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What's next for the Heydon House at Old Weston Road?

Posted by Rick McGinnis / January 12, 2014

Heydon HouseWhile it's neither grand nor particularly well-preserved, what remains of Heydon House today makes the forlorn intersection of St. Clair West and Old Weston Road where it's sat for over a century seem somehow shabbier. Once a boisterous railway hotel with a dodgy reputation, now a grimy apartment building, Heydon House is rumoured to be a target for redevelopment, as part of a number of schemes to try and revive the fortunes of the streets adjacent to the landmark building.

There was a hotel on this corner before Confederation, but the current red brick building with its name spelled out in ornamental terracotta over the front door of the variety store on its ground floor was built around 1890. It was designed by architect James Ellis, who also drew up the plans for most of the public buildings in the nearby West Toronto Junction, including the library and Masonic Temple, several churches and a synagogue.

Terracotta detail at Heydon HouseThe stretch of St. Clair West from Winona to Jane has little in the way of heritage buildings - just two, including Heydon House and St. Clare's Basilica at Dufferin. As a hotel, Heydon House boasted a ballroom, and dining room and a tavern, and hosted cockfights in the ballroom until the police forced them to take place clandestinely in the hotel's attic. It was also the scene of an infamous brawl in 1903 between workers from the stockyards to the west and railwaymen from the train depots to the south that ended up clinching the vote to make the Junction a "dry" area - a ban that lasted until 2000.

Heydon House, 1927Prohibition ended up putting the hotel out of business, and by 1911 Heydon House was a rooming house. The cupola on the turret and the roofline sign were taken down by 1951, by which point the building was an apartment house. It was an unfortunate loss, part of the wholesale harvesting of cupolas and roof ornaments all over the city, but the renovations did replace the balconies and fire escape over the entrance on Old Weston Road with a far more dramatic window spanning all three storeys.

Heydon House, 1955Plans to redevelop Heydon House came to light last year, when Ward 17 councilor Cesar Palacio held public meetings to consult on the future of the building and the adjacent area. Officials in the city planning department confirm that the owners have submitted drawings for an extensive renovation of the building, but that nothing more formal has been discussed.

While details are sketchy, it would appear that Heydon House is likely to be given what historical preservation activists call a "facadomy," where exterior walls will be retained but the building behind it, which has been landmarked since the '80s, will be demolished.

"Whatever happens there, the facade of the building has to be preserved," Palacio tells me. "All the elements of the historical aspects are maintained - there's no negotiating that."

Whatever happens to Heydon House, it likely won't happen too soon, but all four corners of the intersection have been targeted for increased density by the city's avenue study. On every side of the old hotel, empty lots and moribund storefronts make for a desolate streetscape, but the biggest change that's likely to happen to St. Clair and Old Weston Road in the next few years is the widening of the underpass beneath the bridge just a few hundred yards to the west, where the Brampton GO line currently runs, and the new express line to Pearson is being built.

Keele underpassWidening the bridge at Keele Street was supposed to happen during the agonizing construction of the St. Clair streetcar right of way, but that project's endless delays pushed it off the table, despite Palacio's warnings that it would create a traffic bottleneck. With a huge new supercentre about to open on the old stockyard lands by Keele, traffic is only going to get worse, but Palacio has gotten $42 million earmarked for the widening - pending the usual rounds of consultations, environmental assessments and public meetings.

Empty lot and Jesus SavesEven when the underpass excavation goes ahead, redevelopment of the corners by Heydon House will have no shortage of further obstacles. To the east, a long-vacant lot next to the Faith Impact Ministry's storefront church with its iconic "Jesus Saves" sign has to be remediated. Owned by Imperial Oil, the lot has had its environmental assessment, and work seems about to begin in the spring.

Toronto Hydro substationThe corner also hosts some stubborn pieces of infrastructure. To the west of Heydon House, two power substations - one owned by Toronto Hydro, the other by the TTC - colonize a stretch of St. Clair, while Heydon House itself, the tallest building in the area, has a small forest of cell phone repeaters on its roof, which would need to be moved before renovations begin.

