Incorporating Toronto’s History Into Today’s Modern Residences

I want to go back to the theme of last Wednesday’s blog, and pick up on the idea that we should preserve and cherish Toronto’s history; what little we have of it.

Some folks suggested that the heritage buildings in Toronto serve no purpose, add no value, and that “character and history” are meaningless.

Well, we may not have the history of some world-class cities in Europe, but had they torn down all their old buildings, hundreds or thousands of years ago, they wouldn’t have what they have now.

We here in Toronto have to start somewhere, right?

230KingUpClose

The Colosseum is crumbling.

There it is, that decrepit piece of crap, literally in the centre of Rome.

What point does it serve?

It’s ugly, old, gross, falling apart, stinks of millennium-old Gladiator-blood, and it doesn’t comply with 2017 building regulations.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to tear it down and build an 80-storey office tower, right in the heart of Rome, and try to bring some big-business to the downtown core?

You see where I’m going with this, and yet many of you will argue, “It’s not the same thing.”

Buildings like the Colosseum or the Parthenon are over 2,000 years old.  Buildings like 187 King Street in Toronto are only 150 years old.  So why bother comparing?

Well as I said in the intro, we have to start somewhere.

Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492.  Early settlements began thereafter, and who knows whether or not we had a Colosseum of our own when modern-day Toronto was part of New France.

But we have what we have here in the city, and what we have only dates back to the 1800’s.

We don’t have the history of a Paris or a London, but does the fact that our heritage buildings aren’t old enough mean we should disregard them, and demolish them?

Personally, I don’t think so.

As I’ve said on many occasions, part of the reason I have lived in the St. Lawrence Market area for over ten years is because this is the one area of the city dominated by heritage buildings, and is chalk full of Toronto’s history.

Many people couldn’t care less, and I get that.  To each, their own.

But when I walk down to Metro to pick up a few items on an otherwise uneventful Sunday afternoon, I pass by six or seven buildings that date back to the 1800’s or early 1900’s, most of which have plaques that explain their origin, and their importance.

I’ll be the first to agree that “highest and best use” is an applicable term when it comes to the utilization of both real estate, and public spaces.

But when it comes to heritage properties, and Toronto’s earliest history, there has to be a happy medium.

And the City of Toronto seems to agree, since many of Toronto’s original buildings have been incorporated into condominiums, and other well-known attractions.

Let’s take a look at a few condos in the St. Lawrence Market area that have used heritage buildings in their design.

230 King Street East, aka “King’s Court”

230KingStreet

230 King Street East is known as “King’s Court,” one of the more popular condos in the SLM area.

But surely you’ve noticed that there’s a heritage building incorporated into the design, right?

This two-storey Edwardian Classical bank was built in 1908 for the Imperial Bank of Canada.

In 1961, the Imperial Bank of Canada merged with the Canadian Bank of Commerce, giving us the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, or CIBC as we know it today.

The branch continued to function until 2000.

The building was designated under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1998, and thus it had to be used in part by the developers, Camrost-Felcorp, in their new condominium project.

The original “IBC” mosaic still exists in the front lobby of the condo, which is a very cool rotunda.

In the main lobby of the building, there are huge black and white portraits of the bank in its heyday, likely circa 1920’s, and I found it fascinating to look at the photo, then look right at the spot in the lobby where the photo was taken.  Some of the features are exactly as they were nearly a century ago.

168 King Street East, aka “King George Square”

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In a very similar fashion as 230 King Street above, the developers of King George Square incorporated another old back into their design.

That structure on the corner, which is actually 172 King Street East, was the “Sovereign Bank of Canada,” built in 1907.

In the 1980’s, buildings like this one were basically boarded-up, and yet somehow they survived.

172 King Street was designated as heritage in 1984, and King George Square was completed in 2000.

If you really care about Toronto’s history, you might find it interesting that on the site of King George Square was where “The Great Fire of 1849” first started.  The site of the condo was formerly home to a horse stable, and somehow a spark hit some hay, and poof, half the city set on on fire.

251 King Street East, aka “King Plus Condo”

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Here’s one of the oldest structures in the SLM area.

Constructed one year after Confederation, in 1868, the this building was home to “The Grand Central Hotel,” and holds bragging rights to the oldest surviving hotel structure in the Old Town of York.

It became the “National Hotel” by the late 1800’s, and remained in operation for decades thereafter.

