part 7
back to page 6
prologue   zero   press
December 26, 2000     1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
to be continued... 2002    
glossary   notes   links  
proceed to page 8

omni home

"Just Etobicoke". Perhaps it involved a potentially lethal compromising of the Old Mill ruin we all love dear; but it's all in the name of "enhancing" the complex, and it's "to the benefit of the community".
           To the benefit of the community. Progress-minded New Yorkers might have claimed the same about their state-of-the-art new Madison Square Garden in the 60s. And in a sense, they were right--it's been a well-used facility, a comfy old shoe for 30+ years of sporting-event- and concert-goers. While in sporting/entertainment-facility terms, MSG may be nearing its natural "replacement age"; New Yorkers should feel as proud of it as Etobians feel about their Olympium. But the spectre of its having been the villain in the failed battle for old Penn Station--a signal event in preservationism's "heroic period", which practically gave birth to the New York Landmark Preservation Commission--has never faded. From the time the place opened, the letters MSG have been scarlet. Even 60s Modern afficionados are left with a lump in their throat and sweaty brow.
           If New York worked like Etobicoke, there'd be no end to Penn Station-style calamities--it's progress after all. Besides, it may be argued, you can't simply freeze-dry the past; it's better that it be made useful. In a topsy-turvy way, this addresses the EHB/LACAC inertia dilemma I've been referring to--but it addresses it with an even more naively yesteryearish notion of "progress"! And nobody's been properly prepared to argue that, perhaps, there might be more viably sympathetic alternatives...
           A personal caveat, which may be my way of adjusting to the "Etobicoke situation"; I like to strategically distance myself from what I call a "no-scrape extremist" approach to preservation. The principles may be good and proper, but in uncompromising practice, they're as much a double-edged sword as the political endorsements of a Buzz Hargrove or a Craig Bromell. I agree with many that the best solution might have been for the Old Mill ruin to be bequeathed to the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, stabilized and maintained "as is"--and that should have been done ages ago. But it wasn't. So, it remains in private hands; I can accept that. I can even accept the novel "opportunities", the urge to "do something" with the ruin, even to the point of creative "intervention". And yes, I can accept that a little careful dismantling & reconstruction might have been necessary, especially in light of a rubblestone ruin that's endured well over a century of ill-maintained weatherbeating...
           In which case there are several possibilities I might envisage. Besides the "as is" solution, the most decently conservative method might be to enhance the ruin--as a ruin--in a primarily landscape, neo-Dunington-Grubbian kind of way. And if, for any reason, it was felt necessary to build within the ruin, there's any number of alternative models; for instance, one thinks of the creative postwar museum restorations in Italy by BBPR, Carlo Scarpa, et al (and subsequent others in a similar spirit, some of which, by the likes of Sverre Fehn et al, were displayed at the recent Pritzker Prize exhibition at the ROM). Or, to use a Canadian example, imagine what someone in the spirit of the late Ron Thom might have done with the Old Mill, creatively fusing a bit of Prairie organicism with the c19 industrial vernacular and Old Englishness; or maybe bolder solutions by West Coast counterparts like Arthur Erickson or the Patkaus could be referred to; or the local award-winning fashionings of Shim & Sutcliffe, who've successfully tweaked Thom classics such as Massey College and the Frum house into the modern age. Or even, to use an Etobicoke example, the current work on the Lakeshore Psychiatric Hospital grounds--a far more exemplary, au courant demonstration of how a sympathetic mix of old building and contemporary interventions can enhance a site. Or, to go to the other extreme, imagine a huge titanium gefilte fish in the middle of the WASPy Old Mill as, at long last, Frank Gehry's architectural contribution to Toronto...
           Logically speaking, any of the alternatives I've been alluding to should have preserved some significant aspect of the Old Mill's "ruinousness", right down to the irregular profile, and claims of potentially lethal structural instability are a lame excuse; there've been endless examples of ruins all over that've been, sometimes through a touch of creative engineering or sleight-of-hand, kept "ruinous". Even the 1983 report on the Old Mill's provincial designation referred to its "gray and crumbling ruins"--something which should have assured their maintenance (and, technically, could now be argued as grounds for de-designation).
