Cyclists and pedestrians taking a casual stroll along the Humber River Recreational Trail have for years been greeted by a rather fantastical, if not jarring site. Perched next to the trail in a secluded meadow surrounded by trees in South Humber Park, the Park Pavilion (commonly referred to as the Oculus Pavilion, or just the Oculus) stands as an understated monument to Toronto's mid-century concrete Modernist era. Designed by architect Alan Crossley and built by Toronto Parks in 1959, the whimsical canopy and fieldstone structure once housed public washrooms that have long been shuttered and left in abandonment.
The pavilion originally featured a dramatic sculpture at the centre of the oculus, perfectly framed by the circle of sunlight - an integral component that is regrettably missing today. The stone base on which the pavilion sits is now dotted with weeds sprouting in between the cracks, while the slender steel columns, once a gleaming white, have since been painted a deep rusty red.
Over half a century later, suffering from neglect and sporting graffiti tags, the aging structure has recently been the cause of some controversy, as nearby residents have expressed concern over shady activities that often take place behind the stone pavilion. The secluded area is sheltered from the public eye, and worried neighbours have brought this to the attention of Ward 5 Councillor Justin di Ciano, who is spearheading an initiative to renovate the pavilion in order to render the area safer and free of crime.
The initial proposal that was briefly outlined in July's Ward 5 newsletter would see the concrete canopy maintained and refurbished, and the stone washroom facilities behind demolished. In an effort to evoke the memory of the lost portion, the slender steel columns of the canopy will be clad with the salvaged stones of the washroom facilities, and a new textured concrete base will be added below the canopy.
Since details of the proposed renovations were revealed, there has been some outcry from heritage officials and the general public lamenting the 'bastardization' of the pavilion. President of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO), architect Catherine Nasmith, first expressed concern to City officials over the renovations, stating that the addition of stones to the slender columns is not in keeping with the architectural expression of the period, and that even if the washrooms must be demolished, the facing stone wall should be retained to save the overall composition of the pavilion. She has since listed the structure as a notable building at risk.
The Oculus Pavilion, tucked away next to the Humber River, is by no means a high-profile landmark in the city, but the small structure still projects a bold statement reminiscent of the unbounded optimism and fanciful concrete experimentation of post-war Toronto. The little pavilion can easily draw comparisons to the captivating expressionist forms of Viljo Revell's City Hall, or Uno Prii's eccentric apartment blocks and porte-cochères.
The future of the pavilion will be important to watch, as it has precedent-setting implications for the preservation of Toronto's modern heritage. The status of the city's post-war concrete buildings is becoming increasingly relevant for today's development industry, as can be seen with high-profile projects such as the recladding of the Simpson's Tower; the recladding and addition at The Residences of 488 University; the glass-clad addition to Robarts Library; and the recent announcement of the renovation of the Macdonald Block.
In response to the pushback, Parks officials are reportedly in conversation with Heritage Preservation Services for advice on how to deal with the aging Oculus Pavilion. There has been no word if any changes are forthcoming, nor any schedule or dates as to when we might see any plans come to fruition, but the City has responded to Nasmith's protests with the blunt statement that, "staff will implement as they deem appropriate."
What do you think of the Oculus Pavilion and its proposed refurbishment? If you disagree with the partial demolition, the ACO has launched a petition against the changes, which you can sign here. Want to get in on the discussion? Check out the associated Forum thread, or leave a comment in the space provided on this page.
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