"On the third day they walked until midday
when they came to a little house built
entirely from bread with a roof made of cake,
and the windows were made of clear sugar..."

'Hansel and Gretel', J. & W.Grimm, 1812.

University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry, 124 Edward Street.
Allward and Gouinlock, 1958


Dentistry's south side, architect's rendering, RAICJ, April 1958

Like many other big city dental schools, Toronto's School of Dentistry provides budget-minded locals with bargain-ish treatment options. I had 4 wisdom teeth extracted there for a price of 300 dollars or so in 1989. The Elm Street side is appropriately one of the grimmest of the downtown core, facing down an unforgiving service side of the Hospital for Sick Children, and squeezed between the bulky hodge podge of insurance and hospital row and the old architecture of William Thomas' 1848 'House of Industry' --noticeably altered with 'sideburns' of ruddy 1970s institutional brick [This is an essay in itself. There were additions by Joseph Sheard in 1858. It is thought that E.J. Lennox in 1899 added the perfect third floor (the change of brick colour is the only clue) and east and west wings. The wings were torn down in 1976 but a mighty preservation battle succeeded in saving the venerable main structure (itself attributed to John Howard right up until 1979) by permanently blocking Chestnut Street to accommodate the enlargement of 'Laughlen Hall': a home for the aged run by the Rotary Club. (1)]

In fact several surrounding blocks constitute a campus of oddities. A haywire Corbu residence with random brise soliel "features" at 77 Elm Street was built by local modern master Uno Prii at a time when to construct modern apartment houses was to still answer to some out-of-tune Harvard dog whistle. The 'Enwave' hospital heating plant (1972) on the north side of Elm wears its 'Enwave' sign like a dad wears an "Oasis" badge. Up an interstitial alley, its tall square flared chimney (the kind that would be a candidate for purple illumination circa 1972) can be viewed straight upwards. Signs everywhere forbid open flames and smoking. Ominously the ground is soft with cigarette butts (2).

Across Walton Street is Lucliff Place, a very rational, homely 'mixed-use' premises, comprised of office and residential uses splitting a tower down a vertical seam, instead of the usual layering. Walton Street is beautifully treed and quiet like a movie set, a linear protectorate under the shade of 14 midsized Honey Locust trees. Now if you ever for a moment doubted the transforming power of living things (in this case modestly-sized trees) on their environment take in this daydream on Walton Street. Grotty little Lucliff Place is turned into a vision of gorgeous urbanity by this simple, rhythmic row of trees. There tucked away, is a candy store (hanging on to serve Sick Kids Hospital). Across Gerrard Street lurks another bulbous brutalist concrete residence, rendered tartly unappealing with washes of Michael Jackson-hued foundation (90 Gerrard Street West). Back on Elm, at 72 and 74, sit a pair of abandoned 1855 rowhouses. A mural of a humanoid playing an undulating keyboard is painted on their east wall. The humanoid is emitting a quarter note. The keyboard is mute. It looks like a club flyer for Eno Sunday at Helsinki U. (3).

The urban decay that effortlessly accumulates around bus terminals has accumulated here. Blithe urban-renewal-by-parking-lot has further tattered (and dated) the area. They just don't knock down blocks of buildings like they used to. The intersection of Elm and Bay has been transitional for ages --waves of Jewish, Italian and then Chinese immigrants all settled in the area. Edwardian Toronto (remember Toronto was Edwardian for decades) reliquished to these newcomers "The Ward" --nickname for the area-- as a ghetto. In the 1930s city directories still simply listed addresses as "Chinese" -- it was all so... confounding. In fact the immigrants and the startled "hosts" must have been equally adrift in a way. By the mid-1950s a generation or more had run its course and younger Torontonians were gravitating naturally to what would have horrified or at least non-plussed their parents -- going downtown, hanging out alone, in groups, on dates, or as established couples, at night, in ethnic areas with ethnic food and ethnic friends. At this point Elm Street, still the rundown street of the YWCA (more social agency than gym), synagogues and rooming houses, played a key role, and in a way so did the new Dentistry School when its institutional bulk gobbled up a healthy chunk of 3 streetfronts --Elm, Edward and Chestnut (4).

