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Posts Tagged ‘Toronto’

A few year’s back MacLean‘s magazine published a cover titled, “Lawyers are Rats” that had the brotherhood of the bar up in arms and denying that the erosion of civil society occurred as a consequence of their handiwork. Recently, Chistopher Hume, of the Toronto Star, has directed his attention towards the conduct of developers who, among lawyers, share a special place in the imagination of a damning public.

Toronto’s record of historical preservation is shoddy, spotty and replete with many missed opportunities. According to Hume, Toronto’s weak historical preservation laws are open to exploitation by inviting nefarious developers to behave like barbarians that broke through our gates.

Sentiments build and are invested in spaces and buildings and this is what the buyer of a historical home or an authentic industrial loft sees as value. Destroying a house with that value for the sake of domino townhouses means, as a buyer, your new digs have a dirty secret – and in Toronto, the neighbours talk.

John Todd, president of 1626829 Ontario Ltd (not a snappy corporate acronym meant to be remembered) has deliberately destroyed the historical features of Toronto’s 7 Austin Terrace – designed by John Lyle who is also responsible for Toronto’s Union Station and Royal Alexander Theatre. As the home’s current steward, to little surprise, John Todd seeks to demolish the historic house and throw up some townhouses.

Original Windows Being Ripped Out, Along with Portico Torn Off. From Macleans Magazine: http://macleans.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/december162009.jpg

Apparently, destroying the architectural features of your home is enough to duck a historical designation in this city. According to Hume, the laws of civilization could not anticipate the actions of Barbarians.

“Todd may be an embarrassment to the city, but clearly this doesn’t concern him. Why should it? Eventually, he will build his townhouses and people will buy them blissfully unaware of their shameful history. As long as his actions are not illegal, it doesn’t matter if they’re wrong.”

If only the objectionable professions did not share such close quarters…

There is probably more stigma to living in a townhouse built on the ruins of an important historical structure than Hume accedes. Cultures and meanings people have of their built environments endure once the destruction is done. Sentiments build and are invested in spaces and buildings and this is what the buyer of a historical home or an authentic industrial loft sees as value. Destroying a house with that value for the sake of domino townhouses means, as a buyer, your new digs have a dirty secret – and in Toronto, the neighbours talk.

Stepping foot inside a 120 year old  Victorian in Toronto’s Rosedale or Annex neighbourhood with anticipation only to find MDF mouldings, prefinished flooring, ripped out walls and ubiquitous pot lighting is a bit like being witness to a crime scene.

That being the case, most Rosedale and Forest Hill century home “renos” approximate barbarianism, if only the actions of the owners were more willful. Stepping foot inside a 120 year old Victorian in Toronto’s Rosedale or Annex neighbourhood with anticipation only to find MDF mouldings, prefinished flooring, ripped out walls and ubiquitous pot lighting is a bit like being witness to a crime scene. Toronto’s historic preservation laws have nothing to say about how one can best protect the interior features of a historic property. Newly gained professional salaries, an HGTV habit, precious little knowledge and big ideas combine to create interior designs that will  soon be abandoned as a signifier of pop cultural capital.

Perhaps, we are content with surfaces in this city, as the numerous “preserved” historic building facades would suggest. Eerie architectural artifacts lingering on a PoMo streetscape reminiscent of an old western sound stage or a New Urbanist “Main Street”. Though I suppose seeing at least some old brick in place is better than the alternatives.

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The Cabbagetown Historical Preservation Association takes the preservation of Toronto’s Victorian housing seriously and with good reason – Cabbagetown is the largest stretch of Victorian housing in North America. On their homepage they have made available the resource, “What Style is My House” which is good reading for anyone who can’t identify the historic home they live within.

This is an invaluable resource for those of us who had no idea they had bought a Century Victorian because there was little left to identify what the original house had looked like. For whatever reason, downtown homes, outside of the trendy preservation districts, tend to be hidden under layers of aluminum siding, inappropriate additions and a host of other measures over the years that often results in a house that stylistically “does not make sense”.

The Cabbagetown Preservation guide is oriented to Torontonian architecture with detailed styling points for Georgian, Queen Anne,  Romanesque, Gothic and Arts and Crafts styles. Two styles of housing are unique to Toronto: The Bay and Gable and the Annex House. The guide, however, only identifies the Bay and Gable. The annex home is a unique combination of Romanesque and Queen Anne that is characterized by mass, permanence and the exuberance of Queen Anne features. These houses are seldom seen outside of Toronto’s Annex.

