ACT Fall 1999
Newsletter of the Toronto
Region Architectural Conservancy
TORONTO REGION ARCHITECTURAL
P.O. Box 7162, Station A Toronto,
Ontario M5W 1X8
Telephone: 416 947 1066 (answering
Services such as tours, lectures,
written communications etc., originate at the branch level. Membership is
$30 annually. Tax receipts are issued. (The governing
provincial Council -- the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario-- receives $12.00 for each membership. ACT is a newsletter
produced by the Toronto branch as and when a cause or issue requires.
Publication is for the branch an important vehicle to achieve preservation.
The Concourse Building
100 Adelaide Street West (at Sheppard)
Baldwin & Greene, Architects, with J.E.H. MacDonald, designer of the colour
... It is quite apparent to
anyone with even a smattering of knowledge about building that the basic
structure is of heavy steel and of concrete columns and beams. No attempt
is made by the overlaying covering material to conceal the rough structure.
On the contrary, the position of the columns running from the base to
parapet is revealed and stressed. The native strength and beauty inherent
in the bare outlines of the structure are glorified.
Old forms of architecture,
such as Classic, Gothic, Elizabethan, and the rest are laid aside. The
Concourse Building is a modern of the moderns. It is frankly a skyscraper,
not dressed up as a Doric temple, or as a Gothic hall: but a skyscraper
exulting in its own inherent characteristics of strength and height. The
base is massive, consisting of three storeys of solid stone. The columns
and pilasters flow upward without interruption clear to
the parapet. The windows, numerous and large, are frankly vertical
rows of glass, recessed between the vertical columns. The old-fashioned
tall building treated the wall as a self-sufficient flat surface, which
it is not, punctured by windows, and resembling a sieve or a waffle, surmounted
by classic friezes or cornices.
The Concourse Building, on
the contrary, deals simply in mass and height. Ornament is not artificially
applied. The building is arresting and striking, because the qualities
belonging to a skyscraper are not hidden, but emphasized. It should not
be assumed that the materials were casually chosen; on the contrary a
glance reveals that none but materials most appropriate to the design
have been selected to produce the resulting effect.
In this respect, the brick
work plays a definite part in emphasizing the underlying basic structure.
The columns are overlaid with light grey brick, whereas the windows and
spandrels are shown as alternating vertical lines in a darker color, the
effect being much like organ pipes or a clump of slender trees.
indeed plays a most vivid and important part in achieving the general
result. This[,] with the freedom from slavish precedent or traditional
style in the design, and the introduction of poetical lines from the verse
of Canadian poets, in the chiselled inscription of the walls of the entrance
hall, makes the structure one which has a wide popular interest and appeal.
"The Concourse Building, Toronto,"
Construction V. 22 N. 5 (May 1929), pp. 138-44.
The Richmond - Adelaide
Architectural Value and Redevelopment
The area of land bounded by
Adelaide, York, Richmond and Sheppard Streets is of special interest to
TRAC for not only does it contain the subject of this issue of ACT The
Concourse Building but it is also where we find 104 Adelaide Street. This
is a great four-storey commercial structure -- formerly the site of John
Arena's Winston's Restaurant. The area also includes 111 Richmond a good
style-moderne office by Page & Steele (Peter Dickinson?) for Yolles & Rotenberg, and two "new" towers, mid-block 120 Adelaide and 130 at the
northeast corner of Adelaide and York.
In the recent past proposals
were made to redevelop the block into one overall scheme. The 1988 version
saw a new forty-four storey tower put up behind The Concourse to the north
on Sheppard Street. In that scheme then The Concourse would have been
integrated into the project and been a part of the redesigned block.
The latest redevelopment proposal
appeared on 29th of June of this year. Three members of the TRAC Executive
were present at the Public Meeting called by the city planner to hear
the reaction of the public to the scheme. In the current design that art
deco masterpiece -- The Concourse -- would be completely demolished and
replaced with a new forty-one storey building. Selected pieces of the
original building might be incorporated onto the skin of the new building.
The agents for the project said they could not retain the original structure
because it does not fit with their plans for a total redevelopment of
the entire block.
The proponents offered to
support the city's designation of 111 Richmond. Also they stated that
it was their intention to proceed with the restoration of 85 Richmond.
This structure is certainly of modest importance -- on either historic
or architectural grounds. It must be considered inappropriate and maybe
even cruel that No 85 should be the recipient of elaborate restoration,
while two of the most outstanding buildings on the block, The Concourse
and 104 Adelaide will be razed.
At this time we understand
that the Adelaide Street base of the Concourse -- three storeys of cast-stone
-- may be retained in situ to "act" as the front of the new building.