The TTC owns several plots of land at the intersection, including an empty lot across the street that was once a bus loop. It's an eyesore that Palacio is trying to get beautified, but he can't do much about the used car lots, the auto body shops and the huge cheque cashing storefront that took over the gas station kitty corner from Heydon House, all of which give the area its low rent vibe.

The liveliest businesses on the corner - Delta Bingo and the West Toronto Flea - are exactly the kinds of places that would be forced out if St. Clair and Old Weston ends up seeing the "huge change" that Palacio predicts for the area. Considering the obstacles that need to be overcome, it might be many years before the corner throws off the gritty, dubious reputation it earned when Heydon House was the scene of cockfights and brawls.

Archival photos of Heydon House courtesy Toronto Public Library and CIty of Toronto Archives.

Discussion

26 Comments

the lemur / January 12, 2014 at 02:21 am
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I don't think even widening the underpass itself is going to be easy. You can count on the railway to be difficult about allowing anything to change regarding the tracks, plus there are the townhouses on the right of the 5th photo - they can't be moved. The best thing might be to shift the road to the south, where Delta Bingo and one or two vacant lots are now.
John Labatt / January 12, 2014 at 04:07 am
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Lets bulldoze it we got lots of old buildings in Toronto. Lets try and get this city modern. Bulldoze it and pay cash at the end of the day. Any building over a 100 years old should be torn down.
Zachary Viggiani / January 12, 2014 at 09:27 am
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As someone who lives just north of this intersection and drives through it all the time I am looking forward to the widening!

They really should have done it when they did the streetcar ROW.

I support he ROW and what it did to the neighbourhood but this should have happened at the same time even it is took a bit longer.
Zachary Viggiani replying to a comment from John Labatt / January 12, 2014 at 09:30 am
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Yea let's get rid of any character and turn it all into condos!

Not like there are not enough already right?
Holy Thundering Jesus / January 12, 2014 at 09:41 am
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No matter what happens this intersection is going to change as there is 2 new condo towers going up on the south east side on St.Clair and Keele on Lloyd Avenue. It will be a Mix Use Residential ‘North End’ and 1/3 Employment ‘Office/Art School/Restaurant/etc…’ South End of the vacant land. It has already been approved by the city, here is a link to see what it will look like on the developers site. http://stantonrenaissance.com/portfolio/praesent-commodo-cursus/
Matt replying to a comment from John Labatt / January 12, 2014 at 09:59 am
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Yes and then you can whine like all your hipster friends about how Toronto has no history after.
Nancy / January 12, 2014 at 11:04 am
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I think this is great news! The area really needs a boost... And I disagree with the writer. I think Heydon House is a beautiful old building and I can't wait to see it restored.
Christopher King / January 12, 2014 at 12:18 pm
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I remember regularly buying bacon or sausage sandwiches at the butcher shop that used to be in this building.
W. K. Lis / January 12, 2014 at 12:45 pm
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And extend the St. Clair streetcar to Jane and/or Scarlett Road. That would be next logical step, but we can't do it the logical way.
junctionist / January 12, 2014 at 12:55 pm
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The Heydon House has an air of grandeur in spite of the unsympathetic and ugly renovations the owners did over the years, most recently adding those ugly cellphone antennas to the top and air conditioners to the side. It's one of the most interesting buildings in the area with its rare sandstone and terracotta details. It's in the Romanesque and Queen Anne hybrid that characterizes houses in the Annex. It should be preserved with the cupola and roof ornamentation rebuilt in the original style.

It's good to hear talk about improving the area through redevelopment. St. Clair needs mixed-use infill buildings with good architecture. It's rare to see so many vacant lots and parking lots on a main street in Toronto as on St. Clair in the area. Dundas and Bloor, for instance, are lined with buildings from downtown to the west end.

The widening of St. Clair by rebuilding the underpass is something that has to happen. The traffic is bad, and it's not pleasant to cycle through. The structure itself is ugly. It may be necessary to build a pedestrian arcade through the Heydon House to accommodate the sidewalk, but there's room to widen St. Clair with its present alignment and avoid an unnecessary curve. The only building that would have to be demolished is a nondescript auto garage on the south side near Keele. That wouldn't be an issue.

