Every so often we stumble across a building that has previously escaped our notice, and wonder how we ever could have missed it. There are dozens of smaller buildings throughout the core that are tucked away, overshadowed or hidden behind years of neglect. All that is often necessary in order to see these buildings is a change in perception, placing value upon a street that might have been considered low-rent and expendable. The Dineen Building is a prime example of a part of our urban fabric that has been neglected for so many years that it became hidden behind dirt, ill-conceived modifications, and neglect.

Alex Sharpe, co-founder of iQ Office Suites, invited UrbanToronto into the building last week to see the top-notch restoration currently going on beneath the wrapping. iQ Office Suites is looking to bring to the commercial rental market a model based on high-end boutique hotels, providing tenants with full service, furnished suites within a unique, character-filled context. The building is being redeveloped by the Commercial Realty Group, with George Robb Architect and Empire Restoration.

The Dineen Building (located at 140 Yonge Street at the northwest corner with Temperance) was built in 1897 as the office, showroom and workshop for the W. & F. Dineen Company, a prominent hat and fur manufacturer in Toronto. It was designed by architect F. H. Herbert, whose portfolio also includes the Wellesley Street house of Henry Gooderham (demolished), the Palace Hotel at King and Strachan, and a 3-storey addition to Osgoode Hall. Herbert was well known for his Richardsonian Romanesque houses, found throughout the Annex, Parkdale and Rosedale, as well as a number of more resplendent Queen Anne mansions. The Dineen Building was designed in the Renaissance Revival style, considered appropriate for commercial buildings due to its association with commerce and the relative freedom in ornamentation that it allowed for.

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireCurrent wrapping on the exterior of the Dineen Building, image by Craig White

We began our tour in the ground floor corner retail space, the former showroom for the Dineen Company that will soon be home to a Starbucks cafe. The full height of the room was only revealed after a whopping 5 ceiling levels were removed, exposing the beautifully crafted pillars with Corinthian capitals that had supported the original showroom ceiling.

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireCorner unit and future Starbucks Cafe, image by Craig White

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireCorinthian capital detail, image by Craig White

Connected to the Starbucks is the nearly complete lobby for iQ Office Suites on Temperance Street. As so often occurs with old buildings, a number of surprising discoveries came to light during restoration; the original building directory features prominently in the entranceway, while wood-carved dentils have been revealed as well as a ceiling medallion.

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireLobby for iQ Office Suites, image by Craig White

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireOriginal building directory in lobby, image by Craig White

The retail space next door to the iQ lobby will be occupied by a small bistro. The larger space on the southwest corner will be home to a new restaurant that will expand beneath a glass cube into the private parking lot behind the Dineen.

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireFuture restaurant space under construction with connection to parking lot at rear, image by Craig White

The covered laneway dividing the restaurant from the rest of the building will provide additional access to the rear seating area, and will also be the location of a glass-enclosed elevator which will connect to the rooftop restaurant and lounge. The fifth floor glass addition is expected to be ready sometime in 2013, sure to absorb customers following the closure of the popular South of Temperance across the street this fall.

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireRooftop terrace renderings and floorplan, image courtesy of Empire Restoration

The basement is being remodeled into a communal lounge for iQ tenants which will include a kitchen, seating area and private meeting rooms. The walls have been stripped back to the original fieldstone foundations, which will be left exposed.

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireExposed fieldstone foundations in basement remodel, image by Craig White

The iQ office suites will be located on the second and third floors, the two floors being nearly identical in layout. Most offices seat 2-3 people, however there will also be a few 1 and 5 person suites. When possible the original windows have been retained, and will be left operable so as to allow for fresh air ventilation.

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireSecond floor office suites awaiting glass fronts, image by Craig White

Office walls facing into the hallway will typically be left glazed to maximize natural light in the core of the building, with clerestory windows also punched through the connecting walls. While difficult to see with the extensive wrapping on the exterior currently in place, the large windows will allow plenty of light to flood in, as we saw on the upper floors. The variety in window size and placement makes each office suite different from the rest, opposed to the often-repetitive units found in newer buildings.

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireCorner suite office with original windows, image by Craig White

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireSouthwest corner office with windows of various sizes, image by Craig White

A number of unique features can be found on the upper floors, such as the painted advertisement located on the adjoining building’s southern wall. A jeweller’s ad painted by Reeve and Child will be retained within the northeast unit, while original J. J. Taylor safes are in the process of being repainted and converted to storage. The exterior balconettes have been completely reconstructed to the original plans by a master blacksmith.

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireReeve + Child painted advertisement in northeast office, image by Craig White

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireRepainted and restored J. J. Taylor safe, image by Craig White

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireRecreated balconette on exterior of building, image by Craig White

The second and third floor suites will be complete by mid-September, with staggered completion expected for the remaining tenants. We can’t wait for the wrapping paper to be removed, and will be sure to check back in with iQ when the renovations are complete. We’re thrilled that such a variety of tenants (iQ, Starbucks, and the various restaurants) will be taking up residence in the Dineen, providing the public an opportunity to experience the building’s unique heritage.

The Dineen Building in Toronto by Commercial Realty Group, George Robb, EmpireDineen Building context rendering, image courtesy of Empire Restoration

To see several more renderings for the Dineen, visit our dataBase listing below, where you can also find additional information on the building. Click on the associated Forum thread link to get in on the conversation about this formerly forlorn and overlooked gem.