An attempt will be made to salvage coloured tile off of the top of the
building on the Adelaide and on the Sheppard elevations, and also the
black eagle mosaics on the west side. It has not been determined if the
art work in the lobby can be reused. The architect for the new office
building is Webb Zerafa Menkes Housden. The consulting architect on the
heritage issues is Michael McClelland of the ERA Group.
We regret that the architectural
history of all buildings on the block is not generally available. The
Tushingham Factory, 104 Adelaide, is arguably one of the best high-Victorian
commercial buildings left in the City. Our research shows it was constructed
by Messrs. Tushingham in 1885 and cost $9,000. How it has escaped notice
is mystifying. In all its giddy detail it is of as great value to us as
is Page & Steele's hymn to modernity at 111 Richmond.
We believe that the relationship
betweenThe Tushingham and The Concourse
sitting as they do, side-by-side is unique in the city. It is remarkable
and curious that two generations of builders working five decades apart,
using such different technologies and materials, should apply ornamentation
in such discrete yet absolutely festive manner -- true triumphs of imagination.
This is what makes a city great -- the ability to astonish and surprise.
The City of Toronto should
not support any development that destroys our architectural birthright.
This application is really unpalatable -- as we lose much that is irreplaceable
and intriguing and gain benefits that are dubious.
Action Plan for city council
If the proposal proceeds,
then City Council should:
designate both 111
Richmond and 104 Adelaide. To protect 111 Richmond, heritage easements
should be executed. Although the City's track record in enforcing them
is chequered it almost the only safeguard that we have.
de-designate the buildings
slated for demolition - The Tushingham and The Concourse.
We will not tolerate the designation
of the Concourse to continue if the proposal to demolish the building
is accepted. Bits and pieces salvaged and re-applied to a new structure
are beside the point. A building demolished is gone forever, the full
authentic experience of architectural inspiration made manifest is no
longer available, and the records should show clearly; that these buildings
existed and what their qualities were. And who sought their destruction.
Property Taxes - a historical reminder
The recent controversy over
the survival of real estate "Class B" buildings such as The Concourse
is not the first time our society has grappled with the issue of a new
generation of offices displacing those of an earlier generation. The Concourse
itself was once on the cutting-edge of office design and its appearance
contributed to the loss of Edwardian buildings. Articles appeared in the
press on twelve such buildings that had been demolished in 1935 alone.
Consider the following account.
Under the current regime ...
taxation has reached such dizzy peaks that the owners are tearing down
their buildings rather than pay the taxes. They find it cheaper to run
a parking lot....It is bad for everybody. ... In the heart of the city
twelve buildings have been torn down. ... These buildings once housed
hundreds of tenants and in some cases thousands of employees of different
business concerns have totally disappeared. In the case of the Arlington
Hotel the site has been converted into a weed lot ... (Others include)
18 King Street West where the former tenant was the Toronto Daily Star.
The Evening Telegram, Toronto, December 27, 1935
Property Tax rates on Heritage properties
Some in the heritage community
today, have taken the position that a change in tax rates must be put
in place to protect designated property. What the proponents of such a
plan must realize is that criteria for granting partial relief from property
taxes must be clearly stated and agreed to by all players otherwise the
scheme is doomed. This perspective is supported when the heritage community
remembers something of its own past with regard to struggles for tax abatement
In theory the most successful
application of tax abatement program by Queen's Park came under the Peterson
Government. It was the "Untaxing Nature" program. It should be the model
if the change in tax status can be delivered. In that case, abatement
was only offered once criteria for grading the potential sites was acceptable
to all parties. If no grading system can be agreed upon then the process
of granting special real estate tax rate for designated property will
be too subjective and easily influenced leading to corruption by market
forces. Ultimately the initiative will be undermined by confrontation
and fraught with controversy.
So the first step to protect
buildings from becoming victims of this process of commercial devaluation
is to reintroduce a rational system of grading property as to its significance.
Until quite recently, the former City of Toronto had a simple grading
system in place. It was used on a regular basis to describe and evaluate
the comparative merits of buildings. Any grading scheme has to be sturdy
enough to withstand scrutiny of all parties interested in the building.
It must give assurance of fairness and objectivity and comparability between
different buildings. When such a grading system is in use, it then becomes
the logical spine or backbone for much else. For instance, it may be used
to inform all players as to the appropriate degree of restoration and
retention expected by grade or category. Each project can then be understood
and evaluated in terms of the degree to which it satisfies the system.