Believe it or not, an application was made in 2009 to tear down the entire heritage building, by a developer seeking to build a 17-storey condo.  I believe this was “Bahaus” before it was redesigned and relaunched as “King Plus Condo.”  City Council refused the request, which you can read HERE.

King Plus Condo was completed in 2016, and the main floor commercial space attracted their current flagship tenant, Starbucks, after the Starbucks at the corner of King & George (across from the Soverign Bank site) had a fire in 2015.

1 King Street West, aka “One King West Hotel & Residence”

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You know why this building holds a special place in my heart, right?

I married my lovely wife Jenna here on June 30th, 2013.

My groomsmen and I sat upstairs in a rented condominium, playing Street Fighter II on the original Super Nintendo (who wants a 2017 remake when I have a working version from 1992?) for hours on end while my wife and her bridesmaids were preparing for our photo shoot.

This site on the southwest corner of Yonge & King was home to Michie & Co. Grocers & Wine Merchants in the 1850’s, albeit in an original building that pre-dates the structure currently on site.

In 1879, the grocer moved out, and in moved The Dominion Bank.

By the early 1900’s, The Dominion Bank had gone from start-up to nationally-recognized, and there was a need for more space, and a newer structure.

The existing 4-storey structure was demolished, and a “skyscraper” of 12-storeys, which was gargantuan at the time, was completed in 1914.

The building was designated heritage in 1990, and a TD Bank branch continued to operate on site up until around 1999, when a condominium and hotel development was planned.

“One King West Hotel & Residence” was completed in 2006.

There are countless other examples of Toronto’s history being preserved while allowing new and better-utilized structures to move forward.

Consider the Air Canada Centre, which was built around the old Toronto Postal Delivery Building:

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The building featured a 13-part series of carvings around the base, for which the artist, Louis Temporale Sr., received the Order of Canada.

I first noticed these carvings when I was scalping Toronto Maple Leafs playoff tickets in 2001.  I was a university business student trying to “apply” his knowledge, and completely out of my league – up against professionals, and cowering in the corner, leaning against a wall that had a stone carving of a boy and his father in a canoe!

The next time you’re down there for a game, be on the lookout for these:

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The building was designated as heritage in 1990, and if you ever watched a Toronto Raptors game at Skydome like I did in the late 1990’s, you know that the team desperately needed a permanent arena!

The site of the Toronto Postal Delivery Building was prime real estate, and centrally located downtown, so while I’m clearly a sucker for Toronto’s history, I will admit to keep the building in tact would have served no real purpose as Toronto moves forward as a world-class city with a rapidly-increasing population.

But allowing for the three walls of the building to be incorporated into the Air Canada Centre, and keeping these stone carvings in tact, helped to preserve our city’s history, and showcase it within a venue that gets attention worldwide.

Groundbreaking started in 1997, and amazingly, they were open for business in 1999.

Bottom line, folks: our history here in Toronto can’t hold a candle to that of what you’ll see in many major European cities.  But I see no reason why we can’t try to preserve what we have.

I’m not suggesting we build a shrine around hundred-year-old park bench, but if you look at 251 King Street as an example, you can see how a developer with no imagination and no care in the world, decided it made sense to tear down a 150+ year old building, and in the end, how it actually looks better using the original structure as part of the design.

There are a lot of other heritage buildings in the St. Lawrence Market area that I think could be incorporated into new condominiums or office buildings.

But perhaps that’s a topic for another day…

8 Comments

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  1. Kyle says:

    I think i’m 50/50 on how most condo developers have incorporated historic facades in their projects. I won’t mention which ones, but personally, i am not a fan of some of the above examples. I think juxtaposing the old with new only works when each style is given its due respect. In some of the examples above, the “new” portions are already dated looking and give the appearance of a bland, generic, mediocre condo trying to swallow an old building.

    This juxtaposing of old and new is become a hallmark of Toronto architecture. When it is done well i think the different styles elevate each other. Some projects (most are not residential) that i do like the look of:
    http://urbantoronto.ca/news/2014/02/allied-properties-reit-brings-office-space-downtown-west
    http://urbantoronto.ca/news/2015/09/crane-also-rises-tale-three-toronto-mansions
    http://www.archdaily.com/142443/the-royal-conservatory-telus-centre-for-performance-and-learning-kpmb-architects
    http://smithandandersen.com/projects/detail/5093
    http://www.nbs-enb.ca/About-NBS/Facilities
    https://www.canadianarchitect.com/features/award-of-merit-51-division/

  2. T says:

    Toronto is a young city with a limited history. So limited in fact, every aged structure is deemed historic by some simply because it is old.