This area has a good location in Toronto and could be attractive and vibrant with the right public and private sector investments.
John Labatt replying to a comment from Matt / January 12, 2014 at 01:46 pm
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Yepp me and my hipster friends will have something to wine about. Since you don't have any friends keep saving all the old buildings and go wash your crusty underwear.
John Labatt replying to a comment from Zachary Viggiani / January 12, 2014 at 01:49 pm
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My brand new 500 square ft Condo looks way better that this old dumpy building. Yes lets build more condos and get Toronto out of the dark ages.
Moneesha replying to a comment from John Labatt / January 12, 2014 at 02:27 pm
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More empty boxes. Yep, Let's make the whole city one big Jane and Finch Ghetto.
Zachary Viggiani replying to a comment from John Labatt / January 12, 2014 at 02:59 pm
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Good thing the city doesn't make these calls based on how awesome you think your condo is...


If we listened to your hundred year rule we would be bull-dozing 80% of our downtown.

Yes this building is run down now, but I kind of see it in a similar light to The Gladstone which was also a wreck in the 90s. It would not take much to get the back to something good.
Khanh / January 12, 2014 at 04:36 pm
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I feel like the commentors on BlogTO who bitch about old buildings being torn down don't live anywhere close to these buildings and want to preserve them just for the sake of it. If you leave nearby Heydon House or drive by it on a regular basis you would see what an eyesore it is to that area and the shifty characters that roam around it
Zachary Viggiani replying to a comment from Khanh / January 12, 2014 at 05:04 pm
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Hmm as I said earlier I live just up the street am am familiar with the state it is presently in.

I just think it would be better to keep and update it like they did on Gladstone as opposed to tearing it down.
John Labatt replying to a comment from Zachary Viggiani / January 12, 2014 at 05:05 pm
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Lets say they tore down the Gladstone in 1995 and did not renovate it and made a parking lot or a Condo. How is having a renovated Gladstone make us farther ahead, its still looks like a dumpster.
Zachary Viggiani replying to a comment from John Labatt / January 12, 2014 at 05:07 pm
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Okay you are obviously crazy then if you think the Gladstone looks like a dumpster.

I will leave it there..
Matt replying to a comment from Zachary Viggiani / January 12, 2014 at 05:19 pm
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John lives in a dumpster shaped box.
P-funk / January 12, 2014 at 07:29 pm
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My uncle owns this building! (I'm so cool)
Simon Tarses replying to a comment from John Labatt / January 12, 2014 at 10:25 pm
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Look at the douche bag telling the rest of us what buildings are ugly and need to be torn down!

Hey douche bag, why don't you buy a copy of Cities XL Platinum and make your own city in you own ugly image to your own ugly liking? That would be better than how you're acting now. Also, please learn about the history of this city and of classical architecture before you open your mouth.

With regards to the Heydon House, I hope that the same people, or similar people, who brought back the Drake and the Gladstone could revive Heydon House in a similar fashion; the area needs a revival similar to West Queen West (the only difference is that there's no Parkdale here, so a revival could continue apace-hopefully-with a MINIMUM of condos.)
junctionist / January 13, 2014 at 01:41 am
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If you're starting to read the comments from the bottom, skip the dumb trolling and drama and see my comment above, which is the best one.
John Labatt replying to a comment from Simon Tarses / January 13, 2014 at 03:03 pm
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You sound angry im glad you dont live in my Condo. Ya thats what this city needs fix dumpy buildings cause there old and we dont want to lose our History. If people listen to you the downtown would be a dumpster.
Bleh replying to a comment from John Labatt / January 13, 2014 at 03:53 pm
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Like the one you live in. Good thing no one listens to you.
Andrew / January 13, 2014 at 09:18 pm
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Starbucks!
Mister Toronto / January 29, 2014 at 09:21 am
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They really should have buried the street car tracks between Old Weston and Keele. Another large project that the area needs is the rebuilding of the Old Weston Road bridge.

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