Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Demolition shocks buyer - Toronto Star

Demolition shocks buyer
Inspection found unstable building had bricks with mortar gone
May 23, 2007
John Goddard
staff reporter

The recent buyers of Walnut Hall want to know why the city demolished their 1850s heritage building over the weekend, ruining their restoration plans in the process.

"We're shocked," said Domenic Santaguida of Trisan Reality Corp. in Etobicoke. "We're quite disturbed by the whole thing.

"We're just trying to figure out why it had to be taken down, because we had our own people there assessing it (in the past few weeks) ...

"Obviously, public safety is No. 1, that's paramount. I assume that was the rationale."

For more than 150 years, Walnut Hall stood downtown at Shuter and George Sts., a stately three-storey red brick structure of four row houses.

Late Saturday afternoon, bricks starting spewing from the back wall.

Toronto's deputy chief building official Jim Laughlin described what happened next.

"By 6p.m., the second bay (106 Shuter St.), had collapsed into the rear yard from the first and second storeys. Two hours later, the third storey collapsed as far into the building as halfway. By 11p.m., the roof of the second unit started to fall in."

Laughlin ordered units 104 and 106 torn down at midnight. Inspectors assessed the remaining half of the structure.

Wreckers tore down 108. Inspectors assessed the last quarter again and by 9a.m. it, too, was gone.

"I was just talking to the chief building official (Ann Borooah)," city Councillor Kyle Rae said yesterday.

"She said some of the bricks are clean.

"There is no mortar on them. They were completely eaten away. There was nothing keeping the building together."

The owners could not be located over the weekend.

Santaguida and Montreal partner, Carlo Bizzotto, bought the property in March, with plans to incorporate the heritage structure into a condominium development.

"We were hoping to get this restored very quickly," Santaguida said.

"We were in the process of doing that."

He would not discuss details of the proposal, but Rae said he talked to both owners in March and was "very excited" by their plans.

"They were going to keep the heritage building and build in behind," the councillor said. "There was an approval back around 2002 (for a seven-storey condo tower) behind the building.

"They were actually saying they were going to go even higher. That made me a little uncomfortable... but they were going to keep the building."

Bizzotto, with other partners, has converted a Montreal high school and heritage paper mill into condominiums.

Walnut Hall has been boarded up for 30 years. It belonged to the RCMP for two decades.

They sold it in 1997 to two developers, one of whom was Joe Jonatan, who became sole owner and in 2002 won zoning approval for a restoration plan that included the tower.

He died of cancer in February, after which Santaguida and Bizzotto bought the property for $1.8 million.
What an interesting turn of events. Here's my understanding of the recent history of Walnut Hall.

1967 - RCMP leave the building vacant when they move their area headquarters to London.
1967 - 1997 - Walnut Hall remains vacant and unheated.
1997 - Joe Jonatan and his associates purchase the building, and declare their intentions to tear it down.
1998 - Building is declared historic.
2002 - Jonatan's development plan is approved, which would restore the building and build a condo tower.
February 2007 - Jonatan dies of cancer.
March 2007 - Santaguida and Bizzotto purchase the building, intend to restore it and build a condo tower.
May 2007 - Building begins collapsing, is taken down in the name of public safety.

This was a sad comedy of errors, but unlike an episode of Three's Company, there was not last minute save for Walnut Hall.



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