Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, May 27, 2013

Of Cabbages and more cabbages

Uh-oh. I'm in trouble now.
My correspondence Mark Wilson, who is similarly infected with old house disease, the particularly virulent east coast strain, has just handed me the keys to months of time well wasted. Mark's other love seems to be the Cabbagetown area of Toronto.

In a reply to my question in a recent post Mark included a link to a masterwork of the Cabbagetown Heritage Conservation District Committee (a committee whose visible success should be an inspiration to all of us trying to preserve old neighbourhoods).

The resource is a Compendium of 2700 property images, with descriptions of the property (dates, owners, heritage elements, including trees!).

 I look forward to taking a virtual return trip with photos from my recent walkabout, and the Compendium, which I have left open (and I hope it works, they admit to some technical difficulties) at 435 Sackville Street, once the home of our beloved Al Purdy, considerably gentrified now by all appearances.

Allanah said, be sure to check this out vacancy, not surprisingly

deep setbacks, always a hint of something old

Thursday, May 23, 2013

No Gothic whimsy

left wing
I spent a lovely afternoon recently in the eye of the hurricane that is Queen Street, west of Nathan Philips Square. The peaceful idyll was achieved by navigating the 'cow gates' into the lawn of the imposing Osgoode Hall. The 'cow gates' (I thank Eric Arthur for the term, discovered in 'No Mean City') and the lovely iron palisades were cast in 1866 in a Toronto foundry, from moulds imported from Scotland. The intricate 'kissing gate' variation was necessary to prevent free-range downtown cattle from destroying the august lawns and solemn dignity of the place.

right wing

 Arthur expands with all sorts of architectural grumbling about the place, which I do not intend to let colour my first impressions. Cold. Classical. Imposing. Not at all eclectic and amusing like much Victorian architecture.

The bit to the right was built first. Arthur quotes someone as saying the ends (brick with stone porticoes) look English, the centre, French (a bit of Versailles transplanted to muddy York)
centre bit - Versailles inspired
roof bits
 Though I'm not especially fond of Classically inspired architecture (the OHT plaque describes Osgoode as "one of the finest examples of Victorian Classical architecture in Canada" ...specifically Georgian Palladian and Neoclassical styles), it is a feast for the eye. And a nice spot to step away from the chaos of downtown Toronto.

What is Osgoode Hall? I thought it was a law school, but they left the building in 1969. Still likely to run into a lawyer - the National Historic Site houses the Law Society of Upper Canada, the Ontario Court of Appeal, and the Superior Court of Justice. Any free legal advice going?

front door

nice porch
the 'hood

a village needs 'un commerce'

A year ago I did a post about a trip to Castleton Ontario, to hear Peter John Stokes speak. Today as I was thinking about that wonderful visit, talk, person and village, I received my spring issue of ACO's fine publication Acorn, and PJS appeared again in my life, celebrating the saviours of Cobourg's built heritage. But I digress.

My friend Katherine, who blogs about her discoveries as the owner of her childhood home on Meanwhile, at the Manse, left a comment on the post about Castleton. I had noted that the bustling general store in Castleton resembled (architecturally) one of the former stores in her village of Queensborough. Katherine commented that what her village needed, was 'un commerce', a little store to animate the neighbourhood.


I recall a guided ACO walk through Belleville's Old East Hill a few years ago. President and tour director David Bentley pointed out an unassuming red brick house, and noted that it had once been a corner store. Hence the squared off corner of the building, with a sheltering roof over the porch. Walmart welcome. Wish I'd taken a photo, but I was captivated by one of George Pearce's yarns at the time.

corner of Sumach and Spruce

On my wanders through old Cabbagetown a few weeks ago, I noted several former corner stores on residential streets (with their domestic scale,  tell-tale large shop windows, and that characteristic corner entrance.) Not 10 minutes from today's eclectic business district of Parliament Street yet these little corner stores were viable at one time! Grubby- faced kids and weary moms would drop by for small purchases, to catch up with the news. I suppose it didn't take a lot of sales to keep the doors open in those days - especially when home was just upstairs.

The most intriguing 'commerce' is what appears to have been the offices of The Daily Herald. It's a bit of an awkward renovation, but I love that the owners left the name above the windows ...was there an entrance there as well? I'm glad I saw it in early spring; it will have disappeared behind greenery by now.

I can't find anything on The Daily Herald. Suffice to say it has caught the eye of a few folks with cameras, as I saw some Flickr images. But no info. Anyone know the story?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Plays nicely with others

I knew there was something special about the place. One side of the block felt like Evelyn Waugh's England. The Sumach Street side felt 1920's.