This guide may also be of interest to Americans who are curious how uniquely American styles departed from English architectural heritage.

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West Toronto Junction, or just “The Junction“, is unique in stade Toronto “The Good”. The Junction, named for the crossing of the Canadian National (CNR) and the Canadian Pacific (CPR) railways, was a booming prosperous late 1890s town with businesses breaking the bulk of the railway, lumber yards, stock yards, a flour mill, a foundry, and included factories that manufactured Nordheiner and Hienztman pianos, in addition to the Canadian Cycle Manufacturing company. Founded in 1884, the Junction later amalgamated with Toronto in 1909 and is currently celebrating the centennial since becoming part of Toronto.

Up until 1997, the Junction exercised local option in being a dry community after prohibition in 1904 (Fancher). At the turn of the century the area had the reputation for heavy drinking, street fights and prostitution that came with many young men migrating into the city for jobs in the new industrial factories.

The active West Toronto Junction Historical Society maintains an archive of Junction historical documents and photos, in addition to producing publications and historical tours of the Junction.

Some of oldest houses in West Toronto Junction date to the 1880s. Many Victorian Bay-and-Gables, identifiable by their tall narrow stance, octagonal or square bays, and steeply pitched peaks can be found closer to the heart of the original town. Larger commercial buildings line the central strip of the Junction along Dundas Street along with many church steeples, library and Mason’s Lodge that were and are a part of the City of West Toronto Junction. Later Edwardian homes were built as part of the expansion of Toronto suburbs located farther away from the “main strip” of the town.

THE LEADER & RECORDER’S: History of the Junction. Diana Fancher, Editor. ISBN 0-9686636-1-3

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Take a walk in any urban neighbourhood and you are going to find old houses that have been “destroyed” in any number of ways. Here is my list of some of the worst offences, that is not meant to offend, but will. Feel free to disagree or add your own old house atrocity. This list, if followed carefully, is guaranteed to make your home the biggest eyesore on the block! These are, in current and somewhat crass parlance, “F-ugly” things… Adding up your point total will give you some idea of how much headache you are going to face resurrecting your old house!

Oh how it pains me that there are more than 10 Old House atrocities..

