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Frank Gehry's childhood home faces demolition

Posted by Matthew Harris / July 25, 2010

Gehry's Childhood home in TorontoWhen Frank Gehry - the architect of what some people think is the world's most impressive modern building - was working on his renovation of the AGO, it was often noted that he had grown up around the corner. From 1929 until 1947, young Ephraim Goldberg ("Frank Gehry" came later) lived at his grandmother's house at 15 Beverley Street. But like so many that have come before it, the house is facing demolition. And once again, it's for a condo.

12 Degrees Condo on Gehry's HomeIt's not, however, all bad: the condo planned for the site has many positive attributes. 12 Degrees, from the developer BSAR, is a ten-storey building that fits into the context of the streetscape pretty well. It also features an intriguing, twisted design that's unique for condo architecture. The firm responsible, Core Architects, has designed several of the recent additions to King West.

And if it weren't for the Gehry connection, it's unlikely there would be much fuss about this particular building. When 15 Beverley was listed as a heritage site, its immediate and identical neighbours 17 and 19 were specifically not included. All of the buildings are fairly non-descript, and they have been altered since their original construction in 1858.

Sales centre for 12 Degrees CondoBut the Gehry connection is powerful. The architect's formative years were spent in Toronto, and he has said that specific memories from his Toronto childhood - such as the fish his grandmother kept in their bathtub before she prepared them for the Sabbath meal - have inspired the glittery, fish-like appearance of some of his work.

The original zoning by-law amendment for the site was turned down due to the heritage issues, the elimination of rental units, and some privacy and shadowing concerns.

Path to the 12 Degrees Sales Office on Beverley Since then, the developer has continued to work with the city. When I spoke to the city planner, Christopher Dunn, about the status of the development, he said that the developer had adopted a slight southward shift of one portion of the building to deal with the shadowing and privacy issues. The rental issue is also being addressed.

Dunn says that the heritage issues had also been addressed, but he would not go into specifics. Further details will be available when the recommendation for approval is presented to city council on August 17th. But since the home is only listed as heritage and not designated (a stronger form of protection), there is relatively little the city can do to prevent its eventual demolition if the developer wants to fight over it.

Gehry's AGO staircaseSo, until we hear otherwise, the future for 15 Beverley does not look good. Although it's difficult to see much of Gehry in this humble house, will the loss of this connection to one of the world's most-esteemed architects be something we regret in the years to come?

All images by Matthew Harris except rendering of 12 Degrees from Core Architects.



Some Guy / July 25, 2010 at 11:09 am
Doesn't anyone else see the irony in Frank Gehry's old, historic home being torn down and replaced by a glass and steel mess of strange angles and odd design?
Rajio / July 25, 2010 at 11:33 am
If he wanted it saved, he could afford to buy it himself.
Mark Dowling / July 25, 2010 at 11:43 am
"And if it weren't for the Gehry connection, it's unlikely there would be much fuss about this particular building"

Who the hell cares where so-and-so lived. If it's a truly striking building, or part of a heritage neighbourhood (*cough* 204 Beech *cough*), save it. If not, lose it. Our problem in Toronto is we let the developers take out good buildings while wringing hands about bad ones just because they think tourists might give a crap about a ramshackle edifice which sheltered a celebrity for a few years.
Alex O / July 25, 2010 at 11:45 am
He's an important guy but we're not talking about Abe Lincoln's childhood home here. I wish he lived in a more architecturally important home growing up...but he didn't. It's void of any importance save one occupant 60 years ago. ,

there's nothing worth saving here and frankly the 12 deg building is about a suitable a tribute as we can expect in the core of downtown.

a progessive like FG would never call for an unredeemable house like this to be kept in lieu of progress.
Seshan / July 25, 2010 at 11:54 am
DennisHarvey / July 25, 2010 at 11:59 am
I have walked, or ridden past that house literally thousands of times, and until now, had no idea that Frank Gehry had lived there as a child. Seeing as this fact wasn't even enough to warrant a plaque, I don't think there is really any need to save this house. Though Gehry may have drawn some inspiration from the neighbourhood he grew up in and things he saw in that very house, the neighbourhood has changed significantly since then.

Preserving this home might be of some importance if, say, Gehry had begun his career as an architect from this home, or worked on famous designs while there, but he didn't.