           But here, it was dictated that the Old Mill's ruinousness was, if you pardon the expression, a millstone. Thus, we've wound up with, in effect, a new structure within the footprint of the old, where the only the lower level's been kept in situ, albeit hollowed out into a "cavity wall" and stripped of remnant burnt timbers and plasterwork, a fillet of the edifice's soul; the upper stonework's been reduced to a veneer, and--perplexingly--they sacrificed the "gray and crumbling ruin" profile in favour of extra guest-room floors within a half-timbered upper roof structure. They "finished the mill", and in a misguided manner that had less to do with the actual history of the place than with the Home Smithian "Old English" theme of the Old Mill Tea Room complex--and it winds up being a travesty of both.
           Another caveat: in addressing the Old Mill transmogrification, I've meant to separate it from the complex's more general expansion programme (or other close-by development projects, like an additional condo complex adjacent to the 1960s apartment tower). These may be criticized by neighbourhood activists and their like, rightly perhaps, but in purely pragmatic municipal-planning terms they're "plausible", if arguably regrettable, or at least to wrench them into my critique adds too many kettles of fish to the equation. Well, almost. While the Etobian pragmatist in me can accept on paper the Old Mill complex's "will to expand"--after all, it only really continues the theme and programme of the 70s expansion, which was arguably equally "overwhelming" in its time, while perhaps tossing in a bit of "Bruce Price" flair--the built result so far may or may not suggest a little less prepossessing, like the 60s "Miami Beach" addition to the Guild Inn (effectively the Old Mill complex's Scarborough counterpart) melted down a bit and slipcovered in "contextual" Old Englishness. Its scale is such that it would've made the ruinous Old Mill look like a mouse, suggesting that the latter's new encumbrances, half-timbered roof superstructure and all, were necessary in order to "bring it into scale"!
           Again, there could have been method to the madness. The suggestions I offered above indicate such--to do anything plausible with the Old Mill should either have required the utmost in kid gloves, including the option of "straight" conservation; or else something so bold and stylish and/or well fleshed-out and, yes, a break from the pattern of banal "Old English" complacency as to neutralize the rightly concerned critics. For the latter, if the landlords' thinking caps were on straight, they ought to have acquired a "name", a "giant-killer". Perhaps a Frank Gehry; perhaps a Shim & Sutcliffe. Otherwise, they could have done what the developers of the controversial Concourse Building project did; hire a prominent restoration architect and consultant--in this case, Michael McClelland of E.R.A. Architects--who, with all attendant in-house historical site studies, can carry out an arguably terrible idea in as exemplary a "thoughtful" fashion as is darned possible. (In fact, the E.R.A. studies for the Concourse/Richmond-Adelaide site could very easily be transposed to a project that maintains the Concourse in toto, in situ--and without sacrificing E.R.A., either!)
           What did the Old Mill have for that giant-killing "shot of credibility"? The same architect who'd been working for the Old Mill's owners for the better part of 3 decades. Good, dependable, old-shoe consistency, you know, and a professed understanding of the place like no other. Which, in context, is like the Group of Seven's oeuvre "logically" leading to A.J. Casson. Yes, maybe, but...
           On an on-site visit, I commented to the architect on the need to remove the inner-wall remnant plaster (which, it was claimed, was in unsound condition, disintegrated upon touch--of course, if it wasn't for the drastic nature of the Old Mill project, this euthanizing of ruinous plaster might not have been necessary), raising an "interesting" Etobicoke comparison point. When Montgomery's Inn was restored in the 1960s, upon removal of the roughcast facing the architect in charge of restoration was so enthralled by the "nude" stone walls--perhaps a byproduct of architects' then-current "nature of materials" obsessions--that he let them be. And they've been unadorned ever since. While I'm in no rush to demand that the roughcast be reinstated (in a way, Montgomery's Inn's nudity is a by-now eternal document of its own time of restoration), it's the sort of liberty that, according to current preservation standards, would not be so easily condoned.
           The architect's response was to gush over Montgomery's Inn's exposed stone walls. I'm not sure that he got my point.

back to page 6
prologue    zero    press
December 26, 2000      1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
to be continued... 2002    
glossary    notes    links   
proceed to page 8





PICS        Before...

old mill old pic 1  old mill old pic 2
old mill old pic 3  old mill old pic 4
old mill old pic 5  old mill old pic 6
old mill old pic 7  old mill old pic 8
...& Aug. 2001

old mill new pic 1  old mill new pic 2
old mill new pic 3  old mill new pic 4
old mill new pic 5  old mill new pic 6
powered by
can't call it


" How do I do a film called
'The Old Mill'
...when i don't have
an old mill?


cannibal kitsch


birth of a folly
just part of
the scenery





"heritage community"
a vacuum,
a nullity, a dead zone
33 1/3 years later,
wasn't looking like
such a barren
lump anymore...


On one thing
everyone agrees:
the mill is
finally "finished"'s like
Mitch Miller

dept. store:

think of
Carson Pirie Scott
with a little
Mazda zoom-zoom