Nostalgia Tripping: Toronto's decaying heritage sites
This week, I was walking from Yonge and Dundas Square down Yonge Street and this was the first time that I came across the former site the William Reynolds Block, a.k.a. the Empress Hotel. In April 2010, the structure first lost one of its walls due to neglect. In February, it was badly damaged in a fire set by an arsonist and subsequently demolished. The loss of the historic building is an unfortunate reminder that architectural heritage is not as valued in Toronto as it should be. Along with the former Empress Hotel, there are a number of historic buildings in the city that are severely neglected, despite the fact that they are designed heritage properties or at least listed in the City of Toronto Heritage Inventory. Let's have a look at some of them.
Ocean House Hotel
Location: 1645 Queen Street West at the junction of King Street West, Roncesvalles Avenue, and the Queensway
Style: Victorian Gothic Revival
History: In 1882, Thomas E. Scholes, the proprietor of the Scholes Hotel at Queen Street West and Dundas Street West, bought a triangular lot at this intersection, announcing his plan to erect a "first class summer hotel" in the spot. Next year, he made an addition of fifty rooms to what was then known as the Park Hotel. Over the years, the establishment changed hands and names. In 1912, it was purchased by W.R. Reid, the president of United Cigar Stores Limited, who altered the structure to provide more space for retailers. The hotel fell on hard times in the late 1950s, coinciding with the social and economic decline of Parkdale.
Current status: The former rooms of the hotel on the second floor are currently apartments. Easy Restaurant occupies part of the ground floor, while the main part of the floor, facing the corner of the intersection, remains vacant. The facade of the building continues to severely deteriorate.
Victory Burlesque Theatre
Style: Art Deco
Location: 285 Spadina Avenue at Dundas Street West
History: In the early days, the theatre, known as the Standard, played an important role in the social life of the Jewish community whose members lived and worked in the area. In 1935, the venue was sold to 20th Century Pictures, who renovated it, closed off the existing balcony and renamed it the Strand. It became Victory Burlesque in 1941, offering "the best in burlesque." It closed down in 1975, facing competition from burgeoning strip clubs across the city, later opening as the Golden Harvest Cinema, which closed in 1996.
Current status: A branch of the Royal Canadian Bank occupies part of the groud floor, along with a variety of retail establishments. The theatre inside, located in the back of the building, remains abandoned. The original auditorium with the stage, the Classical decoration, and the recessed ceiling still survive to the present day, allowing for the faint possibility that the theatre could be revived one day.
Loblaws Groceterias Company
Style: Art Deco
Location: 530 Lakeshore Boulevard West at Bathurst Street
History: According to Tim Morawetz's Art Deco in Toronto: A Guide to City's Buildings from the Roaring Twenties and the Depression, originally the four storey-structure was the site of of the headquarters of the Loblaw Groceterias Company. In 1934, a two-storey addition was constructed, located further to the north. The stone trim topping the piers above the first floor and at the roofline depict a unique geometric detailing.
Current status: There have been conflicting news reports regarding the future of the structure. The National Post reported in January 2011 that the building is currently being renovated to accommodate a grocery stores and office, while the Toronto Star claims that only the facade will be preserved. Hopefully the deteriorating stone trim, which was reinforced with metal straps, will be restored.
Bank of Commerce
Location: 199 Yonge Street
History: Peter Kuitenbrouwer, the columnist at the National Post, states that it was designed by architects Darling and Pearson, who also designed the original Royal Ontario Museum. The building has been vacant for about 40 years.
Current status: The Parasuco family, owners of Parasuco Jeans, bought the property some years ago and were planning to build a hotel. However, this project was delayed and the company now seeks to rent it. Meanwhile, the building remains vacant.
Bank of Toronto
Location: 205 Yonge Street
History: Kuitenbrouwer states that the building was designed by E.J. Lennox, a prominent Toronto architect, who also worked on the design of Old City Hall. It was home to a branch of Bank of Toronto, which later became TD Canada Trust. Then, it housed Heritage Toronto until 2003, when the city sold it to to John Cavannah, an Irish businessman.
Current status: Abandoned, sometimes used as a film set. Check out photos of the interior here.
Images from the City of Toronto Archives and the Wikimedia Commons.
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