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The tragic fate of the Temple Building

Posted by Derek Flack / June 2, 2011

Temple Building TorontoThe Temple Building is one of those lost Toronto landmarks that I'm amazed I haven't posted about before. Well, I guess technically I have. It ranked high on Top 10 buildings lost to demolition list that I put together a while ago. Still, considering just what an architectural gem the building was prior to its unceremonious demolition, it's high time to share a few more photos from the archives.

Designed by local architect George W. Gouinlock in a Romanesque Revival that Old City Hall would come to compliment a few years after its construction in 1896, the Temple Building was arguably the first skyscraper built in Toronto, and the tallest building in the city for a brief period. Home to the world headquarters of the Independent Order of Foresters (IOF), a fraternal society and charitable institution lead by Dr. Oronhyatekha, a prominent First Nations entrepreneur, it would stand until 1970.

The reason for its demolition was pretty simple. At the time it was deemed an outdated building in an area where office space was in high demand. Although there was some discontent at the prospect of its loss, I've found no records of organized protests or the like (which did happen when Old City Hall came under threat by an earlier version of the Eaton Centre). In its place sits the Queen-Bay Centre, which though not an awful building, will always pale in comparison to its predecessor.

Sometimes one just wants to ask: why Toronto, why?

Photos

Temple Building Toronto

Temple Building Toronto

Temple Building Toronto

Temple Building Toronto

Temple Building Toronto

Temple Building Toronto

Temple Building Toronto

Temple Building Toronto

Its replacement...

Queen and Bay Toronto

Photos from the Toronto Archives with the exception of the interior shot and the photo of the Queen-Bay centre, which are from the Wikimedia Commons and royhenry, respectively.

Discussion

24 Comments

Matt / June 2, 2011 at 03:24 pm
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Oof. This one hurts more than most.
Alex / June 2, 2011 at 03:35 pm
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Bah...whatever...things change...it certainly wasn't iconic to any great degree...
Don / June 2, 2011 at 04:00 pm
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This was one amazing building. I had the good fortune of seeing inside during the summer of 1968 or 1969. Being young at the time and caught up in the "let's tear down all the old ugly buildings" of those times, I suddenly saw the light. My attitude changed forever after that short tour. What I remember was the detailing in the elevator waiting areas. Tiny tile mosaics in intricate patterns. Muted tones of greens and yellows...all done by hand of course. There was some talk of preservation but few cared. It did not have the upfront history of an old city hall. Besides, the Order of Foresters had a new place in Don Mills and the old building needed work. Ho hum. Down it went. Would love to see interior shots.
Kelly / June 2, 2011 at 04:01 pm
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It was a beautiful building. Quite sad we tore it down.
archifan replying to a comment from Alex / June 2, 2011 at 04:17 pm
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Yeah, you can pretty much die.
Juice replying to a comment from Matt / June 2, 2011 at 04:32 pm
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So true Matt. I look at cities like New York with all of their old building retrofitted instead of torn down too bad we don't have the foresight.
Daryl replying to a comment from Matt / June 2, 2011 at 04:53 pm
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I agree. Oooof is right.

It's such shame considering its replacement. Uggh.
Torontonian / June 2, 2011 at 05:24 pm
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It was a heck of a job trying to demolish it.
The wrecking ball merely bounced off the wall
and couldn't crack the stonework that had fused
over the decades. A HUGE wrecking ball had to
be brought in on a float for the demolition
to take place.

By the way, wasn't there a bicycle storage area
in the basement of the building? I seem to remember
reading about it. The only other pertinent memory
I have of the building is that it had Chinese elevator
operators.

It was a very attractive building but it stood in
the way of the "everything bright and shiny and new"
thinking of the day. A tragic loss.
seanm replying to a comment from Juice / June 2, 2011 at 05:35 pm
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New York City tore down plenty of fine structures too. One only needs to search Penn Station for an example of a great loss.
Foo replying to a comment from Alex / June 2, 2011 at 07:40 pm
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Clearly, you are insane.
Frank / June 2, 2011 at 08:27 pm
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Hey! I was browsing the web today and I randomly found this amazing TORNTO daily deal coupons website. It has like all sites on 1 simple page with no pop ups or ads! Thought I'd share! ;) Have fun people!

waytwogood dot com
K. / June 2, 2011 at 08:42 pm
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Tastes change. Will we one day be taking to the streets to protest the demolition of the gray concrete office buildings that line Bloor? Back then people wanted modernism, now we've decided we want the old style.