Turns out I'd come upon Spruce Court, in my wandering about Cabbagetown. Remarkable architectural styling for what was clearly low-cost housing complex: Tudor Revival/English cottage style, with craftsman inspired steep pitched roofs, tall chimneys, banks of casement windows. Courtyards, green spaces.

Spruce Court was the creation of Eden Smith, an enormously influential architect in Toronto in the early decades of the 20th century. Of Birmingham, England, Smith was one of the founding members of the Arts and Letters Club (just mentioning the name conjures that iconic photo of the Group of Seven members  in the club's Edwardian splendour).

The 1913 addition - cricket anyone?

Spruce Court was the first social housing complex in Toronto (Regent Park, you missed something).
Later, this  block-square enclave of well-designed homes was converted to a co-op housing complex. Still looks like a pretty good place to live.

Eden Smith designed an astonishing number of houses, churches and libraries in Toronto. He created Lawren Harris' 1912 home at 18 Clarendon Avenue, and the famous Studio Building, a non-profit home/studio to several Group of Seven artists, in the Rosedale Ravine. (Interestingly, the rustic Tom Thomson eschewed its relative luxuries for a cabin in the ravine, which was later relocated to the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg).

The Studio Building, 1914
Canadian Encyclopedia - Doug Brown photo

The Canadian Encyclopedia considers Eden Smith "one of the most original and artistic architects working in Toronto in the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the 20th." Who am I to argue?

Inclusiveness - it doesn't have to be the same to match

During Jane's Walk early this month, I wandered around the periphery of the crowd, taking the long view...and the occasional photo. I listened to speakers who just appeared as we walked. They talked about public art, about the old city that we destroyed in the '60's, about accepting folks with acquired brain injury (remembering that we too could be there, it just takes a few seconds, and life changes forever). Spokespeople with a variety of perspectives, all forming a downtown community.

 I love downtowns because they are mash-ups. Of posh people shopping and desperate folks panhandling, of shiny-new and crumbly, old character-filled architecture, of conventional and iconclastic thinkers. Messy. Human.

I looked at my photos later in the day. My favourite ones caught that flavour.

Contrast - difference - bringing out the best in everything.

Walk with Jane

Bright sun. Spring buds and blossom. A happy crowd 100+ strong. And Belleville's first Jane's Walk enters into history. Our history. And it seems there are a lot of folks ready to celebrate the history, the vigour, the people and the potential of our downtown. Volunteer guides, volunteer helpers, volunteer organizers, a volunteer ASL interpreter, and a warm handful of speakers representing artists, downtown property/business owners, historians, and folks with challenges spoke to the need for inclusive down-towns with a human scale.

Jane Jacobs, a strong voice for 'neighbourhoods' during the 1960's slash and burn days of urban renewal in places like New York City (think about NYC without Greenwich Village) and Toronto (she's the woman who stopped the Spadina Expressway). We lost Jane in 2006. We need her and her ilk more than ever. Hundreds of Jane's Walks take place each year. Thanks to the volunteer organizers of Belleville's first ever Jane's Walk, for making those voices heard in our town on May 4, 2013.

For a little while, their voices drowned out the down-town-opposed whiners who inhabit Walmarts of the world, who wander the malls looking for diversion. For us downtowners, the day provided some exercise, some comradeship, some new information, and a feeling of pride. A walk to the market later, some farm-raised garlic and great visits with folks who power art at The CORE Centre left me feeling optimistic and proud. Jane was right.

Cottage Life

One of the delights of a ramble through Cabbagetown is the number of workers' cottages that have been lovingly restored, with tiny perfect gardens.

Wellesley Cottages are a wonderful example. So tiny. How much more space we seem to need now!
Here's a link to more background on these astonishing little houses built in 1875- and their astonishing preservation advocates the Cabbagetown Heritage Conservation District committee.

Other delightful examples of Gothic inspired centre gables, tiny symmetrical homes abound.

These in stucco with prim white bargeboard..

This tiny perfect clapboard home with the bay window at left and the very pompous doorcase with transom and entablature...

This sombre red brick with polychrome brick window lintels,airy bargeboard with finial, large Regency style windows, an inviting porch, a wee elliptical window and a formal wrought iron fence...

...and the rest of its neighbourhood, with the whimsical pale blue with yellow front door confection next door taking centre stage.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Random sample

These two images popped up one after the other on my screen saver just now. Because I am working on another writing project and trying to be disciplined, but mostly because of the sheer randomness of the thing, and because each photo tells such a different building story, I share them with you.