Consider the current proposal
for the Richmond-Adelaide Centre and the preservation process that is
attempting to manage change. This now non-graded administration has been
likened to an environment where "all buildings are created equal". Under
that process we will witness the restoration of 85 Richmond; this is as
thoroughly a grade D heritage structure as you are likely to find. While
The Concourse, a grade A on everyone's heritage list will be brought down.
As will The Tushingham. If the dynamics of this project are what we can
expect under the current regime then a grading process must be resurrected.
If the effectiveness of the
new mechanics that replaced grading -- where "all buildings are created
equal" -- as seen as part of this project is typical, then we are indeed
in a time of chaos. A proper grading scheme is the only trustworthy guide
through the controversies inevitable to redevelopment of heritage buildings.
A grading scheme must be brought into use. Who among us if they had the
power would not bring back St. James' Chambers, at the southwest corner
of Church and Adelaide Streets? Who among us wants our successors to read
in 50 years time, a list of buildings lost in the city and see The Concourse
heading the list?
If this block can teach us
anything about ourselves and our culture, its surviving buildings show
that what we find desirable stylistically is ever changing. In some ways
it can be likened to a roller coaster ride. Thirty years after Baldwin
& Greene gave us their thin tall sophisticated rectangle crowned with
festive tiles, we turned around and sighed with appreciation when Page
& Steele's 111 Richmond appeared: as smooth a monotoned study of horizontally
with nary a frill as we're likely to find.
We all carry with us prejudices
- fashion changes all the time - the subjective abounds. On-the--spot
assessments are only relevant on the day they are made. Any apparatus
or mechanics is desirable if it harnesses our subjectivity, qualifying
it and making it fair and impartial.
The Processes of designation and de-designation
The list of designated buildings
is fluid. Some might expect that the inventory would be closed at some
point but practical considerations work against it. Buildings of merit
are still being discovered twenty five years after the inventory was begun,
and changes to designated buildings and their environment may also alter
their designation status.
The Heritage Act sets out
the procedure whereby buildings are designated. The LACAC sets things
in motion by recommending to City Council that a building be designated.
A notice of intention to designate has to be published in a newspaper
'having general circulation in the municipality'. If no objections are
received within thirty days, council may proceed.. One of the councillors
will then make a motion in favour of designation of that building, and
if a majority votes for the motion, the designation is accomplished. While
it may take some work from concerned members of the public to bring a
favoured building to the attention of the LACAC, and then also to exert
influence on councillors, the process of designation is not intended to
Dedesignation on the
other hand, is a purposeful shifting of a building out of the purview
of the Heritage Act, into the area of unremarkable commerce. Under the
Heritage Act this requires a motion of council and again, notification
of the public through a newspaper advertisement.
The effect of dedesignation is that any changes to the building no longer
have to meet with approval from the LACAC. The quality of the existing
building becomes irrelevant to anyone but the owner, and re-development
plans can then be opposed only under the terms of the Planning Act Dedesignation
is rightly viewed with caution by the heritage community, but it is a
process as necessary as designation to protect our
heritage, and to make projected changes public knowledge.
Notice of intention to repeal
a by-law or part thereof under subsection (1) shall contain,
(a) an adequate description of the property so that it may be readily ascertained;
(b) a statement of the reason for the proposed repealing by-law; and
(c) a statement that notice of objection to the repealing by-law may be
served on the clerk within thirty days of the date of publication of the
notice of intention in a newspaper having general circulation in the municipality.
R.S.O. 1990,c. O.18, s. 31 (4); 1996, c. 4,s. 56(1)
Excerpt from Ontario Heritage Act, April 10, 1997, Section 31 (4)
What to do?
The topic of this issue of
ACT is the Heritage Inventory of the city of Toronto. Of the examples
discussed, by far the largest is the Richmond-Adelaide Centre and that
has been the active centre of our concern. There are difficulties that
beset users of the Heritage Inventory almost all the time, and we summarise
them as follows:
A grading system must be introduced.
Without it, decisions made cannot be demonstrated to be fair, equitable
and understandable by the public.
The selection of heritage properties has not been comprehensive.
Some owners are attempting to get around this problem by additional historical
assessment of the properties before redevelopment proposals are entertained,
but it is not an adequate solution.
Remnants of buildings should be struck from the inventory.
You can help by being engaged
by the topic. Your conversations on the topic with your friends, your
letters to politicians on these matters, all are important. Write to your
councillor, your member of the Provincial Parliament, your federal member
of Parliament. Include mention of particular buildings you are concerned
next: how City Counilors voted
c o n c o u r s e
and Green citations available through Toronto Reference Library database (co-authored by TRAC).