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This is how to do heritage restoration in Toronto

Posted by Chris Bateman / September 11, 2013

toronto bealeFor 161 years, Corktown has changed around the little Francis Beale Buildings at King and Parliament. Streetcars arrived, breweries and distilleries came and went, and new highways punched holes in the housing stock. Through it all, the small inn and storefront held on, crumbling and falling into ignominious dereliction as its neighbours vanished.

Now, 30 years after the last residents moved out, the building is getting a new lease on life thanks to a drastic facadist treatment funded by its owner and neighbour, Little Trinity Church. In a few months, a replica of the original structure will be complete, and hopefully no-one will notice the difference.

toronto bealeThe simple, two-storey brick property was finished in 1852 in a plain Georgian style once common in the city's east end. Leslie Scott, the first owner, opened the eponymous Scott's Hotel there with Francis Beale as a tenant, possibly a manager. By 1875, Beale, a bricklayer, had taken over the buildings and was running his own inn and store out of a second, more recent, building to the east.

In the 20th century the buildings fell under the ownership of Little Trinity Church and used as accommodation, occasionally a coffee shop. Its designation as a heritage structure by the province and city failed to stop the rot and slow internal decay and it was abandoned in the early 1980s, says John Van Gent, a warden at Little Trinity Church.

toronto beale"The church went through a number of starts and stops about what to do with the property," he says. "Everything from selling it, to doing a joint venture with a charitable organization who would assist with the development, but all of it hinged around the lack of financing. The church didn't have enough money to do the renovation."

In 2008, Little Trinity embarked on a 10-year fundraising program, seeking the $4.5 million needed to bring the buildings back from the brink. The Anglican diocese chipped in $1.2 million of seed money and the rest was sourced from private donations, which it is still accepting.

toronto bealeThings didn't exactly go smoothly with the city's heritage department. Van Gent claims bureaucracy held up the project by several months and generated several unworkable requests. He says city staff wanted Little Trinity to build functional chimneys despite the new building having no fireplaces.

Heritage staff also called for a raised planter shaped like the footprint of the old building instead of a backyard children's play area, but eventually had a change of heart.

"It was completely ridiculous ... unless you were 60 feet in the air looking down you were never going to know what the hell the thing was."

toronto bealeIn December 2012, a team of builders led by DTAH Architects Ltd. with heritage consultants E.R.A Architects Inc. shored up the crumbling brick facade and demolished everything behind, including the old foundations. From a hole in the ground rose an entirely new structure, cleverly disguised as the very thing it replaced, plus a little extra at the rear.

Little Trinity did heed some of the city's instructions: a special lime stucco coats the east wall, which is in keeping with what the original builders would likely have used; the original windows and doorways, shifted and bricked up over the centuries, are back in their original locations based on archival photographs.

toronto bealeThe most noticeable difference is the restored bricks facing King Street. Once lost under a layer of faded sand coloured paint, the original copper tones now shine thanks to some dedicated sand blasting.

When construction finishes later this year there will be an upstairs meeting space, new church offices, and a storefront for Little Trinity's services and programs. A Victorian home down the street the church currently uses as office space will become a Christian education centre.

Corktown HeritageWhat do you think of the restored building? Is this a good example of facadism or should the church have found a way to restore the original structure?

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the name of the lead architect, DTAH.

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Contemporary photos by Julia Stead. Historical images from the Toronto Public Library, Toronto Historical Board



Alexander / September 11, 2013 at 02:41 pm
Old doesn't automatically equal special...it looks like a run of the mill building to me...I doubt 1/1000000 people who ever wandered by it thought "wow, that's amazing"...and equally had they torn it down I doubt 1/10000000 would have cared.
Danny replying to a comment from Alexander / September 11, 2013 at 02:50 pm
Yeah, because popular opinion should definitely gauge how valuable something is. The same moronic statement could be made of you, since 1/10000000 wouldn't notice if you vanished off the face of the Earth forever.
realc replying to a comment from Alexander / September 11, 2013 at 03:09 pm
Internet trooooll.

It's a beautiful building. If we don't save this stuff, we'll be left with wall to wall glass street level condo retail, dry cleaners and banks for everyone!!
TRG / September 11, 2013 at 03:12 pm
I see you guys over at BlogTO read Urban Toronto. Good job.
jen / September 11, 2013 at 04:11 pm
Lovely!! I'm so glad to see these buildings come back to life. There's another Georgian style home on Avenue Road south of Davenport that looks like it is being saved, too. Toronto needs more of this!
BM replying to a comment from Alexander / September 11, 2013 at 04:12 pm
Actually, I did. And do. It's a beautiful building.
Steve replying to a comment from Danny / September 11, 2013 at 04:25 pm
Actually popular opinion really does determine something's value - or more correctly, whoever is willing to put up the money. Ever heard of supply and demand? If no one is willing to put up the cash to do something productive with it, tear it down. And you're right, no one would miss you or me if we vanished off the face of the Earth. We're not all special. Shocking, I know.
Chadwick / September 11, 2013 at 04:37 pm
Hecklers be damned. Preserving an old run-of the-mill building like this is as important as any other in an age when the face of Toronto is becoming a wash of the mundane. A building like this stands out and having now found a purpose will likely stand for good. The richness in such a simple facade puts even the best attempts at "old-looking" townhouses to shame. Furthermore, while 1/1000000 may not have ever even noticed the dilapidated building it once was, they may notice it now. These great old buildings speak to something inside us in a way that we might not even understand. Remember, the Mona Lisa is just a painting of a lady, right?
seanm / September 11, 2013 at 06:22 pm
There's so little of our original Georgian stock left that it's extremely important to restore and preserve all remaining examples. There's more to city building than supply and demand, it isn't just a black and white numbers game.