If we are worried about losing a connection to a famous architect, we should feel comforted that there is a piece of his work just up the block.
Nick W / July 25, 2010 at 12:09 pm
Yet another past slum is replaced by a future slum. Hooray, Toronto! Hooray, "progress"!
annakarenina / July 25, 2010 at 12:31 pm
who cares.. tear it down
Lori / July 25, 2010 at 12:32 pm
And yet another home falls victim to becoming a rich person only condo. I for one care if a building is where so and so lived, whether it be a shack or a memorable house.
annakarenina / July 25, 2010 at 12:42 pm
I agree with you, but not at the cost of progress in general... and I think we definitely need to build a LOT MORE affordable housing downtown and less high end condos.. absolutely. but I just couldnt care less if Frank Gehry's grandma lived in that house. u know? just my opinion
Lori / July 25, 2010 at 01:21 pm
Frank Gehry himself lived there too for a time, if it was just his grandma living there then I would be on the tear it down bandwagon too. And I am not looking to halt progress, build it, but somewhere else.
eller replying to a comment from Rajio / July 25, 2010 at 01:56 pm
Yep. If Frank gave a damn, he'd stop this development from happening.

Has anyone consulted him for his thoughts on the project?
annakarenina / July 25, 2010 at 02:13 pm
So does every edifice related to any celebrity automatically warrant protected status?? I dont understand that mentality. Who cares if he lived in it from the age 2-4 or whatever the heck it is. I dont know and I dont really care. Tear it down I 12 degrees looks wonderful btw.
Roark / July 25, 2010 at 03:18 pm
Gehry is a very sentimental person but has not voice out against the construction of the condo, so let it be. Beside, Houses that are designed and occupied by the architect are the ones that are valued.
Roark / July 25, 2010 at 03:22 pm
Gehry is a sentimental person but has not voice out against the construction of the condo, so let's wait and see how things unveil. Beside, Houses that are designed and occupied by the architect are the ones that are valued.
Matt / July 25, 2010 at 04:07 pm
Weirdly enough, this doesn't bother me so much... maybe it's just the aesthetics. The better looking houses just north of 15-19 Beverley will be left alone, so I'm not too upset.

I'm a lot more worried about the the Gloucester Manions off Church St., or the semi-collapsed Yonge and Gould building, or the warehouse at 253 College being threatened by that proposed U of T high-rise rez building. (Christ, we sure do seem to be on a tear-it-down spree this summer.) I'm getting pretty damn tired of the army of condos marching across the city with their poke-your-eye-out glass facades and demographic whitewashing of the inner city.

On the other hand, this one's not bad. And the houses are unremarkable. So... I want to be up in arms, but really, I think we've got more pressing heritage concerns.
nw / July 25, 2010 at 04:35 pm
Pretty interesting remarks considering the same comments could have been brought up in Frank lloyd wright's time as well.
me / July 25, 2010 at 05:03 pm
The last thing this city needs is yet another condo. While the planned development looks interesting from the outside, I took some time and checked out the suites. As usual, they're tiny, not really remarkable in any way, and will probably be priced way too high.

The house itself isn't very interesting either. I'm pretty sure it looked very different when it was originally built. Unlike the Gloucester Mansions, 204 Beech and the old Empress at Yonge and Gould among others that have oodles of character and should be preserved, I wouldn't be saddened to see this one go if it was replaced with something more realistic like affordable (and decent sized) housing.

annakarenina / July 25, 2010 at 05:16 pm
agreed me.. if they tear down gloucester mansions ill scream!
mr hate / July 25, 2010 at 05:46 pm

Tear it down.
Gilles / July 25, 2010 at 06:25 pm
I'm all for conserving significant buildings, but the mere fact that this just happens to have been his childhood home does NOT qualify.

Let's focus on making sure the new condo building is built efficiently, and built to last. Let's put our energies into forcing builders to construct places to *live* in. Instead of a place to *sell*.
Ron / July 25, 2010 at 07:45 pm
Mr G, tear down this wall, er, house!
Drew / July 25, 2010 at 09:34 pm
Here here, Alex O!

I think the 12ø building is indeed a perfectly suitable tribute -- just add a plaque! The irony being only that he grew up in architectural blandness.

Keith / July 25, 2010 at 09:38 pm
I think Frank would really like this new condo to replace that old little shabby row of homes... I'm sure many old historic buildings around the world met the chopping block to make way for some of Gehry's innovative modern structures. Save the bathtub, if it still exists, where Bubbie kept the fish (if it still and incorporate as a pond or fountain on the property or in a nearby park... call it "Gifelte Goldberg bathed here!"