Interesting that in all of those pictures, almost all of the buildings have been replaced, except Old City Hall.

I'd be curious to know what the state of the building was prior to the teardown. There are lots of older buildings on Queen and the like that are in very rough looking shape and I doubt most people would even notice if one was torn down.
TorGurl / June 2, 2011 at 08:54 pm
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The only remnants left of the building are at Old Guildwood Inn park. If you get the chance check it out.
Matt replying to a comment from K. / June 2, 2011 at 09:18 pm
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Tearing down a building because it's rundown is ludicrous though. Over a few centuries of years, I'd bet it's more cost-effective to properly maintain one building than to build a new one every 50 years or so--and it connects us to the city's past.

The fact is, most people seem to LIKE being around lovely old things. Those buildings on Queen Street you mention would certainly be missed. Look at the fire in 2008. It was widely regarded as an architectural tragedy, and I'm sure those buildings were in dumpy shape inside.

Beides, you can't compare the Temple Building to any random old structure. It was one of the most distinguished structures every built in this town.
FAC33 replying to a comment from K. / June 2, 2011 at 10:53 pm
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A notable survival (although technically a "replacement" as it was built in 1928) is the Sterling Building just across the street from the Temple site at Richmond and Bay. You can see it in a number of the photos in this article. The "newer" building just across Bay St from the Temple is also still there.

Another notable survival--and one just up the street to the east--is the Confederation Life building.
Adam Sobolak replying to a comment from K. / June 4, 2011 at 12:31 am
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"Tastes change. Will we one day be taking to the streets to protest the demolition of the gray concrete office buildings that line Bloor? Back then people wanted modernism, now we've decided we want the old style."

Not necessarily--indeed, the tide's been turning for a while on behalf of "gray concrete buildings"

http://www.chbooks.com/catalogue/concrete_toronto

I reckon that if it were proposed to wipe out the Colonnade, people'd be taking to the streets--sure, maybe not *you*, but...
Don / June 4, 2011 at 06:31 am
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it's all very simple in my opinion. We should have representation of all styles that landed here, concrete, glass or metal. For instance, 'New" Toronto City Hall is a stunning example of excellence in concrete construction. Yes, I think the tide is indeed slowly turning in saving important historic and interesting buildings from all eras. I'd be for saving the Colonnade because of the importance of our first under one roof mixed retail/housing complex, set back and to scale with the neighbourhood despite size.
J / June 6, 2011 at 07:43 pm
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Does the author have anything from bay and wellington before CIBC's commerce court was built?
Eric / January 28, 2012 at 11:42 pm
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I had the fortune of working in the Temple Building on the 9th floor in the summer of '69. I remember sitting on the ledge 9 stories above the pavement and eating my lunch with two of the Eaton brothers as we organized the Toronto Pop Festival. The offices of the Mariposa Festival were also in the building and yes, it had these two crazy Chinese elevator operators who used to race their cages up and down the building. It took no time to get to your floor and they always stopped level with the floor no matter how fast they went. Simply amazing.

I heard that the building was deemed structurally unsafe and had to come down. I guess that's why the wrecking ball couldn't damage it.
George / March 5, 2012 at 06:07 pm
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My father had a business in the building from the late forties to the late sixties. The chinese elevator operators were definitely the highlight of every visit. Just as Eric wrote they could go from flat out up or down and stop dead level at your floor. Although my father passed away in 1967, his office was also on the ninth floor facing city hall. His company was Gordon Daly, before it became the infamous Gordon Daly Grenadier.
Brock King / March 29, 2012 at 05:36 pm
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Does anyone know about the first tenants of the Temple Building after 1896 when it was built? I have an old buisness card belonging to an ancient relative claiming to be the General Manager of The Roman Stone Co. Ltd. officed at 505 in the Temple Building. I am curious about the nature of the business.
Jim Van Meggelen / July 14, 2012 at 04:29 am
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Part of the facade of the Temple Building still exists at Guildwood Park. Not much to see, but several facades from old Toronto buildings are preserved there.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Remains_of_Toronto_Temple_Building.jpg
Craig / November 14, 2012 at 03:46 am
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J Michael's still exists, as a clothing retailer. It was a tenant, obviously, on the street floor level, in the last picture. Interesting.
Agent Smith / May 3, 2013 at 09:25 pm
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Artistic vandalism in the name of philistines with a few bucks.

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