Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ugly Buildings

Community Heritage Ontario just shared a great link, a great FB post from the U.S. National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Seven tips for saving ugly buildings. Good way to highlight the things that make them ugly in the first place, and what we have so unsympathetically done to them.

No building is born ugly.
Wellington - lose the sunporch, get some paint on this treasure

You can read the article by Julia Rocchi, National Trust digital contect wrangler (recommended) or just browse her list I've summarized here.

1. Think about what defines beauty
2. Explain why it's important architecturally
3. Connect emotionally
Tweed - bury a Moderne house in additions

4. Share its history/connections
5. Go inside (not always an option, alas)
6. Consider what we would lose if we lost it
7. And if all else fails, be patient. Tastes may change.

Trenton - waiting for it to die

Pretty good way to encourage a love and awareness of built heritage. Whether it's endangered or not.

Trenton- uneasy marriage

Browse this gallery of ugly buildings. By and large, our fault. Changing taste. Unsympathetic modernization or repair. Plastic commercial facades. Not sure if it's necessary to apologize, but it's a small gallery, as I seldom find any building ugly. Challenging maybe, not ugly.

Toronto Parkdale - waiting for something...

Belleville - for this they demolished a fine Victorian P.O.

Nipigon - at least the neon still works

Toronto - gorgeous Deco Moderne facade disfugured

Toronto - shop front definitely does not work

Belleville - unused potential

Belleville - cast iron needs help
Toronto...taste check. Fail.

The Apartment

The Annandale, Sydenham Street Kingston
The Apartment. Where the urbane sophisticated city dweller lived. When I was a kid in a rambling frame double farm-house surrounded by several hundred difficult to discipline acres, life in one of these tidy compact spaces was my grown-up dream. The 1960 Billy Wilder film, its high-rise Upper West Side apartment bustling with moral light-weights and their amorous liaisons, described a life-style so far removed from our own.

And it was all about the apartment. Even my aunt, who worked as a saleslady at Eaton's in down-town Picton, and lived in an apartment above a main street shop, was glamorous to me, because of her address.

Here are a few of my favourite early apartments.
Ward Apartments, King Street, Picton

Have nothing on this Moderne brick on Bridge St. Belleville
The building at the top is Annandale, in Kingston. I wrote about it once over a year ago, and included a few extra photos and a link (containing some great historic photos) to the Annandale blog - for now the building is a condominium community. Annandale is a complex which grew up over time on the 1849 Carruthers Villa estate; the original stone house forms part of it, with an extra 1928 storey and a name change to Annandale Court Apartments. Later a three storey annex was built, and by 1931 the five-storey plus basement third stage, Kingston's first high-rise (possibly) was being occupied. Definitely worth a walk around the block, next time you're by.

28 Cardero Street, Vancouver
The grey streamlined moderne building above was built around a Second Empire house. Really. An article appeared in a recent issue of  County magazine, written by Phil Ainsworth, the publication's intrepid house researcher. This very fine moderne structure, with all the required stylistic elements, was a concrete shell, built by Clayton Ward from 1937 - 42, around a three-storey 1875 mansion badly in need of a facelift. And what a facelift. Six spacious apartments. Has fooled a lot of people for a long time. Fooled me in 2012.

I photographed this greenery cloaked buff brick apartment in Vancouver's West End, for its emotional rather than architectural significance. I lived there in the late 1970s, and it was where I first entertained the gentleman caller with whom I still share my days. We revisited in 2013, walking up Robson Street from Stanley Park through a proliferation of shiny towers and upmarket eateries. I was astonished to find my old home still standing, and even more surprised to find the row of tiny bungalows facing it all in good repair, with all that wonderful west coast vegetation proliferating.