Among those forced out was Angelo's Restaurant. Already a local institution in The Ward, Angelo's was neatly poised to 'crossover' into mainstream Toronto life. Founded as Genevro Prospero's Restaurant at 144 Chestnut Street, a sidestreet just north of the main Chinatown drag, the restaurant had been taken over by Angelo Belfanti in 1930. It's not hard to imagine the restaurant filled with the smoke and polyglot chatter of rooming house inhabitants and labourers of all sorts throughout the great depression and the Second World War. Angelo's Restaurant operated until 1958 when displaced by the intruding University of Toronto which bought the land for the new Dentistry Building. A quick survey of 7 blocks of Elm in 1956 finds the Balkan Restaurant and the Wonder Grill at Yonge Street and then the Village House and Original Club at Bay, then finally the Dell Restaurant 6 blocks west --small nodes of action at the main north-south streets (5). Angelo's moved onto Elm, Barbarien's ("established 1959") opened on Elm and indeed that very year the local daily The Globe and Mail reported on a hotbed of new restaurants emerging from the Elm Street forbidden zone (6). And strangely that's almost exactly how it's stayed --which is to say it's not exactly trendy by 2002's standards, but comports itself in a conservative retro-trendy 1960s manner though the whole downtown around it has pretty much gone to the dollar store/parking lot and superblock dogs. Indeed Barbarien's Steakhouse is common to the swinging 60s and the millenial era of Elm Street. "Old" Angelo's Restaurant is gone though; a significant hub for midcentury secretaries out on the town, and a place to answer the exotic craving for spaghetti. The lasting success of that single block of Elm makes the surrounding area all the more perplexing. A large for instance: a block north, the area just west of Bay Street on Gerrard Street --The Village-- was recognized in the 1963 Toronto Downtown Plan as having a peculiar bohemian character well worth preserving --in essence a pre-Yorkville. From the plan: "This fascinating grouping of small shops, tea houses, restaurants, studios and art dealers sprang up many years ago as an artists' colony... The Village should be encouraged by every possible means to retain its character and position, and to expand." By 1970 it was almost dead. By 1980 Bay Street had become so denuded as to be prone to Buffalo-style dust storms all the way from Dundas to Wellesley. If you asked for "The Village" today you'd get directed to Parkdale, Forest Hill, the Gay Ghetto, Wales or some other forbidden tenderloin. The 'Plan' is a typically pseudo-scientific prognosticative effort with simply an unremitting stamina to be wrong. "Severe Pedestrian Congestion" is seen as a malady needing immediate redress. Does YOUR city have S.P.C.??!! Not the foggiest notion that S.P.C. was so desirable that the city could have exported their know-how on its creation rather than plan to stamp it out. E-frickin'-gads! (7).

     

And so on. Across University Avenue: more apartment houses in a vaguely institutional Corbu-gone-wrong style at 2 Murray Street in glazed white brick, and 222 Elm Street replete with concrete "decorative" grillage. Elsewhere nearby you'll find a cramped, exhausted-looking deco bus terminal, an aluminum-sided hotel, a pair of perenial, duelling political billboards for unpopular causes, and several parking lots which feel more like vacant lots waiting for their superblock than the usual utilitarian parking pads. This is not an ignored patch of Toronto --but it's an atypically laissez-faire scene. A small, discrete nowheresville suspended in a much larger downtown like a waterlogged cigarette butt in a puddle.

As mentioned the Elm Street side of Dentistry fits right in. On Elm Street a concrete overhang juts out and upwards in bands of Eric Estrada-era mirrored glass --an unfortunate addition to the original 1958 modern that kills itself, its predecessor, and the street. The Elm Street lobby is redone in an Eighties manner, ensuring that this side of the building, like bad Sunday morning radio, is a composite of the worst of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s all in one.