I love the architectural rendering of this new place - it's not another 40-60 story phallic glass structure like most everything else going up these days downtown. That's getting boring already.
nw / July 25, 2010 at 09:51 pm
William Shakespeare"s house is bland for it's time....should that have been torn down too?
Jordan / July 25, 2010 at 11:02 pm
I say tear it down,

It's not a remarkable building - nor one he designed. There's a certain absurdity in commemorating anything a person touches or has been in or near. Frank Gehry should be remembered for his architecture - not the home he once lived in. And sure enough, he has a giant building right up the street from here that is completely his own.

I'm sure if you asked Frank himself, he wouldn't have a problem with it's redevelopment either. He is the master of starting things afresh - I mean, look what he did to the AGO! It's become a great building thanks to his renovation. And more importantly, look to his attitude when building the AGO. Barton Myers - the architect of the previous incarnation of the AGO, wanted to completely stop Gehry's renovation from occurring. Frank's response to Myers - 'I'm going to destroy your building.'
Adam / July 26, 2010 at 09:22 am
I didn't know that this esthetically unremarkable row of houses was as old as it is, or that Frank Gehry lived there in a previous life, but I still think they're worth saving—the entire row, I'd say.

Toronto has precious little pre-confederation architecture remaining—grand or modest—and despite that these buildings have undergone "alterations" during their lives, they are still worthy of "rescue".

I would say keep them even if no notable person had ever lived there.

Beverley Street has a certain character from bottom to top, and replacing a row of charming, if simple, row houses for another glass box (no matter how <i>au courant</i>) is not my idea of good planning.

I don't have a particular recommendation for what to do with the existing buildings, but I do think they're worth saving, regardless of their past celebrity occupant.
Jake / July 26, 2010 at 12:14 pm
This building is is not bad at all considering this city is extremely poor and boring architecturally.
mick / July 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm
If this house truly warrants saving --and I'm not sure that it does-- then here's a fitting compromise: jack it up, drag one block to the Grange and plop it down somewhere in the park facing the AGO. Voila, instant addition to the rec centre. And one with a nifty back story that compliments the neighbouring AGO.

Think of Campbell House, who wouldn’t have preferred it to remain where it was? But if moving it meant saving it, then it was a worthwhile compromise. And the legacy was an interesting museum.
jennifer / July 26, 2010 at 12:53 pm
Wow, I never knew he lived there, or that those houses were that old! I cycle past this house every day...I will make a point to stop and have a closer look before it is torn down.

Too bad Gehry himself didn't design the new condo build.
mondayjane / July 26, 2010 at 01:19 pm
WHAT? Toronto wants to rip down a designated Heritage building and construct at CONDO??????? WHAT???!!!!!! Unheard of. I simply cannot believe it. Unreal!!!! <br><br>

In all seriousness, Frank Gehry is an international figure of significant importance in architecture. Just because his childhood home isn't anything to look at doesn't mean it should not be considered an important building and therefore bulldozed. In fact, it is the city's failing for not making it visibly recognizable (via plaque, preservation, etc) that he was raised there. <br><br> However, I am not exactly surprised. Toronto couldn't give a sh!t about its history. As much as I love this city, I am perpetually at odds with it in this department.

Joe Buffalo / July 26, 2010 at 02:14 pm
Perhaps the original building can be saved and woven into the new condominium building design (i.e. the Citicorp Bldg. in NYC built above St. Peters Cathedral).
That would be a challenge for creative architects to turn this into a potentially extraordinary project.
Gerald Fritz / July 26, 2010 at 05:56 pm
Save the bathtub!
dkp / July 27, 2010 at 10:14 am
Some of the comments are truly remarkable. Why save what a phenomenal historical person has lived in or worked in? OKAY, let's turn ALL of the father's of our country's homes into theme parks and condos and malls! Who cares where Lincoln was born? Who cares where anyone YOU aren't interested in lives?
Why have museums at all? Heck, why teach history anymore?

As an architect, Gehry is right up there with Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Eames, Michael Graves, Meis Van Der Roe, Corbusier, etc. -- even if you haven't heard of him. And no, he can't just buy what is not for sale.

If you are going to comment, then know something about the process of designation.

Teh idea of making the architects stretch to incorporate his home would make him happy, I think, knowing him the little I did.
dkp replying to a comment from Joe Buffalo / July 27, 2010 at 10:15 am
Like this!
Rajio / July 27, 2010 at 01:11 pm
"I hope they don’t put a plaque in the lobby that says I lived there....I would be insulted by that. Who wants a plaque with your name on it in some shitty-looking lobby?"

