Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Saturday, November 14, 2015

a Queen Anne 'revival' - the density debate or Ernest Hemingway Lived Here

An intriguing news item appeared this morning on Facebook, shared from the Toronto lifestyle website '' It concerns the fate (or the next iteration) of the 1883 C.H. Gooderham mansion  at 592 Sherbourne Street. I have looked at this declining mansion on occasion, and wouldn't have given much for its chances. However, heritage legislation is growing teeth it would seem, and the company building a high-density residential development here is being compelled/inspired to incorporate the mansion into its design. Astonishing.

The mansion housed tony Branksome Hall girls' school from 1910-1912 (suppose it ever got called Pranksome?) and became the Selby Hotel in 1912. So the next stage for the house, incorporation into The Selby, luxury rental accommodation, is a fit. Here's the text of the amendment of designation. Better than becoming a pile of red and black bricks in landfill. Here's the concept shown on the Urban Toronto site. Ah yes, there's the mansion. Once considered a pretty big building. Advice? Don't look up.

'Facadism', technically the retention of the front face of a building while new construction goes on behind and above, way, way above, is common. In this case, it appears that the historic house will be set aside for the duration of construction, and moved back to form a lobby, social hub, maybe a cafe.

I'm taking this opportunity to enjoy my folder of Victorian Toronto mansions, those still residential, those repurposed, and those in limbo. The sheer complexity of their irregular plans and  exuberant eclectic detail highlights the challenges involved with maintaining and restoring houses of that era - we no longer have the skill sets, the material costs are exorbitant, and tradespeople don't work for 10 cents an hour any more. And then there's the cost of city property.

One thing I didn't find in the various accounts of the project was information on the history of the 1883 Gooderham mansion, and the neighbourhood, aside from this: "In the late 19th century, it was home to Toronto bigwigs and their respective mansions."(blogTO)  Here's one of the few references I found.

Here's anotherBlogTO link which contains oodles of historic photos of Sherbourne Street.

And here is more information online about a later Romanesque Revival G.H. Gooderham home (1891) at 504 Jarvis Street. And if you're falling into an investigation of architecture associated with the Gooderham family (who would do that?!) there's the Flatiron Building, and the Gooderham and Worts Distillery complex now repurposed as the fascinating Distillery District.


  1. Hello, I was talking with one of the workmen at the Selby Hotel site, on the day that they moved the house. It took them about 4 1/2 hours. I had hoped to catch them doing it, but I had appointments that took up most of the morning and early afternoon. Hopefully I will be able to see the house when it is moved again, to its permanent spot, nestled right at the corner of Sherbourne & Selby Streets. The James Cooper mansion, right next door, was moved a few years ago. It has been restored and it is beautiful, so I'm sure the same will be for the old Gooderham house.

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  3. Thanks for your comment Brian. I have high hopes that it will be done well, given the resources they've put into saving the house to date. It's unrealistic to expect single family mansions still to line Toronto streets; this seems to be a concept that honours their history, and adds something to modern structures. Hope to see it myself one day!

  4. You're welcome. Yesterday, I was saddened to learn that three older homes on Dundonald Street (one street north of Wellesley E., near Church Street, Toronto) were demolished, to make way for part of a new condo tower (just what Toronto really needs!) One of the houses had been a B&B, with beautiful gardens. Dundonald is a short street, only one block in width, generally quiet, and these houses provided a lot of character to the area. It's sad to lose lovely, older homes. Thankfully, the former "Selby" is being restored. I passed it yesterday, and I see they are hard at work in the former parking lot, which will be the new home of the old house when it's pulled to the corner of Selby & Sherbourne.

  5. Just checked out Dundonald on Streetview. Guess the houses will remain until Streetview updates their images. I suppose it's the houses nearest the construction in that photo? What's equally sad to me is the loss of these lovely trees lining the streets.

  6. Here is a link, using Google Maps. You can click on the streetview in the upper left corner. 35 Dundonald is the second photo (red brick house) in the photo, and then the two houses on the right were taken down, too. At that point, there is a gentle curve in the street, and houses on the other side have interesting English-style gardens. No. 35 had a magnolia tree, and every spring it had the biggest blossoms I've seen of any magnolia. On the map, where "St" is printed, that is the location of the other two projects (new subway entrance, and new condo tower.) Dundonald is a one-way street (coming in from Church), and traffic is restricted to residents now, since the Yonge end is completely closed.