The Mirvish+Gehry Project and my heritage rant.
The Importance of History
History is important. It speaks about the past and enlightens us of a different time period. Looking at Toronto today, many see the metropolitan city as a residential hub with condominiums popping up left, right and centre along with other housing complexes. However, Toronto was once an industrial hub with fascinating stories related to war and influential names in Canadian history. One of the ways to tell Toronto’s history is through its buildings. That is why the city has given heritage status to buildings that have played important roles in Toronto’s history and in some cases Canada’s. I believe many of us understand the importance of heritage status and therefore are aware that these buildings need to be saved.
A Future With No History
Now I am not one to point fingers or harp on people, but for the past year Mr. Mirvish has not impressed me, for his vision of the future is one with no history. Now I am not talking about the sale of Honest Ed’s or Mirvish Village – I already wrote a post in response to that and how it is unfair to strip the Annex of its past. No, this rant is directed at his three potential sculptures (condominiums) that he is proposing to place along a stretch of King Street West. What is really worrisome about this project is that four heritage buildings will need to be demolished to make room for this modern abstract piece of real estate meaning that Mr. Mirvish will erasing part of Toronto’s history.
What did put a smile on my face was an article saying that a heritage report – with the goal of protecting the buildings from demolition - could halt this project. Today, I want to share with you the importance of the four heritage buildings in question and why they are important to Toronto’s history.
Eclipse Whitewear Company Building
Built in 1903 by Gregg and Gregg, the Eclipse Whitewear Company served as an underwear factory. It produced mainly products for woman and children and operated for over 50 years. The building eventually became the home of the Toronto Sun in the 70’s which is also when the building underwent a makeover. When the Toronto Sun moved out, the building became home to restaurants such as La Cantinetta and Jardin des Artistes, a disco, a jazz club and a theatrical memorabilia store before becoming a Tim Horton’s, the From Hockey to Hollywood Shop and home to an architectural firm. What is interesting to note about this building is the company’s sign. Back when it was an underwear factory the sign read Eclipse Whitewear Company. Today it reads Eclipse White Wear Company with a space between White and Wear.
The importance of this building is that shows this portion of King Street West as an industrial area.
This building is truly an architectural gem. This Edwardian styled structure is noted on its heritage page as a rare surviving example of a commercial warehouse with terra cotta cladding. The fact that the word rare is used proves its importance to Toronto’s history. Architect William Frazer built the structure in 1915 and it was home to the Anderson-Macbeth Company. It became home to numerous dress and underwear manufacturers, Lewiscraft, Most Honourable Ed’s Chinese Restaurant and Phillips Electrical Work. Today it is home to Mirvish Enterprises and a Dunn’s.
I think the opening sentence outlined the importance of this heritage property. Anything that can be considered a rare example is something that is worth holding on to.
E.W Gillett Building
The original structure was built in 1901 by A. Frank Wickson followed by an expansion 40 years later by Murray Brown. Currently a Shoeless Joe’s the Edwardian Classical building sits on the former Upper Canada College grounds and is the oldest warehouse on the threatened block. Known for its arched windows, the warehouse was home to the Pure Gold Manufacturing Company which produced baking ingredients.
In 1904 the building was sold to the E.W. Gillet Company which is the name that has survived with the building for over a century. The building would go on to host the Russell Motor Car Company (in World War One), a federal customs house and the James Morrison Brass Manufacturing Company which ordered the expansion of the building. What is most significant about this building is that it marked the end of an era for the Mirvish family in the restaurant business when Old Ed’s closed in 2000.
As the oldest warehouse building on the block and possibly one of the first to sit on the property after Upper Canada College this building has ample amount of history. It also holds a history for the Mirvish Family whose name at one point was plastered all over the area.
Built over the span of almost a decade, between 1904 – 1913, by A. Frank Wickson (phase one in 1904) and Sproatt and Rolph (phase two and three) the building was home to Featherstone Novelty Manufacturing Company which made fashionable belts for females. Although no company called Reid ever occupied the space the name was given after the manager of the Featherstone firm. The building was most popular with book publishers, housing a number of them over a 50 year span. It also became the upscale restaurant known as Ed’s Warehouse.
My Rant to Mr. Frank Gehry
You have to agree there is a lot to say about these buildings and as you can see they are not only architectural wonders, but hold a history for many companies that paved the way in the Canadian industry and for the Mirvish family. For actual residents in the city these buildings may also hold a personal connection.
However, I should not entirely put my heritage hate on Mr. Mirvish, for Mr. Frank Gehry is no better. At a recent Community Council Meeting Mr. Gehry discredited almost all of Toronto’s heritage buildings, with the exception of Old City Hall and Osgoode Hall. His reasoning for saving Old City Hall was that “he used to go there when he was a kid.” Well my grandfather used to work at the Mimico Lunatic Asylum, my mom once worked at Commerce Court and my friends Renee and Cory got married at SteamWhistle Brewery in the old John Street Roundhouse – all heritage properties that they now have a connection to. By saying one of the only heritage buildings worth saving is Old City Hall because you used to go there and is a place that you formed a connection with is selfish and ridiculous. Why should Mr. Gehry be allowed to keep a building that he has a history with and no one else can? He went on to say “the old General Hospital building I was born in should have been sacred. It was torn down,” once again proving my point that the world apparently revolves around him.
Mr. Gehry, you have contributed one beautiful building in the city of Toronto, you are considered by most as an American and I don’t think you live in Toronto as a permanent resident. Therefore, I don’t think that you have the right to make a statement that discredits all, but two heritage properties. I also find it really sad that a man who builds some of the greatest pieces of architecture doesn’t appreciate many of Toronto’s heritage building which are architectural wonders.
Mr. Mirvish and Mr. Gehry, I will end simply with this. I believe in Heritage, I believe in preserving our past and I don’t believe in living in a city that has been stripped of its history.