—Frank Gehry
ehk / July 27, 2010 at 10:57 pm
interesting discussion. my untrained eye fails to see any redeeming value in the old building - no matter who lived there. not every old brick is worthy of keeping - TO has plenty more of these.
with respect to the new - well, beauty is always in the eye of the beholder. this one seems on par with most what's 'offered' to the buying public in TO currently.
we currently seem to be in love with glass, and at that with window wall construction instead of curtain wall. likely a price question why we see so little curtain wall construction in highrise condos. wonder which this one will use - the website talks of "European inspired kitchens" etc. - but little else by way of hard facts.

in any event, shares of Pilkington or Saint-Gobain should be safe bets fifteen to twenty years hence....
Alexandra Rymland / July 29, 2010 at 09:45 am
I hope Frank writes about his grandmother's "fish in bathtub for the sabbath" when he does his memoirs. He doesn't need a monument to his childhood because he is an icon now.
Miss Kris replying to a comment from Jordan / July 29, 2010 at 10:43 am
"He is the master of starting things afresh - I mean, look what he did to the AGO!"

Frank Gehry did not start afresh at the AGO - he built another addition on a museum that has had over 8 addition since it's first purpose-built galleries were constructed in 1912. Barton Myers' last addition from 1993 (with local heroes KPMB) might have been the most damaging (although I would contend the concrete additions from the 1970's were faaaar worse), but Gehry actually saved a lot of Myers' interior spaces. He did not "destroy [his] building" anymore than he destroyed Darling and Pearson's building (1912, 1926) or Cleveland Architect's building (1935), or John C. Parkin's building (1974, 1977).

Regardless, I think it's worth pointing out that Mackenzie House (a City of Toronto owned heritage house that belonged to our own Rebel Mayor William Lyon Mackenzie) is also from 1858. It's a great example of a mid-19th Century urban row home that many lower-middle class families would have lived in during that time. It's also a style of building that is becoming increasingly rare in downtown Toronto.
Marc / July 29, 2010 at 01:15 pm
Preserve it, maintain it, designate it as a heritage site and convert it into a Gehry museum. Imagine, you don't really hear of notable buildings (meaning and architecture-wise) in Europe being threatened to be demolished.
Marc / July 29, 2010 at 01:42 pm
No to glass-and-sticks buildings. Especially condos and those ones that waste space and do not have anything going on on the first/main floor (no retail, eateries, etc.).
warmflash / July 29, 2010 at 04:09 pm
Frank Gehry wasn’t shy this week when he offered The Globe his opinion of the condominium set to replace the row house of his Toronto childhood. “Awful,” “not very original,” “a riff on a lot of work I’ve seen,” he called it.
vegangirl / August 2, 2010 at 07:39 pm
i actually lived at 15 beverley street for 6 years. i can attest to the fact that the house isn't particularly "special" but it's sad to see this whole block go. the area surrounding queen west and beverley has gone through some very unfortunate changes of late, and this is yet another example of how the area is losing most of its character and soul.
Nick / August 23, 2010 at 12:51 pm
Tenants complain they are being pushed out (Toronto Star, Aug 17, 2010)
Nick / August 23, 2010 at 01:11 pm
Adam Vaughan, Councillor of Ward 20, can be reached here, and would love to hear your comments on this demolition:

The proposal goes to council tomorrow. Get your opinion in before then!
Nick / August 25, 2010 at 10:47 am
Council will be voting on this item later today. Here are the details:

Take special note of what will be replacing these century-and-a-half-old rowhouses:

"Townhouses with separate entrances are proposed along Beverley Street at the base of a 3-storey podium with a residential building above."

This seems like an appropriate way to spend our cultural and historic capital. I'm sure you agree.
Nick / August 25, 2010 at 10:35 pm
Council has adopted item TE36.8. 15-27 Beverley, some of the last remaining Georgian rowhouses in Toronto, will be demolished and replaced by "some shitty-looking lobby". Congratulations, Toronto! You are nothing if not consistent.
demolition / February 8, 2011 at 02:26 am
it is very sad happening with GEHRY and i think he is very sorrow fully for that . facing demolition of his child old home . wow i am not able to face that because i love my house . i don't to see demolition of my sweet home
Samantha Sealey / December 3, 2014 at 07:43 pm
Hi there Matthew Harris. We are currently making a documentary about Frank Gehry and I would love to talk to you about this article asap. Please can you get in touch? I am hoping you can see my email address.
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