And then I ran out of photos of apartment buildings, apartment houses, apartment blocks. I dug up a bit of history, though.
toronto first apartment
City of Toronto Archives
This blog TO article does a great history of that city's first apartment blocks. I love this line: "it's hard to imagine a time when renting a small portion of a larger building was a radical, even a shockingly salacious way of life." Fabulous! The January 25, 2014 article by Chris Bateman goes on to explain that there were no purpose-built apartment buildings in the city before 1899 (humble folks rented rooms or floors of subdivided houses, of course.) First off the mark were the tony brick and stone St. George Mansions at 1 Harbord Street, opening in 1904 with six storeys and 34 apartments housing the well-heeled. The next year, the Alexandra's 7 stories of brick, stone and steel offering 72 suites. For a look at these pioneers, go to the blogTO link; neither building survived long after WWII.

photo courtesy Chris Ryan 
While looking for information on an apartment I once knew and loved in Ottawa (which the Vancouver building reminded me of) I came across Christopher Ryan's fascinating blog The Margins of History written by a self-confessed history nerd (love the site name!) His Tumblr site with loads of Ottawa architectural photos, is also well worth a visit.The apartment I was looking for is the Keniston, which has traded its down-trodden front lawn for a bazaar of sorts. Don't have a photo (who thought of taking photos in the 60s?) but here's a Street View link. My neighbourhood, Elgin Street South, was lined with early c20 apartment blocks, some heavy Edwardian in feel, others Streamlined Moderne. A favourite was always Park Square, across from the (then) Museum of Natural History. Here's a great article about Park Square,  considered "exceptionally modern" in 1937 when it first rented; it's written by Christopher Ryan in Ottawa Start, Unfortunately the street became a loud grimy traffic corridor leading to the Queensway, immediately to the south and lost its cachet.

Disappearing Deseronto...a city with a past

Mill Point from the west
 Since I met Amanda Hill, the new archivist at the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County, I have been taking a growing interest in Deseronto. Now that's not as peculiar as it sounds, as Amanda has long been the archivist in Deseronto, and has created an outstanding website with dozens of albums of historic photos and maps. I'm always on about 'if we lose our historic buildings we lose our history.' Touchstones, as it were. Deseronto is a compelling example of that premise.

Thankfully, it has the Deseronto Archives (that's the link above.)
the former industrial complex from the tip of the point

Early this month, I spent a golden afternoon wandering the streets and fields of the town. I used this tour map. I say 'fields' as one of the most important engines of the town, a massive c19 industrial complex, is noticeable only by its absence. Mill Point (earlier Culbertson's Wharf, later Deseronto) operated under the entrepreneurial Rathbun family from 1848,when the first sawmill was built at Mill Point, to the 1920s.

In the 1890's, the village was home to 3000 residents, the majority hard at work for the Rathbuns. From the Archives' website: "a sash and door factory, shipyard, railway car works, terra cotta factory, flour mill, gas works and chemical works." When the timber on which many of the Rathbun industries relied was finally exhausted, the town's industries shrank, and the Rathbun empire ended in 1923.
west of town - site of the iron works

This YouTube features audio of Amanda Hill reading a 1892 poem by Archibald MacIntyre. If you overlook the execrable poetry, you will soon realize it's a brilliant west to east tour of the town at its industrial peak. The video also contains loads of maps, charts and photos. An absolutely outstanding history resource!

terra cotta clay industry manifest
Interestingly, a novelist keeps the town alive for me. Frances Itani, Belleville born writer of the fine novel Deafening (based on real people in Deseronto, and the turn of the century Ontario School for the Deaf) recently released Tell. Here's an interview with the author. The book literally walks the reader through the town, and peoples existing buildings and streets with engaging and complex characters. Here's an account of a walking tour Frances Itani led just last month.

All along the waterfront of the town are intriguing abandoned properties.One at the east end of town; was it the terra cotta factory site?
Another a bit west along the water; could it have been the home of the chemical works? Was the sloping site west of town once the iron works, destroyed by fire in 1908? Yes, says Amanda.

