the WALKERTON of PRESERVATION By Adam Sobolak

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

omni home

A curiosity about the poignantly pathetic, neglected, unwanted, unqualified, rootless, accidental waifs that composed the 2000-model Etobicoke LACAC Panel was that 4 out of its 5 members were of Slavic origin --and there was even some halfway-whimsical wondering if, in a strange contemporary echo of those bad bigoted old days of Toronto The Good (as if those old attitudes decamped for Etobicoke as soon as Viljo Revell arrived upon these shores), that was a reason why we were being shunned by whatever might have passed for the old "Family Compact" in nominal charge of Etobicoke heritage matters. (It's a more complicated story than that, I trust.)
           With the common roots in mind, I thought up the following tableau as a thankfully shelved "heritage aptitude test" for one of our more naive members. But it's oddly pertinent to Etobicoke.
           It's with regard to the Polish city of Wroclaw--which before WWII was the German city of Breslau. That cultural fact, together with haphazard postwar rebuilding, has rendered it--in my opinion--one of Europe's most fascinatingly schizoid places; despite decades of Polish efforts at cultural assimilation, it's still possessed by the spectre of its extraordinarily sophisticated pre-war Teutonicism--and this was even more apparent within the 70s-80s milieu of Communist-era neglect.
           In the historic core of the city, a mere block away from the town hall and central marketplace (Rynek), is the extraordinary former Petersdorff department store of 1927-28, the work of the German Expressionist architect Erich Mendelsohn. (Think of Louis Sullivan's Carson Pirie Scott transfused with a little Mazda zoom-zoom.) It somehow survived WWII in reasonable shape, and the Poles, making use of whatever salvageable building fabric there was, adapted it for their own retail uses. While "progress" unfortunately claimed several of Mendelsohn's other retail spectaculars, Eastern Bloc entropy allowed Petersdorff to happily survive, virtually pristine, into Perestroika.
           Suppose, if you will, that an ambitious young entrepreneur acquired the building in the 1990s, and proposed to replace it with, say, a Neo-Gothic-Neo-Renaissance office/commercial complex which, it is claimed, would be a beautiful asset to the city, a symbol of Wroclaw's "progress", much more in keeping with the historic core and with the "true" Polish character.
           Would it be more pertinent for a LACAC-type heritage organization be to encourage such a project, or to discourage such a project?
           ***BUZZ***
           Actually, such a project these days would in all likelihood be greeted with a resounding chorus of horselaughs. And it'd only meet approval among the most wild-eyed free enterprisers, yokels, and right-populist xenophobes.
           But it's an interesting case to reflect upon, in light of what happened on Kingsway Crescent and what's happening to the Old Mill. In fact, it kind of paints an implicitly embarrassing picture.
           As far as I know, there was never such a threat to Mendelsohn's store. It still stands. From what I gather, it was recently restored. Godspeed.

Interestingly, my comparison point comes from a distinct left field--German Expressionist Modernism, exactly contemporary with Kingsway Park yet light years away in style and milieu.
           Indeed, it may come with my sowing-wild-oats period; most of my heritage concerns have hitherto been in a similarly fashionable left field, such as the International Style Union Carbide Building (dec'd), which I memorably dubbed "the Queen of Eglinton East".
           If anything, the Old Mill, rather late in the game, has been the most right-field issue I've been involved with. But it's that right-fieldiness which may have cause me and others like myself to turn away in the past--not only from the issue, but from the Etobicoke historical and heritage networks in general.
           It's a bridge worth building. A realm worth entering. Worth entering for the bigger and brighter picture. Brighter for us all. (Think of when Modernist architects "discovered", and then crusaded on behalf of, Penn Station on the brink of its doom.)
           For all my allusions, I am not telling the whole Old Mill story. In fact, even I don't have yet a complete, systematic handle on things. And discretion, motivated by my continued LACAC position, leads me to step back from more (and more premature) disclosure than necessary. Yes, there's question as to whether the degree of demolition/dismantling required was fully justified, or if the previous LACAC was fully apprised of what the project might involve vis-a-vis the old structure, or whether there were proper, "acceptable" measured drawings, or legitimate approval each stage of the way, et al. (Upon a late September on-site visit/meeting, the Heritage Branch representatives in attendance were justifiably concerned, and brutal in their questioning.) But beyond everything, the project's been carried out under an ominous hush-clausey cloud, with little or no press--positive, negative--whatsoever. (It may have been presumed that all the press necessary--mainly local and parochial, by the way--happened ages ago, and that can suffice.) It is only by accident that many have stumbled upon the Old Mill activity, and they don't even know what hit them.
           It is a discomforting issue, yet clearly a major one, that's been "sprung" upon us, left us like prematurely widowed brides, and it leaves me in discomfort. My impulse would be to defer to an appropriate "third party"--a journalist--to convey the scope of the Old Mill issue, to interview and quote the appropriate individuals, to help cement its place in the public consciousness.
           Yet it's been enlightening, even exciting, to be presented with the issue; as I've indicated, as such it has the makings of a "flagship", albeit a negative one, for the Etobicoke LACAC Panel. And just being within the LACAC is invigorating--or rather, it should be. Like many, I suffer from a severe lack of time and lack of means in order to do or act upon what I feel Etobicoke might "deserve". In effect, what I've discovered as a committee member is that I'd much rather be doing this within a paid position, municipal or otherwise--perhaps as a kind of "official heritage consultant". (Offers are welcome--I still have student loans to pay off.) In the meantime, I hope the future is brighter for the LACAC; even if this particular body turned out to be an inadvertently unaccountable farce, I'd argue to the heavens that a LACAC for Etobicoke is an accountable proposition.
           As I'm prone to saying, it makes us richer.



It may seem as if my aim in the present essay is to simply condemn or bewail the Old Mill project; but it is a little more elaborate than that. My aim is to contextualize.
           And celebrate.
           With condemnation an integral part of celebration; rendering it a living, breathing, thing.
           We're richer for it.
           Etobicoke deserves so much.

December 26 2000


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

 

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

 

cannibal kitsch

 

birth of a folly
1848-1975        
pathogen
just part of
the scenery
1975-1990

 

de-ruin

 

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

artifice

On one thing
everyone agrees:
the mill is
finally "
finished "

deny

...it's like
Mitch Miller

vanquishing
rock'n'roll!
ruinousness
Petersdorff
dept. store:
think of
Carson Pirie Scott
transfused
with a little
Mazda zoom-zoom

progress

 

anchor

 

millstone

 

well