Early in the last century, Red Deer’s 56th Street became known as “Son-in-Law Row” because city founder Leonard Gaetz had built a house for each of his newly married daughters on it.
David and Elizabeth Plumtree had different neighbours when they first bought a cottage-like home on the street in 1974. But the early 20th-century character of the quiet, tree-lined boulevard was still visible then — just as it’s evident today due to the quaint century-old houses.
Now 12 of the historic residences of 56th Street have been rendered in watercolours by David Plumtree, who’s exhibiting his art works at the Golden Circle until Friday.
All of the domiciles he painted have a distinct last-century charm — from the green-peaked home with a porch at number 4755, to the former Presbyterian church manse at 4743, to the shingle-and-brick two-story at 4736.
While several original homes on the street were wrecked and replaced with new ones over the last few years, David said his goal as an artist wasn’t to preserve images of the old remaining houses for posterity. He painted the residences simply because he liked the look of them.
Something about growing up in Victorian-era houses in England always made character homes appealing to David and his wife — although it was the picturesque street itself that first attracted the Plumtrees.
Elizabeth recalled she and David had grown tired of living in a basement apartment with their two young boys, and they spontaneously decided to walk along their favourite road one day to see whether any houses were for sale.
After spotting a solitary “For Sale” sign in the snow, the couple toured an affordable 12,000-square-foot bungalow at 4754-56th St. and bought it for about $20,000. They didn’t discover until the snowdrifts melted in the spring that they even had a hedge in the yard.
Their wood-siding house with an enclosed front porch came with original woodwork and maple floors but was definitely a fixer-upper, said David, who was then a planner with the City of Red Deer.
For one thing, steam-heating pipes made the basement unusable, so the couple had to change the heating and electrical systems, redo the floors and basement, paint and re-brick the living room fireplace.
“We’ve redone it twice now,” added, David, who also created an English-style garden in the 250-foot backyard, which stretches to bike trails along the Red Deer River.
The other historic homes on the street were also kept up over the years, and the Plumtrees never saw a reason to move.
Their various neighbours have included a retired farmer, a heart surgeon, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet named Mary Wiseman, and her husband, Ed Wiseman, who was a 1940s hockey player with the New York Rangers, and now Red Deer city Councillor Cindy Jefferies.
Elizabeth noted not a single neighbour complained when she saved two chickens from slaughter by keeping them in a dog pen in her backyard in the late 1980s.
She only got a phone call one morning to come and retrieve her dead chicken after a murderous fox dragged one of her poulets onto a neighbour’s lawn a couple of doors down.
During the 1970s, the Plumtrees felt living off downtown Red Deer was much like residing in a village. The family could walk to all their favorite shopping centres, which were downtown, walk to the grocery store, walk to work, walk to school. There was rarely a reason to take the car out of the garage, said David, who inherited his artistic talent from his architect father.
Thirty-five years later, Red Deer has changed in many ways, but the couple still goes walking.
Other people can keep their spacious suburban homes with their three-car garages, concluded David. Elizabeth added, “Neither of us ever liked the idea of living away from the downtown.”