When Ernest Hemingway came to Toronto in 1920, having landed a job at the Toronto Star, the city and the fiery young writer did not get along. Toronto the Good, perceived from the generous corner suite rented out of the then Selby Hotel (formerly the Gooderham Mansion at 592 Sherbourne), was a sleepy, provincial town sorely lacking in the metropolitan delights of his beloved Paris, Chicago, or New York. Of Canadians, the young author wrote jestingly in The Star, that, "They [Canadians] go home at night. Their cigarettes don't smell bad. Their hats fit. [...] They don't believe in literature. [...] But they are wonderful on skates." ("I like Canadians," The Toronto Star, December 15, 1923). Fast-forward to 2015, and while perhaps much of the same qualities may exist, little of Hemingway's Toronto—especially in the downtown core—remains.
On Sherbourne, as on Jarvis, change has come somewhat haltingly throughout the twentieth century, as the former millionaires' rows in what was once a fashionable corner of town fell out of favour. Once-grand mansions were subdivided into rooming houses, torn down for apartment blocks, or on occasion condemned and demolished only to be left as barren, empty lots. Travelling down Sherbourne or Jarvis today from Bloor to Queen reveals some faded grandeur, with some of the remaining historic homes in poor to middling condition. Fortunately, in the last decade, this has begun to turn around thanks in large part to urban reinvestment at sites like the National Ballet School and the St. James Town Community Centre. Three heritage mansion sites are continuing the renewal on the two streets, one recently completed and two now under way, including the James Cooper, Gooderham, and William Johnston mansions, all of which all of which are part of a large-scale restoration and repurposing.
The c.1881 James Cooper House, which underwent a massive restoration and 32-storey condo tower addition in 2010, is a positive recent step in this multi-year transformation of one of Toronto's most overlooked heritage districts. Perhaps most dramatic about the restoration process, which began in 2008 under the direction of Tridel, along with Burka Architects and restoration specialists, Goldsmith Borgal and Company Architects, was the structure's whole-scale shift to the east, to meet Sherbourne Street, a move which necessitated some very careful engineering work.
By 2010, with the relocation complete, work on the restoration and the construction of the 32-storey condo addition to the rear of the original structure was well underway. As the tower portion was to be a rather non-descript glass and spandrel condo, the extensive restoration work on the heritage structure allowed to mansion to be the architectural focal point of the development, all the while establishing a more intimate, human scale along the Sherbourne Street frontage.
Completed in Spring 2011, the juxtaposition of the historic to the modern at James Cooper Mansion is more than evident. At street-level, passersby have been able to enjoy the revitalized heritage home in all its glory, while the tower brings some much-needed density and urbanity to this long-neglected corridor of Toronto's downtown east side. Perhaps most important here, is the precedent set by this project, one which has already begin to manifest itself in the aforementioned other projects now underway.
Next door at 592 Sherbourne, the Gooderham Mansion, last known as the Selby Hotel, has been bought by Mod Developments Inc. and Tricon Capital, to be redeveloped into a 50-storey rental property designed by bKL Architecture. To be re-branded as The Selby, the new rental tower will sit above the 130 year old heritage home, which will also be moved closer to Sherbourne Street while being kept largely intact otherwise. It will assume the duties of lobby, amenity space, and retail.
While the twentieth-century hotel addition at the rear of the estate has been torn down, the rest of the Victorian heritage structure will undergo a full exterior restoration.
Most notable about the design of this tower will be its brick exterior and punched windows, which will play nicely off of the traditional material palette and form of the heritage home in front. Once complete, the Selby will offer 50 storeys of rental apartments, with a mixture of sizes and floorplans.
Last but not least, the c.1875 William R. Johnston House at Jarvis and Isabella Streets, was long-known to area residents as the "Grey Lady" thanks to a generous helping of grey paint which covered the brick exterior, now removed. Purchased in 2003 as a new headquarters for Casey House, one of Toronto's earliest HIV/AIDS patient care homes and community centres, the "Grey Lady" has begun a path to restoration in the hands of Bird Construction and Hariri Pontarini Architects.
The house served as office space for Casey House for a few years, but the deteriorated state of the interiors made continued use impossible.
Now, a new 58,000 square foot, 4-storey health facility addition will be made to the rear of the structure, to be housed in an airy, modern space. While the loss of an adjoining, nineteenth-century coach house at the rear of the property became necessary when a purchaser could not be found for it, the loss should be more than made up for by the large-scale restoration of the main estate.
Slated for completion in 2016, Casey House will re-open to the public as a state-of-the-art healthcare and community centre for HIV/AIDS patients living in Toronto. The facility will feature a large in-patient centre, along with community spaces for adult education and art therapy, along with plenty of room for counselling, and other related healthcare needs. The latest renderings of the final product reflect the vision for a restful home away from home for those in need of care and compassion. Architecturally speaking, the new addition, though thoroughly modern in its simplicity, works with its more ornate nineteenth-century counterpart, while the much smaller scale of the addition (when compared with the sky scraping condo redevelopments on Sherbourne) lends itself to both highlighting the home itself and calming the surrounding streetscape.
Together, the transformations of the Gooderham, James Cooper, and Casey House, signal an era of heightened attention to the heritage of Toronto's Downtown east side, bringing this long-overlooked part of the city's past splendour back to life one mansion at a time. And, while we may still be a city that prefers the steady approach to that of some of our international counterparts, it is a safe bet that the young Hemingway would be pleased to see his former, stuffy, Victorian abode transformed, his one-time adoptive city no longer the sleepy, provincial town he once knew.
UrbanToronto will continue to provide updates on these and other developments as work continues. Check out our dataBase and Forum for additional information on any of these three projects.