of the city of Hamilton. But the chance arrival of the Great Western Railway south of the intersection in 1853 saw great foresight as the city expanded and more commercial properties began springing up along James Street. Lister Chambers became a jewel and highly sought after as an address and commercial property. Shops and offices occupied the wooden structure. Joseph passed away in 1892, and his property a few decades later would also meet a grim fate. In February 1923, a fire destroyed the entire Lister Chambers. Undaunted, the owner realising that such a building remained in high demand, began to rebuild.

Arcade - Right Again
The famous “L” corner on the first floor arcade from 2007.
Nikon D70s – Tamron SP AF 11-18mm 1:4.5-5.6 Di-II
The L
Shortly after restoration started and the entire interior stripped to the structural elements in 2010.
Nikon D300 – AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm 1:2.8G
The L
In 2012 with the restoration complete and the beauty of the arcade again shown.
Nikon D300 – AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm 1:2.8G

The new Lister Block was constructed out of a steel-reinforced concrete superstructure designed to resist fire. The exterior was of brown brick with terracotta and copper details. The new Block opened to the public in 1924 and is often held up as the first indoor shopping mall in Canada, thanks to the iconic L-Shaped Arcade on the first floor. The Block also included shops on the second floor and in the basement. The third and fourth floors consisted of office space and professional practices. The Lister Block thrived as Hamilton thrived. While the downturn of the Great Depression harmed the city, the wartime and post-war boom allowed the Block to fill its spaces. But any commercial space is shaped by the city’s economic outlook, and by the 1970s, things were turning for the worst. As industry closed, jobs lost, and so people had no money for shopping or beauty services. In 1985 Gorham Developments purchased the Lister Block and issued eviction notices for the few tenants left a decade later. There is a good chance that they wished to redevelop the space and to help maintain the heritage value of the building. The city declared it a Heritage Building in 1995, and it achieved Provincial Heritage status the next year. Sadly Gorham did little, and the place quickly became a place for squatters and the homeless; fires were set, but the fireproof construction saved the building from any major damage. Labourers’ International Union of North American (LiUNA) purchased the building for 1.6 million in 1999. Throughout the early Aught, the building suffered several more fires and became a well-known spot for movies, music videos, and explorers. I visited the spot many times and was part of the downtown circuit of exploration along with Lyric, Tivoli, and the Royal Connaught.

Arcade Again
In 2007 you can see the skylights illuminating one of the sides of the arcade looking out towards King William.
Nikon D70s – Tamron SP AF 11-18mm 1:4.5-5.6 Di-II
The Arcade, 2010
In 2010 the collapse of an annex building gave us one last chance to see the interior during restoration work.
Nikon D300 – AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm 1:2.8G
The Arcade (1)
And in 2012 now restored with much of the original woodwork present and refreshed.
Nikon D300 – AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm 1:2.8G

Restoration work wouldn’t begin until 2009, the building was secured, and scaffolding went up. A chance in 2010 was offered up when the entire block was threatened by the collapse of an annexe building. Thankfully the annexe had little historical value, and the damage was quickly secured, and the Block would survive. But it did offer one last chance to go in and check out what had been done. Undercover of darkness, a group of die-hard Hamilton area explorers checked out the stripped-down interior. While the first and second floors retained much of their original shape, the third and fourth were totally gutted. I never saw the interior again until 2012 when it reopened as a Doors Open attraction; only the first and second floors were open to the public.

Light Paiting
In 2007 a section of the 2nd Floor you can see serious fire damage to the walls and woodworks.
Nikon D70s – Tamron SP AF 11-18mm 1:4.5-5.6 Di-II
2nd Floor
2010 and you can see that much of the fire damage has been cleaned up.
Nikon D300 – AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm 1:2.8G
2nd Floor (Again)
And completly restored in 2012 even the beautiful tiled floor is again showing.
Nikon D300 – AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm 1:2.8G

You can check out the two different albums on my Flickr site from when the Lister Block was abandoned and how it looks like now in its restored state.
Lister Abandoned or Lister Restored

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