Your comments make you sound like a bean counting drone working for some accounting firm.
Sean / September 11, 2013 at 06:29 pm
Better than tearing it down to build a condo or parking lot. At one time, the Eaton's family wanted to tear down Old City Hall. Glad it was suggested they back off.
Fiona Williams / September 11, 2013 at 06:41 pm
Shame they couldn't restore the entire building, but I guess this is the next best thing.
Hazel / September 11, 2013 at 06:44 pm
I think it's great. Peace out.
Denise Harrison / September 11, 2013 at 07:04 pm
I lived across the street at 334 King Street for 5 years (1986-1990) and many times wondered what would come of these old buildings. Glad they were saved. I hope the fate of the old man and his trusted dog that used to live in the adjacent park fared as well
Steph / September 11, 2013 at 07:06 pm
I just passed this building for the first time in several years today and noticed it instantly. It's beautiful!
susan h. replying to a comment from Steve / September 11, 2013 at 07:14 pm
steve, you are confusing value with "monetary value" by thinking in purely capitalistic terms (a relatively new concept - are you shocked to know that supply and demand is an invention, like the economy, and not a given?!).
I hope you're able to break out of this tiny mindset before you find yourself on your deathbed regretting a lot of the choices you've made in life.
Darren Ball replying to a comment from Steve / September 11, 2013 at 07:16 pm
Actually Steve, popular opinion might determine the value of a Twinkie but it doesn't determine the value of a Picasso.
Bob / September 11, 2013 at 08:27 pm
Facadism is a copout.
Lou / September 11, 2013 at 08:55 pm
Sandblasting brick?! I thought conservationists stopped that in the 80s.
E. Toby Coke / September 12, 2013 at 06:05 am
Nobody ever regrets preserving stuff like this.
Gail / September 12, 2013 at 08:02 am
Thanks for sharing the history of these buildings. I am so happy to see the restoration of them. I have occasion to drive south along Parliament on an almost daily basis and I have seen them over the years. They had been a haunting and sad sight for a very long time. I don't have an opinion re: facadism but the restoration that has been done has resulted in bringing a bit of old beauty back to life in that location.
Ken / September 12, 2013 at 09:57 am
Good job from blatantly ripping this off from UrbanToronto
Ken / September 12, 2013 at 09:59 am
This isn't the first time Chris Bateman has done so either. UrbanToronto posts an article, and a day or two later, a strikingly similar one gets posted on here.
Graeme / September 12, 2013 at 03:37 pm
It is SOMETHING. However, it is not what should be done the majority of the time.

Wherever possible Toronto needs to preserve ENTIRE buildings. Over the past few years the number of buildings of any interest or quality has been diminishing at a very high rate.

None of these condos that are going up are going to exist in 50 years. They are ugly and poorly built.

Great examples of Victorian and Georgian buildings are all around the city and are regularly torn down in the name of progress.

In this case, if the interior was as far gone as it is made to sound, then ok, maybe this was the best way to go. But The City of Toronto needs to really step up the preservation of the city. No more letting condo developers just use the facade, no more letting people tear down houses to build some boring modern house that looks exactly the same as one down the street.

Gini / September 12, 2013 at 08:46 pm
we should honour history by preserving as much of the past as possible.
ceansor / September 13, 2013 at 09:13 am
I have been watching these buildings deteriorate for 30 years hoping someone would do something like this. It is too bad we had to lose the the old Derby House (seen to the west of this project in the third last photo) with its fabulous wrap around mansard roof. The developers of the building that replaced the Derby House paid homage to it by calling the new building "The Derby"and made and effort to bring historic elements and scale to the King Street facade, but a restoration the Derby House,a la the project featured, would have been much preferred by me.

If you think buildings like this are not worth preserving, just look at the last photo and compare them with that hideous Staples building in the background. This is one of several new architectural abominations that are within a stone's throw of this project that emphasize how important projects like this are.

jbc / October 3, 2013 at 01:55 pm
I remember these old houses, from a few decades ago. I think a front door must have been opened. What I saw when I looked inside, was a quaint, very old fireplace against the wall. It had what looked like a home-made or crudely made hearth in front of it. It was obviously well over 100 years old at the time. The hearth had some really old glass alleys embedded in it, that were cobalt blue and other colors. It looked enchanting, like folk art. Over the years, whenever I've gone by these row houses, I've always wanted to look inside again, at that great old hearth, with the glass alleys in it, and original old fireplace. Since the original inside of these old houses is now gone, I'm sure their original quaint old fireplaces, with folk art-type hearths are gone with them. It's a shame the entire inside could not have been restored, instead of replaced. However, at least part of these old houses is preserved, for us to enjoy now and in the future.
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