On the 13th of September, 1969 Hamilton's First United Church was consumed by a tragic electrical fire. The church, which occupied the land between King Street and Main Street, was destroyed, leaving behind only a shell of the once lavish structure.
Rather than rebuild the church, the congregation decided to give back to the community from which they came, by erecting a multi-purpose facility complete with space to continue church gatherings and activities. A non-profit corporation was formed to build and manage the new facility.
Housing for seniors became the focus of the endeavour. Trevor Garwood-Jones, architect of such major projects as Hamilton Place and St. Peter's Hospital commissioned a grandiose structure complete with residential, commercial and public spaces.
As it is now, the third floor was designed to be a recreation space for residents. The original concept included a 300 person auditorium, a green thumb room for gardeners, a craft room, workshop, billiard room and a restaurant.
The congregation of the United Church retained space on the second floor, but eventually withdrew from occupancy and merged with the nearby Pilgrim Congregation to become First Pilgrim United Church.
Initially, the ground floor offered a 23,000 square foot grocery store, which was later replaced by an array of retail stores services for the convenience of residents.
In 1976, First Place Hamilton welcomed its first residents and in a monumental ceremony. But, it was nearly a decade before the board could report revenue matching expenditures.
Over the years a number of upgrades, repairs and improvements have been made to the building. The lobby area was improved with a grand stair case and a portion of the third floor was glassed in for a dining hall and offices.
The original brick construction was eventually refaced with metal and at the same time all balconies were enclosed to provide additional space to the interior units.
In 1999, the second floor was converted from commercial space to a Retirement Living Unit. The conversion did result in some unusual configurations, but made way for some much needed on site services including personal support, housekeeping, and meal preparation for residents.
In 2006, operational costs could no longer be borne by the non-profit board, and the Province put First Place Hamilton in the hands of a receiver. A request for proposals was won by CityHousing Hamilton, the public housing arm of the City of Hamilton.
CityHousing Hamilton assumed management of the facility in the fall of 2008, and accepted full ownership in October, 2009. Since then, a number of deferred maintenance and upgrade projects have been undertaken.
Throughout its existence First Place Hamilton has maintained its mission of supplying an affordable community for seniors, with services, supports and social life extending in and beyond the downtown core. CityHousing Hamilton is dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the building and its mission going forward.