Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Doors Open 2013

The end of May marked another year of Door's Open in Toronto,  As usual, there were so many interesting options to choose from.  We went full throttle on both days of the weekend and visited the following locations:

The Dineen Building on 140 Yonge St at Temperance was built in 1897 and became the office, workshop and showroom of the W.&F. Dineen Company, which sold hats and furs.  Now a heritage site, the building has been restored to its former glory, featuring original brickwork, wrought-iron Juliette balconies and fencing, pillars topped with ornate crown molding imprinted with a golden "D" for Dineen, and the company directories showing the last occupants of the building. The highlights of the tour were the beautiful J&J Taylor safe standing in the front lobby and the embedded wall vaults in the upper floors, which were used to store expensive furs.  One of the vaults is still locked and will require a professional locksmith and representation from the proper historical societies before it can be opened.  There are stories of a 1910 bank robbery where the robbers may have hidden out in the Dineen building and possibly stashed some loot in the vaults.  So far, nothing has been found but who knows what might be in this last vault!

Today, the upper floors of the Dineen building are used as temporary and permanent office space available for rent.  The ground floor houses the gorgeously decorated Dineen Coffee shop with tall ceilings, the same pillars as found in the lobby, deep red leather banquette seating, marble counter tops, patterned flooring, and an antique iron stove still imbedded in the brick wall.  Also opening by summer will be the Chase Fish and Oyster restaurant which will include a large upstairs patio overlooking the city.

The impressive collection of Inuit art on permanent display in the TD Gallery at 79 Wellington Ave. has been accumulated starting in the 1960s, at the behest of Allen Lambert, then president and chairman of the TD Bank.  The tour guide pointed out one of the sculptures that reminded him of Che Guevara wearing his iconic beret.  A poignant piece called "The Migration" by Joe Talirunili conveys the true story of his family of 40 adults and children, once trapped in their sleds on an ice floe that drifted away and started to melt.  They used whatever materials they had on the sleds to build a boat and escaped.  His works will soon be on display at the AGO.  One of the most recent acquisitions from 1987 depicts a starving Ethiopian and contrasts his plight to that of the Inuit.  My personal favourite piece is a seal's head made from whale bone.

A new condo tower called Massey Towers will be built on Yonge Street across from the Eaton Centre.  It was formerly the site of a CIBC branch built in the early 1900s in a classic Beaux-Arts style.  Luckily the original building has been deemed a heritage site and will therefore will be restored and used as the entrance and lobby of the condo.  The majestic portico with its thick columns and triangular peaked roof will remain as the facade with a tall tower rising behind it.  Once it is complete, the lobby for the condo will be magnificent with tall ceilings, ornate wood finishing and decorative ironwork, mosaic flooring, marble staircase, funky chandeliers, and original bronze friezes restored.

Once inside, rather than the historic tour of the original building that we were hoping for, we were bombarded by salesmen, floor plans and a model suite for the new condo.  The prices ranged from low $300K to just under $900K and from 377 square feet to 1085.  Parking spots were only available to the small percentage of larger units over 800 square feet and cost $69,000!  The salesman tried to impress us with the "automatic parking" feature where you drive your car into an elevator and it would automatically take you to your parking spot.  This sounded very cool initially but could become a big bottleneck and a bigger pain if the elevator ever broke down.  We noticed that while the building is touted as a "luxury" condo, the amenities did not reflect this.  The flooring was laminate instead of hardwood, the bathroom offered porcelain tile instead of marble and the kitchen  was "European-styled"  (marketing-speak for tiny appliances and sink).

Guildwood Park sits on 88 acres of land on the edge of the Scarborough Bluffs and can be considered the "home of abandoned architectural treasures".  Now a public park, it was originally purchased in 1932 by Spencer and Rosa Clark, who created the "Guild of All Arts", providing free studio space and accommodations for artists to stay at while pursuing their crafts.  One of Spencer's major passions was the preservation of heritage sites.  He was instrumental in saving the Old City Hall from destruction.  For those buildings that he was not able to save, such as many of the big banks in the Financial District that were torn down to make way for current office towers, he started collecting architectural components such as stone carvings and reliefs, columns, capitals, and other facade elements.  Pieces from banks, insurance companies, the Granite building, Toronto Star building, Imperial Oil Building and more, sit scattered across the lands of the park alongside sculptures that the Clarks collected throughout the years.

Overlooking the sculpture garden is the Guild Inn, a 33-room Arts and Crafts manor house that was once the home of the Clarks as well as a hotel and museum.  Unfortunately it has fallen into such disrepair that it will probably need to be torn down.  During the WWII, this mansion was used by the Womens' Royal Naval Service as a training base for female code-breakers.  Following the war, it was used as a veteran's hospital before being returned to the Clarks.

Spencer commissioned the construction of an amphitheatre, using Corinthian columns that he saved from the Bank of Canada building.  The outdoor theatre is still used today, with the Guild Festival Theatre group performing The Misanthrope later this summer.  Also on the site is at the Osterhout log cabin, built in 1795, during the time that John Graves Simcoe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, was having the lands surveyed.

 In 1850s, Joe Williams bought a 20.7 acre farm in what is now known as the Beach area.  He created a large park as a tourist attraction on the waterfront, naming it Kew Gardens after the park in London.  His son, who he also named Kew, went on to build Kew Cottage as a honeymoon home for his new wife.  The cute little cottage has a round turret tower in front, a wrap-around veranda and is built in the Queen Anne Revival style.  The tour guide said it was shaped like a ship, but I couldn't really see that.

Historic photos were on display inside the house, showing the Williams family in their home and photos of the surrounding area.  The tour guide then took us for a walk, looking at some of the other cottages in the neighbourhood as well as describing the history of the Beach area (including the big debate about whether it should be named the Beach or Beaches).

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