The Toronto Region Architectural Conservancy printed an issue of their magazine ACT on the topic of the Concourse in November 1999.
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ACT Fall 1999

Newsletter of the Toronto Region Architectural Conservancy

P.O. Box 7162, Station A Toronto, Ontario M5W 1X8
Telephone: 416 947 1066 (answering machine)

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 decorations

... 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.

Color 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 Centre
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 programs.
         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 be complicated.
         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 about.

ACT Today!

next: how City Counilors voted

c o n c o u r s e

Baldwin and Green citations  available through Toronto Reference Library database (co-authored by TRAC).