9 December — I wasn’t looking for heritage, particularly; if anything I was hoping for a few neat examples of street art. Saturday’s walk was short and lazy, prompted by rain and, um, laziness. So I chose a modest rectangle — south to Front Street, west to Yonge, north to College/Carlton, back east and south to home.
It wasn’t all that interesting until I hit Yonge Street — not even a graffito to be had — but then I began noticing old/new juxtapositions that, happily, amount to some saving of our architectural heritage.
For example, 20 Richmond St. East.
What attracted my attention was the contrast between the old, swirling architecture in front and the angular glass structure behind. But heritage, yes, albeit with some troubled corporate history thrown in. (Then again, could any office building be around for 100 years or so, and escape all trouble?)
Completed in 1892, designated an historical site in 1991 and now part of the modern 1 Queen St. East complex, it was originally the Confederation Life Insurance Building. The sructure has outlived the company, which collapsed in an earlier real-estate slow-down.
How many times have I walked up the east side of downtown Yonge Street, including the stretch just north of King? And how could I have so consistently failed to see this wonderful mosaic work, outlining the entire building at 83 Yonge?
I traced the mosaic detail in some amazement. All still in great shape, it frames both sides and then runs side-to-side horizontally, just beneath the lintel and the legend: “1857 The Tin & Copper Smith Building.”
I can find very little about it, online, apart from the fact it was indeed built in 1857, received an addition in 1895 and was again altered in 1914. It has also been known as the Hiram Piper & Brother Building, and the Toronto World Building.
The mosaic , I found, runs inside the doorway arch, as well.
Perhaps this is why I’ve always missed the beautiful detailing. My eye was otherwise distracted…
Oh, woe! “Paradise”? I think not. But at least the building still stands.
The rain was beginning to slacken, always cheering, and I was further cheered to notice another building — this time at 140 Yonge — on this route I supposedly know so well.
The ground-floor part, which I’ve cropped from the shot, is still tightly papered over and hidden from view; its rounded lines, though, are entirely in harmony with these elegant upper floors.
This is the Dineen Building, the 1897 office, showroom and workshop for W. & F. Dineen Company, engaged in the hat and fur manufacturing business. It seems it is being restored and reborn as a high-end hotel/office suite/bistro/restaurant complex.
Heritage in spades, you’re thinking by now, but where’s the lights-and-camera part of the deal? Two stunning examples, in quick succession.
First up, the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Complex, currently featuring Ross Petty’s holiday panto, “Snow White” — and what could be more appropriate, since vaudeville was the building’s original purpose. The Elgin (opened 1913) and the Winter Garden (opened 1914) are two theatres, one on top of the other, both the work of theatre designer Thomas Lamb, and now the last operating example of stacked theatres in the world.
After a mixed history, they were closed, ultimately acquired by the Ontario Heritage Trust, and restored with minute care and detail.
Does that not take you back in time? As do these street-level main doors.
A block or so farther north, and I’m in front of another grand old, meticulously restored theatre. Like the Elgin and Winter Garden, it was designed by Thomas Lamb (opening a little later, in 1920); unlike its sister complex, it has changed names several times along the way, reflecting troubled and litigious history.
Originally the Pantages, a combination vaudeville/movie theatre, it later became purely a movie venue and then multiplex (“modernized” to suit), later again was bought by yet another owner and returned to live theatre, and is now owned by Mirvish Productions and as of last year bears the name of legendary Ed Mirvish.
All honour to the late Ed Mirvish! He made his money through his “Honest Ed’s” discount store — as garish as Metro Paradise above, if a lot larger in scope and scale – and he subsequently used a lot of his money to foster the arts, theatre especially.
Proper WASP Torontonians initially swooned when they learned that Honest Ed had bought the venerable (and run-down and slated for demolition) Royal Alexandra Theatre on King West. Dismay turned to delight when they saw how beautifully he restored it — and with what acumen he then ran it. More theatres and other cultural support followed (including in London, England), you can read about it elsewhere. My point here only is this: the man deserves this posthumous tribute, joining the titles and accolades given him in his lifetime.
One last bit of theatre at Yonge and Shuter, something I bet Honest Ed would have thoroughly enjoyed — busking. Holiday-themed at that.
She only looks like she’s wearing deely-boppers; the white fuzzball on the right is the tip of her hat, the one on the left is one of the three balls she is juggling. Mr. Black Jacket is watching closely, picking up tips, since he has just quite credibly juggled two balls himself. Only briefly, but hey. Good for him. Santa’s Juggling Elf holds out the balls to me; I thank her profusely and back off. I juggle words, thank you, not physical objects!
And every act needs an audience.