Toronto Behind the Boarding: 1495 Queen West
Ten years ago, where Dowling Avenue joins Queen St. West, a housing project built in 1920 went up in flames. Two perished in the fire, two more in its aftermath. 1495 Queen St. West has sat vacant ever since, awaiting the results of numerous battles between independent housing groups and city councils.
Given the circumstances surrounding this buildings' demise, it piqued my curiosity in a special way. It has sat unoccupied, yes, but not empty - all of the former tenants' belongings and accoutrements were left intact after the evacuation. This, coupled with the startling realization (after climbing to the top of an adjacent building to get a holistic view of the ruin) that approximately 1/8th of the 3-story structure has literally fallen into itself, made my visits inside an absolute must.
The property was finally expropriated by the city a few years back, but from what I've seen, the only 'real' work began a few weeks back with the erection of some exterior boarding, followed by a visit from a cherry picker (possibly to assess the roof-damage). The ability of a city to expropriate property is controversial to say the least, and at least one independent group (whose meeting myself and a friend attended just under a year ago) had suggested a 'use it or lose it' law, very similar to ones already in place in other cities.
One must be careful in using tragic situations such as this one as a precedent, however, as hard cases often make for bad law. The efforts of the aforementioned group did succeed in pinning ownership of over 10 derelict properties in the Sherbourne area (including that row of abandoned 'red' houses just behind the Sherbourne TTC station) to a single 'ghost company'. Since examples of such abject and large-scale neglect such as these tend to occur in Toronto's less well-to-do areas, and the fact that abandonments and crime tend to travel not too far apart, I question the lack of motivation on the part of the city to adequately and swiftly deal with this issue.
As for future plans, the property will be turned into affordable housing by the Parkdale Activity-Recreation Centre by 2010. Notices that were recently put up on the edifice state that a "4th story will be added to the existing 3", making me wonder if the damage was properly assessed before these signs were made.
Looking at a 2006 Toronto Council expropriation approval report for this building, Copper Crow Property Management Ltd. would be given $420,000 in exchange for the property as it sits (as well as $200 for the owner to merely sit-in on the meeting), but even since then, the building has become exponentially more dangerous, making it more than just a "blight on the neighbourhood", as the report put it.
A local homeless man informed me and a friend that the roof had caved in only a few days prior to my first entry. This, again, some 10 long years after the fatal fire occurred. I hope that the structure is indeed still salvageable, as it would be sad to see yet another beautiful old Toronto building suffer from demolition-by-neglect.
Below are a few more snaps from inside this beautiful ruin: