In a city undergoing massive transformation like Toronto, old landmarks which have found a place in our civic minds are always subject to the winds of change. Yonge Street and its eclectic mix of old, new, tall, and short has been Toronto's main shopping and leisure street for much of the city's 200+ year old history. Now on the docket of change for this ever-changing street are the former site of The World's Biggest Book Store and 480 Yonge, best recognized for its historic fire hall clock tower.

Last year's demolition of The World's Biggest Bookstore marked the end of an era for a long-lived building. Before its book selling days, the building housed Olympia Bowling, downtown Toronto's first 10-pin bowling alley. It was then bought in the 1980 by book selling magnates Jack and Carl Cole, and turned into the super-sized bookshop we came to know and love.

Olympia Bowling in 1952, image courtesy of Toronto Archives

World's Biggest Bookstore in 1981, image courtesy of Toronto Archives

Owner Lifetime Developments had originally planned turn the site into a restaurants destination designed by Turner Fleischer Architects. By dividing up the site and bringing in top quality chefs and restaurateurs the goal was to service the large crowds pulsing through the downtown core and around the Yonge-Dundas Square. 

Plans have changed however and Lifetime is now proposing a 35-storey slab-style mixed use project designed by architectsAlliance. Though still in its infancy, the proposed tower would rise 122 meters and consist of 629 units including 90 three bedroom units. The residential component will sit atop a 3-storey 18.5m commercial podium base holding 8,832 square meters of retail space. Reminiscent of the modernist-slab style buildings, retail is being proposed.

Current proposed 35-Storey 20 Edward Street building as seen from Edward Street, image courtesy of City of Toronto

At the current height however, the tower would intrude on the flight path of helicopters landing at nearby Sick Kid's Hospital. The flight path is indicated by the diagonal line visible in the elevation drawing above. The applicant is currently requesting an exemption, though changes to the building shape may also provide a solution to the intrusion. 

Current proposed 35-Storey 20 Edward Street building as seen from Yonge Street, image courtesy of City of Toronto

At this early stage, planning staff in consultation with TTC and the developer are also looking into the feasibility of incorporating a northern entrance to Dundas Subway Station through the building's concourse level. The concourse level also provides an opportunity integrate the building with downtown's extensive PATH network through neighboring Atrium On Bay to the south. 

Moving north along Yonge past College, Kingsett Capital in proposing to transform the site of an 1872-built fire hall clock tower into a 45-storey mixed-use condo and retail project designed by Quadrangle Architects. Fire halls with clock towers were a common feature in Toronto for many years. Aside from telling time and acting as lookouts, the clock towers also served as places to hang and dry out used fire hoses during the day. 

1872 firehall building and its original skin seen here in a photo of a fire at a neighbouring store, image courtesy of Toronto

After decommissioning and a short time in the 1950s as a local restaurant, the Fire hall took on perhaps its most famous use as the site of St. Charles Tavern. It was a popular space for the gay and lesbian community in Toronto during a time when public attitudes were less open and sometimes hostile. As newer bars and clubs opened up and the gay community focus shifted to Church Street, the St. Charles Tavern grew tired and finally shut down in 1987 and has since housed a variety of retail establishments.

St. Charles Tavern at the site of the old fire hall and clock tower, image courtesy of Toronto Archives

Through it all the clock tower has survived and under the current Kingsett proposal it would be the centrepiece of a new, open plaza fronting on Yonge with retail suites and a wrap-around 3-storey 2,217 square metre commercial podium behind it, from which the 153-metre 423-unit condominium tower would rise. 

Proposed site plan showing the wrap around plaza at 480 Yonge Street, image courtesy of City of Toronto

While the project would include 26 rental replacement apartments, planning staff have expressed concerns about the potential shadowing impacts of the tower on the newly proposed park at 11 Wellesley Street. Additionally, heritage impacts of the proposed development will have to be evaluated for their appropriateness. 

480 Yonge Street elevation as seen from Yonge Street, image courtesy of City of Toronto

As Yonge Street continues through its modern renaissance, UrbanToronto will keep an eye on these and many other projects with the latest news and developments. Check out the associated dataBase links below for more information on both projects and dive into our Forum discussion by click on the appropriate links here and here.

Related Companies:  architects—Alliance, Cecconi Simone, Doka Canada Ltd./Ltee, EQ Building Performance Inc., Isotherm Engineering Ltd., Live Patrol Inc., McIntosh Perry, Turner Fleischer Architects