Although the name now marks gleaming modern skyscrapers and acclaimed office developments, the history of growing Toronto developer Hullmark does not begin in a boardroom, or through some complex series of mergers and acquisitions played out across the corporate landscape of big development: it began with an immigrant boy in 1934. We sat down with Jeff Hull, President of Hullmark, to talk about the company's proud roots, its increasing prominence, and its current trajectory.
Hull's grandfather, Marian "Murphy" Hull was 9 years old when he arrived in Toronto from Poland in 1934. With the Great Depression leaving the dream of North American prosperity on the brink, Murphy could only afford to stay in school until grade 7, entering the workforce at an early age to help support his family. Then, during WWII, he served in the Navy, returning home to find work as a plasterer. Starting his own company, Murphy's nascent Hullmark began buying up small sites in North York, where the suburban dream of lawns, driveways, and backyards was waiting to be built. "For Murphy, and for a lot of immigrants that lived in the cramped inner-city, suburban home ownership was the ideal," Jeff explains, taking us through the company's history, and its new ambitions.
Hull expanded upon the company's history, and how his grandfather's legacy helped shape the company's image. "My grandfather's life culminated with the construction of the Hullmark Centre at Yonge and Sheppard (below), which was a large-scale project bearing his company's name, and it was one that he felt would most epitomize his life's work," Mr. Hull explains. Though Murphy died a few years before the project was completed, Jeff tells us that his devotion to it was such that "he picked a cemetery plot to overlook the site." Murphy's posthumous devotion to the project wasn't a clever talking point or a vaguely morbid joke, though, Jeff stresses. "On the contrary," he says, "it's just who he was. That's how much the project meant to him."
Now, six years following Murphy's death, the completed Hullmark Centre (below) has brought new life and new vibrancy to North York City Centre. The project, developed in partnership with Tridel, and designed by Kirkor Architects Planners, has brought new retailers and a public plaza to the area, creating a social gathering place on the site of a former strip mall and parking lot. Yet, while Murphy's legacy project stands as Hullmark's most declarative and iconic intervention on the civic landscape, the company is continuing to evolve, embracing new and increasingly urban paradigms.
"Lifestyles in the city are changing," Jeff says, "and younger generations are becoming much more geared towards urban life, rather than the suburbs." For Hullmark, however, embracing the urban realm doesn't merely entail bringing new residential density Downtown, but also creating more complete and vibrant communities, with that show sensitivity towards their neighborhood's character and architectural heritage.
In Liberty Village, the Quadrangle Architects-designed 60 Atlantic Avenue already embodies the company's current principles, with the restored factory now serving as a high-quality office space, and with retail and restaurant space incorporated at ground level. The building has won numerous international awards, including an Award of Excellence at last month's Toronto Urban Design Awards.
"We wanted to focus on high-quality design and build a project that's cohesive with the neighborhood around it," Jeff explains, "and these are the principles that we are continuing to build on," he adds. While the Downtown area has seen explosive growth through new residential towers, Hullmark seeks to provide more balance to densely populated neighborhoods by bringing new commercial properties—as well as condos—to the market. "Creating complete neighborhoods is a strong priority for us," Jeff stresses, foregrounding urban vibrancy and livable neighborhoods as Hullmark's principles.
Situated alongside 60 Atlantic, the more recently announced office complex at 80 Atlantic Avenue (above) represents a bolder statement of intent for Hullmark. The five-storey, 85,100 square foot office complex would be the first timber-framed commercial project built in the city for decades. Also designed by Quadrangle Architects, the building's unique character has already garnered a significant amount of attention from the architecture and development community.
"With these projects, the emphasis isn't just on attractive design, but also on long-term use," Jeff tells us. "We avoid any cheapening of the building," he stresses, explaining that Hullmark projects are designed "to look good and continue to function well decades later." In this regard, a long-term focus doesn't just ensure that development occurs in a sustainable and responsible manner, it also makes good financial sense. "We want to still own these commercial buildings 20 years from now," says Jeff, "and—all rhetoric aside—we want to protect our investment."
As Hullmark's ambitious new Downtown projects continue to take shape, there is a sense of the company's—and the family's—journey coming full-circle. Where Murphy Hull saw a better suburban future for the communities of immigrants and working people Downtown, Hullmark has now turned its focus back to the city, striving to re-invigorate the very neighborhoods where Jeff Hull's grandparents grew up.