Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

show 'em the bright lights

Our stay-at-home dad ruefully acknowledged the need to treat our more extrovert and adventuresome mother to the occasional junket off the home turf thus: "gotta show 'em the bright lights sometimes".

Yesterday, the staff of Glanmore National Historic Site really showed their volunteers the bright lights (many of them lit by gas to this day!) The occasion was the annual (for me, the first annual) volunteer-training field trip. Carefree as kids on a trip to the zoo, we were shepherded by comfy bus to Toronto and dropped at the imposing front door (this one outfitted with a porte-cochere yet) of Spadina Museum, the home of three generations of the socially and financially well-positioned Austin family from 1866 to 1982. Ironically, the home and gardens are one of the many historic museum properties under threat of closure during Toronto's current budget deliberations/war on culture.
The place was stunning, the degree of curatorial research, creativity and resourcefulness for a recent re-restoration of the interior to the 1920's era, awe-inspiring. It will take many more blogposts to process yesterday's experience, and many more visits to fully appreciate this treasure. Best act fast.

With a nod to my father, a few notes about the lights at Spadina.

James Austin was president of Consumers Gas Company so it was not surprising that the house was outfitted with sumptuous gasoliers, many still in operation, at the front doors, in the drawing room. Our guide pointed out that as soon as James died, madam had the gaslight replaced by electricity in the dining room.

The process of researching and re-restoration was mind-boggling. Our guide explained the steps in rehabilitating a delicate painted silk lamp shade, the unique balloon shade near the nineteenth century Steinway (which one of our group actually played!), the story of the broken globes on the Tiffany lamp in the Palm Room. Such small details in a site of overwhelming complexity, the work destined to be overlooked by all but the most attentive and informed.

Suggest you add this to your to-do list: Join Friends of Glanmore.

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