The story of Toronto's most stately skyscraper
The Toronto skyline was born at the outset of the 1930s. Up until then, the view of the city from a ship entering the harbour was one of church steeples and a handful of buildings that rose over 10 storeys. At the time, Toronto didn't boast a single true skyscraper.
In 1929, the Royal York Hotel made its mark at 28 storeys, briefly bearing the crown of the tallest building in the British Empire before the headquarters of the Canadian Bank of Commerce took the mantle at 34-storeys just a year later. It would hold onto that designation all the way until 1962.
We now refer to this building as Commerce Court North, the oldest part of a complex of office towers that also includes I.M. Pei's understated but lovely Commerce Court West at 57 storeys. The prominent spot on the skyline that our first true skyscraper once enjoyed has been mostly lost to modern structures, but few would argue against the idea that it remains one of our most beautiful buildings.
You might point out that the now lost Temple Building deserves the title of first Toronto skyscraper, but at 12 storeys, it was only remarkable for its height for the first decade after it was built back in 1896. By the time the late '20s had rolled around, building heights had soared in other cities, and the Toronto skyline lacked any true showpieces.
Commerce Court North was designed by Pearson and Darling Architects of Toronto, though American firm York and Sawyer consulted on the engineering of the building. Constructed out of limestone, the tower is a wonderful representation of Art Deco architecture right down to its positively dreamy gold-plated ceiling (still a huge draw for local Instagrammers).
Few photos of the 1930s in Toronto are more iconic than those of the R100 Airship cruising by Commerce Court. One wishes that the resolution of these were higher so that you could peer in and see the sculpted faces that circle the observation deck near the top of the building.
They're a startling bit of old school architecture, but hard to get a good look at because access has been bared to this area. That's not to say, however, that some explorers haven't managed to get up there. The resulting photos mark what a shame it is that the observation deck isn't open to the public.
Commerce Court North turned 85 years old this year, and boy does it ever still look good.
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