In town, the Community Centre sits on property once used by the Dominion Match factory. A photo on the website shows a massive four storey building, a water tower and tall square brick chimney. I stood in the parking lot and captured a pleasant, decidedly non-industrial shore across highway 2.
Every time I visit the Deseronto Archives website, I find another treasure. Here, for my future enjoyment as well as yours, is a series of printable brochures about a number of fascinating history sites in the town. Every one a revelation. Here for example, is the Prince Street Public works building moved from its original location, now living a quiet life. In a former iteration (1917/18) it was an aircraft hangar, used for storing and maintaining aircraft at Camp Rathbun, one of two local WWI training camps for the Royal Flying Corps.
courtesy Deseronto Archives

Deseronto's past is its future. I'll be back.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

End of the Line

A while ago I wrote about Kingston's Outer Station. I shared the observation of a train writer who attributed its failure to reinvent itself to its north end location. The spur line which ended at Johnson and Ontario Streets fared significantly better. So much so that we dined here a number of times before we ever learned that it was once the 1885 depot of the Grand Trunk Railway!

Thanks once again to the wonderful collections at FB Vintage Kingston, I can show you this before picture. This is the 'Inner Station' at the end of the Hanley Spur, as I learned from Eric Gagnon's terrific train blog Trackside Treasure.
Bird's Eye Map, 1875
Just down Ontario Street, across the street from City Hall, Kingston's busy Visitor Information Centre stands in Confederation Park, housed in yet another historic railway station, the southern terminus of the Kingston & Pembroke Railway.  Steam engine 1095, The Spirit of Sir John A. locomotive gleams for the camera just outside. It was built by Kingston's own Canadian Locomotive Company, and worked from 1913 to 1960. As so much of the physical evidence of our industrial past is gone, the history evaporates with it. Who today realizes that this company manufactured more than 3000 steam, electric and diesel engines for CPRail. Right on Ontario Street, between Gore and Earl? Here's what the location looks like today.

Sir John A. Also...

LOML and I took off to Kingston Sunday, the quadrennial coat sale at the Bay event. Follow-up celebration over a pub lunch. And what better place in Sir John Alexander Macdonald's Kingston than Sir John's Public House on King Street, near the Market Square?

Lest you think that I am making reference to the great man's fondness for the drink, I hasten to explain that this great pub restaurant is housed in the building where John A. Macdonald and his partners maintained their law office from 1849 to 1860. Just down the street from the bustling market and regal city hall.

As we beat our way down Brock Street, against a stiff lake breeze, I stopped to capture 169-171 Wellington, the site of John A.'s first law office. Likely looked better then. It's a work in progress, clearly. Progress backwards to its original 1835 design, part of the reworking of the historic buildings at the corner of Wellington and Brock.

Thanks to Frontenac Heritage Foundation for the great article in the February 2015 issue of their publication Foundations; I am visiting all of the sites in their photo story. This post was my first installment.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Turns out you CAN fight City Hall

Not long ago I happened through Trenton at lunch-time. For some time, I had been intending to pop round to schedule a research visit at the Heritage and Cultural Centre. What I got instead was a great lunch, grand company, good history, and a chance to get to know some impassioned supporters of the building and its activity - including their hopes for the return of a successful local theatre once housed upstairs.

 This building, the old market and town hall, was built in 1861. A stone building with Greek Revival distinction, it once was - and still should be - the heart of Trenton.Thanks to some historic images from the online albums on the Facebook pages of  Trenton Town Hall  or the Vintage Belleville, Trenton, and Quinte Region (click 'photos' then 'albums' ) you can travel back in time to when this building was the absolute centre of the town (well, it was more likely King Street United Church, or similar brands, on Sundays.)
Another thing you can do is read Reaching for the Beaufort Sea, the autobiography of one of Canada's most famous poets, and a native son of Trenton. Al Purdy describes a scene which took place in this very market square, from the perspective of a small lost boy:

"A farmer and his wife were passing by in their horse-drawn wagon, on the way to market with a load of farm produce...Speculating that my mother might have gone to market herself, they took me onto their wagon. We clopped off to market while the farm-wife tried to comfort me with soothing words. But I was not to be comforted so easily.
   The market was jammed with people. Farm wagons piled with bright orange pumpkins, yellow onions and brown potatoes were backed up at the market square. Puppies in cages awaited buyers. Chickens squawked in other cages. Some were dead and stripped clean of feathers, wearing bloody bandages where their heads had been. A big blue policeman with shining buttons strolled through the mob of townspeople; the Trenton market square also housed the police station."