As the building extends to the next street south --to Edward Street-- from the chunky 70s era cast emerges the more svelte 1950s creature. This Edward Street elevation has the advantage of a much more interesting setting and better massing and cladding as well. The building sits opposite the spectacular 123 Edward Street (Eugene Janiss --Gilleland & Janiss, 1963), the most Lapadiun of Toronto skyscrapers --lobby unfortunately lost, but exterior pristine. And being at the head of small Centre and Chestnut Streets there are modest view corridors away from and towards the tiled colonnade and full-length-windowed lobby of Dentistry. The exterior is dirty buff brick in Flemish bond, limestone trim and some not-great tile, and the massing and fenestration are modest modern, again with a Dutch character of sorts. Thus entering by the south side is certainly easier on the nervous, and yet this route is forbidden to patients, as per the architects' intentetions (8).


123 Edward Street, Professional Building, architect's rendering,

To please the frugal, the bargain-basement treatments are indeed dispensed slightly below grade in a 'demi-sous' --so you are assured your money is not being wasted on architectural niceties. The main common treatment room had a vintage late 50s character when I was there last. Well lit by the high demi-sous windows and pleasantly 'Apple Records' green all around. A friend of mine recalls being a patient there --about 8 years old-- and starting a rinsing-gun fight with three other boys during an unsupervised period. No worries, everything's porcelain and terrazzo and cleaner than a whistle. More recently the palette has changed and computer terminals by every chair have made the room that much less waterproof.

It is certain that this one building will never be 'plaqued'.

The Faculty of Dentistry moved here from its rather more gracious digs at 300 College Street. There in 1910, a large-windowed, high-ceilinged school building was built for Dentistry, in which now resides the U of T School of Architecture. A 2001 intervention --The Eric Arthur Gallery-- (Kohn Shnier Architects) protrudes from the south elevation like a murky green karbunkle waiting to be popped. It's just a zit, a badge, a growing pain. Professor Eric Arthur was, in Toronto architecture, the first and most influential modernist AND preservationist both --his influence extending for decades through the students he taught, the projects he undertook and organizations he founded and energized. A giant. One can find tenacious traces of Dentistry above some of the entrances ("Infirmary"). The rather good library is worth your visit. It's open to the public after all.


University of Toronto Banting Institute , 110 College Street
1930


University of Toronto Best Institute , 112 College Street.
Mathers and Haldenby, 1950

One of the most celebrated Canadian medical achievments was that of Toronto doctor Frederick Banting and researcher Charles Best's discovery of insulin and its role in metabolizing sugar. The discovery won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1923 and with some contention, because of the four collaborating researchers, including also John MacLeod and James Collip, only Banting and Mcleod were Nobel recipients. The reasons or lack thereof have been debated for decades but for our purposes we need only know that Banting did good and halved his half of the loot with Best like a good kid splitting up a Halloween take. The University of Toronto laboratory where the research was conducted has been spirited away and reassembled as a cozy, wood-panelled oasis, cliffhanging off a mezzanine in a hall of interactive high-1960s science exhibits at the Ontario Science Centre (Raymond Moriyama, 1967), just across the hall from where one could view the Eames' Powers of Ten in a tiny 2 or 3 seat booth until ones' eyes dried up. Fabulously Absolute (7).


Best Institute's west side, 1950s
Banting and Best remain neighbours downtown because each has an institute named for him as part of the University of Toronto's medical campus at College Street and University Avenue. The Banting Institute at 110 College is the older building, a late restrained scholastic Edwardian in pale red brick. The Best Institute at 112 College Street is similarly scaled but more recent (although like most of Toronto in 1950 it is also late-late-Edwardian). The west facade which has the dignified setting of Queen's Park to bask in, is very nicely composed. These join the procession of early and mid-twentieth century educational buildings that line the north side of College and give it a noticable rhythm. The institutes are 'climate un-controlled'. Together: a blaring "Ode to A.C.". Ice Cream anyone?


Wm. Neilson Ice Cream Mfg. Factory
277-319 Gladstone Ave., 1905



Nestlé Factory (formerly Cowan Coaca and Rowntree)
72-90 Sterling Road, 1905



Sugar Sugar by s.j. russell, may-august 2002



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