  1. Vinyl siding (10 points). Off gases and looks horrendous, but of course you never have to get off the couch to actually paint it. Be cautious of any home product that appeals to the Homer Simpson market…
  2. Vinyl slider windows (15 points). You too can transform a vertical antique sash window into a new vinyl vertical slider! Double the ugly factor if you actually replace vertical sash windows with horizontal vinyl sliders or one pane casement windows. By all means ignore some decent research on windows showing that a properly maintained antique window with storm window gets pretty close to the efficiency of a “thermopaned” window and pour tons of money into shiny new (unpaintable) vinyl windows. And when the thermopane eventually “POPS” and your windows clouds up with condensation, you can reach into your wallet and REPLACE your REPLACEMENT windows again! Everyone wins! Off-gassing plastic windows… I must be in old house atrocities hell. Funny how vinyl windows look like cheap moulded plastic! That is, after all how they are made!
  3. Poured concrete walk paths (4 points). Really, what is more beautiful than poured concrete with cat paw prints in it! Just mix and pour! No backbreaking placement of antique brick or cobblestone for you!
    It is like the sidewalk never ends all the way to my front door… Oh, how I am looking forward to that weekend with a jackhammer! Time I will never get back. I am biting my lip not to mention “interlocking brick”…
  4. Cheap paint (2 points). When selling a house, smear all the walls with the cheapest vat of paint you can find. Lovely. More reasons to hate your previous owner…
  5. Stone cladding (10 points). Turn your century Victorian or Edwardian brick home into a medieval stone castle… Seriously, if there is ANYONE still doing this, it is your civic duty to stop them from shaving $40,000 dollars off the purchase price of their home. Lovely in the early 1970s, “Angel-brick”, as known in Toronto, now looks horrid.
  6. Wall-to-wall carpeting in the century home (5 points). Cover those antique wood floors with plush off-gassing Berber carpeting. Develop chemical sensitives in just 3-6 weeks! Some people seriously cannot give up suburbia…
  7. Replace antique front door (5 points). Get rid of that old door and replace it with a pre-hung big box store special… fake window mullions and all! Lets all work together to limit the mistakes of suburbia…
  8. Abode parged brick (10 points). Right… because repointed well maintained brick work never looks good… Colourful neutral parging, on the other hand, is a real winner!
  9. Popcorn ceiling (2 points). Smooth ceilings in plaster are so barren compared to the stippled magic of the popcorn ceiling. Double your f-ugly points if your popcorn ceiling has fabulous glitter mixed in with it! Yes, by all means, cover your ageing plaster with cottage cheese looking crap. This is another dumb ass lazy quick fix for cracking plaster that aesthetically rewards you for years to come…
  10. Plastic fences (10 points). Of course, cedar or pine is so last decade. Instead head to your nearest Home Depot and grab a plastic fence! I always wanted a fence made out of pop bottles and, hey, you never have to paint it! Have we identified a theme? If it does not need to be painted, it is probably f-ugly rubbish.
  11. Tearing down the walls (15 points). Yes, of course, what do you do when you want to live in a SOHO loft, but you own a century Victorian home? You tear down those walls and then find that you live in a main floor bowling alley and the pizza boy can see clear to the backyard! Not to mention the travel of noise, echoes and lack of any architectural interest in your new main floor hanger.
  12. Paint your house hardware (2 points). Great antique hardware looks even better under as many layers of paint as possible… Kinda like your great aunt that does not know when to stop with the Max Factor…
  13. Remove Stained Glass Windows (15 points). Why would anyone want a 100 year old antique stained glass window when they could have a thermopane vinyl window. It just makes sense…
  14. Rip out Original Woodwork (15 points). Original Arts & Craft, Victorian or Edwardian mill work in antique heart-pine, oak or mahogany makes no sense when you can replace it with off the shelf Medium Density Particleboard (MDF) mouldings from your local Big Box home “improvement” store! Do you have any idea what a house would look like if you only used building materials from home depot… Track Mansions anyone?
  15. “Flash It” (15 points). If you are redoing the roof and you have weather beaten brackets, corbels or barge boards simply FLASH IT! That’s right, cover it up with easy breezy aluminum flashing and be damned the loss of historic character on your house proud home! Tragically ugly. Outwardly, these ugly houses usually have a cheap purchase price and it  does not take much to make the old girl look good again.
  16. Post-modern Pastiche (15 points). Create unique ahistorical housing styles by putting Victorian turned porch spindles on a Arts and Craft Mission porch, Victorian ginger breading on an Edwardian gable, Mediterranean wrought iron on your Victorian stoop, poured concrete majestic lions marking the gates of your Grecco-Victorian masterpiece! If you don’t know you live in a century home, or know a grand Victorian from an stately Edwardian or a cozy Mission Bungalow, then just throw in the towel and put a deposit down on your “deluxe apartment in the sky”.

The Damages

0-20 Points: Congratulations, your house rocks and it is in nearly original condition! You or the previous owners actually had a clue!

21-50 Points: You got some work to do, but it could be worse. With a little work, you can undo the deeds of idiots.

51-75 Points: You got a project on your hands, but it will be worth the effort and you will love the house in a way you could never look at a suburban track mansion…

76-100 Points: You are an old house champion taking on the idiotic crimes against your old house.

101-150 Points: You are an old house saint. Some years of work and investment will bring back your old house from its F-ugly abyss.

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Three story homes with ten foot or higher ceilings in the public rooms resulted in eccentric narrow and tall homes in both semi and row figurations.

The Bay-and-Gable homes of Toronto are unique within the world of Victorian architecture, in part due to taxation laws of the time that assessed annual taxes based on the width of a lot’s frontage. Canadian pragmatism resulted in narrow lots, often between 15-20 feet in width and houses built upwards into usually three stories. Three story homes with ten foot or higher ceilings in the public rooms resulted in eccentric narrow and tall homes in both semi and row figurations.

According to McHugh (1989), early examples, beginning in 1875, have more Italianate features including round headed windows, angled bays, and steep gables. Those dating from the late 1880s have more of a Queen Anne influence with rectangular bays, straight window lintels and less steeply pitched gables.
Tons of variation exists and while most Bay-and-Gable homes abide by a typical floor plan, the dimensions of rooms and hallways can vary widely. Typical features include stained glass, tall 10-11 foot ceilings, ornate plaster work, detailed barge boards and ginger-breading, steeply pitched roofs, tall windows with low sills, and detailed millwork common in other Victorian revival styles. The style of exterior masonry, millwork, stained-glass and plaster work also varies tremendously producing few if any Bay-and-Gables that are the same.

McHugh, Patricia. (1989). Toronto Architecture: A City Guide. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc.

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