There's more, but you get the idea. Today a well-ordered parking lot lies just outside. But there's lots going on inside. Here's a chronology, gained from a chat with Laura one of the volunteers:
In 1985 the Trent Port Historical Society saved this building from demolition, and it became the home for their growing collection of historical artifacts from the area's history.
In 2005 then Mayor Williams, a great supporter of arts and heritage, encouraged the Bay of Quinte Community Players (formed in 1946, resurrected 2005) to use the upstairs of the market building as a theatre. Volunteer labour and talent recreated a wonderful replica Victorian music hall in the 1950s era theatre, which still remains. Unused. We have attended productions there in the past; a terrific space. Now it's closed, due to a rigorous fire inspection which has stalled progress. Here's the newspaper account of the closure.

Not long ago, the volunteer enthusiasts opened the Heritage Cafe, in the main floor museum area, a way to bring folks into the building. It worked. There's a great community feeling here. Another lunch visitor and I were brought onboard with the struggle to retain the community theatre space, given lunch and a tour, introductions to the student assisting with digitizing the photo archives. Homey. Grassroots. Kind of the way things started here. Turns out, they're likely to continue.

Last week, representatives pleaded their case with council. Everyone was hoping that this city-owned building, the only area museum interpreting Trenton's important industrial and railroad history, might get some support. Seems that the pavement, parking lot and playing field budget will stretch to rescue the old Market Building and its initiatives.
Last week, on the Facebook page of the Museum, came this announcement:
"It gives us great pleasure to announce that there will be a museum, cafe and theatre at Trenton Town Hall - 1861 for our future pleasure. The City Council Meeting went very well and the outcome was in our favour. IT WAS VOTED AND PASSED THAT THE CITY WILL LOOK AFTER ALL THE REPAIRS IN 2016 For the winter months we will be able to continue with the city looking after the utilities. Stay tuned for future developments."

And we shall folks. Well done.

Plenty for everyone

King and Queen, then and now

I have always been drawn to old photos - of inscrutable unsmiling relatives or strangers propped up for a long uncomfortable exposure in a photographer's studio. Who were they, what did they think and feel? They make you wonder if they ever smiled. Then there are the wonderful captures of old neighbourhoods and buildings which invite us in, to explore the life and times they reveal.

I am perennially thankful for those groups and individuals who put old photos online for everyone's enjoyment. An archivist friend calls it 'scarcity reduction', bringing images out of the archives, and into everyone's hands. Virtually. I occasionally use these photos in the blog, always wondering if I might be breaking some rule; I used to ask but never got a reply. Again our archivist reminds me that they are public domain. I suppose if I were planning to sell the images, or make my fortune by using them. But no. I want to enjoy them, and share them with you. It gives life to a blogpost to include the 'before' picture. Makes us happy when things are preserved, thoughtful when places are so drastically changed, regretful when something unique and beautiful is lost to fire or demolition.

Some of my favourite sites are the vintage Facebook pages from several cities. I frequently visit  Lost Ottawa,  Vintage Belleville, Trenton and QuinteVintage Kingston  and Vintage Toronto . Each FB has a photo link, from there you can proceed to 'albums' which, although the sites aren't searchable, improve one's chances of finding just the right photo. And if not, WHAT a great way to spend an hour.

PS Thanks to frequent visitor Mark for picking up an error in this post. Anyone else catch it?