    If a structure does not have significant archeological or architectural value why keep it around at all? Why be held back by the chains of the past?

    Doze and build entirely new. That’s progress.

    This whole business about keeping the look of the original structure while building out 50+ sorties above it is just plain nonsense.

  3. Mark N says:

    Speaking of Rome – if you visit the Vatican and the splendours of St Peter’s you will see incredible mosaics and stonework whose materials were stripped and plundered from Roman temples and other architecturally significant buildings of ancient Rome. As has happened throughout history, the new order plunders from the old order, deliberately destroys the past, rewrites the present, and hence historically significant structures are lost.

    In Toronto we have lost so much too soon, but it is good to see the preservation of significant structures such as the great hall in Union Station, and the former railway station at Yonge & Summerhill – now the Summerhill LCBO. It is somehow fitting that wines from all over the world are now sold in the great hall and tracks of a major railway terminus that was once a gateway to a from our city to the world.

    I was in New York City last week, and one place I had to visit was the architecturally spectacular cathedral like Grand Central Station on 42nd Street. Over 750,000 people pass in and out of it daily, and it is truly one of the architectural splendours of Manhattan. I was surprised to learn that it was almost torn down in 1975 to make way for a faceless office tower after its landmark designation was voided by the courts. It was saved at the 11th hour from destruction thanks to effort by people such as JFK’s widow.

    Jacquline Onassis wrote: “is it not cruel to let our city die by degrees, stripped of all her proud moments, until there is nothing left of all her history and beauty to inspire our children? If they are not inspired by the past of our city, where will they find the strength to fight for her future? Americans care about their past, but for short term gain they ignore it and tear down everything that matters…”.

    These words are just as applicable to our city, and I say keep the developer’s wrecking balls from wiping out our heritage!

  4. Condodweller says:

    I didn’t get a chance to post last week on this subject. My take is also that not all old buildings are created equal but the good ones should be saved. I love the old red brick low rise buildings downtown including SLM with the high ceilings and exposed beams and red bricks on the interior. My first preference would be to maintain the exterior as is and just modernize the interior, however, I do realize that money rules and neither the developer nor the city would make much money without increasing the unit count.

    I like the idea of maintaining the facade as a compromise though I would take it one step further and force the developer to somehow carry on the look in the modern highrise part to maintain a uniform look. All of these hybrid buildings look like a bad photoshop job with a modern building pasted on top of the old buildings.

    It is futile to compare European cities with North America due to the missing thousands of years of history. One also can’t compare the architectural significance of the Pantheon/Coliseum to Toronto buildings.

    Take a look at the Tour the France coverage on TSN this week if you want to see beautiful architecture that stood the test of time. Their chateaus are around 400 years old and still standing!

    1. Sarah says:

      I have to say, I think 168 King Street East did a very nice job with blending new with old – but all and all I agree on the terrible hybrid look.

    2. Condodweller says:

      I just watched stage 15 of the tour and they are going through an area where the buildings are from 1120. Make that 400 years old building 900. Plus or minus 500 years, who’s counting anyways!

  5. Kramer says:

    I’m all for preserving heritage… but it needs to be situational.

    The following building is on the same street as my office…

    http://www.pinewoodonlocation.com/ontario-canada/10-prince-arthur-ave/

    My thoughts on this heritage building are:
    a) it should have its heritage status revoked
    b) its heritage status is resulting in inefficient (i.e. zero) usage of this amazing lot/location.
    c) it looks like a haunted house, is an eye sore… and the whole idea of it looks/feels stupid and makes people shake their head.

    I could be wrong, but just my opinion as someone who walks by it 4 times a day.

    So I say start with buildings like these – change their status, get the best usage out of the properties. If there are a dozen like this around the city, start with them… take a community vote if you have to, or whatever… then see where we are in another 5 years.

    1. Mike says:

      That whole area is a historical area as it was the original Yorkville Village.

      People pay big bucks to live in that area and restore the homes, I’m sure given time the same thing will happen to this location.

      41 Boswell is a great example of what’s happening in the area.

      http://torontolife.com/real-estate/houses/house-of-the-week-41-boswell-avenue/

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