Historic building dies of neglect - Toronto Star
Historic building dies of neglectSo you are a developer, and you have purchased a property that has been declared historical. You want to build a 50-storey condo tower, but you cannot demolish the building. What do you do? You neglect the building for 20 years, in hopes that it collapses on its own. Then, you can argue that the building is too dilapidated to save. You get your 50-storey tower, and the citizens of Toronto lose touch with the heritage of the city.
City's last row of Georgian townhomes collapses
May 20, 2007
A historic block of Georgian townhouses that has stood neglected for years on Shuter St. began collapsing yesterday, forcing police to close off adjacent streets.
Conservationists have been predicting the loss of Walnut Hall to "demolition by neglect" for years. As a result of the collapse, the city's last row of 19th century Georgian townhomes will be demolished.
It's the second time in a week that police have had to deal with falling debris from a building. On Tuesday, a marble tile fell from the 54th storey of First Canadian Place, leading police to close a block of King St. W. for more than two days.
Built in 1856, Walnut Hall underwent a series of alterations between the late 19th century and the mid-1900s when the southeast corner was altered to become a storefront. In the 1980s, it was designated as a federal heritage building despite the fact that the RCMP, which owned the property at the time, had abandoned it years earlier.
In 1996, the site was purchased by developer Joe Jonatan, who made clear his plans to tear the historic building down. But the city designated Walnut Hall under the Ontario Heritage Act in 1997, putting a freeze on the intended demolition.
In the years that would come, Walnut Hall was left to slowly crumble away.
In 1999, the city issued an order for Jonatan to have the building's condition evaluated after concerns over bricks falling from the upper floors. Engineers recommended that "immediate steps be taken to demolish this building," according to a 2002 city report.
Demolition crews were never called, however, and because of the building's historical significance a fence was placed around it instead to protect pedestrians from falling debris.
Ownership of the building had changed hands in recent months, a neighbourhood resident said yesterday, causing difficulties to city officials who had hoped to get in touch with the current owner. "Hopefully they're watching the news and say, `Hey maybe it's my building,' and come down," said Bill Stamatopoulous, the city's manager of inspections.
Christopher Hume, the Star's architecture critic who has written about the building in the past, said yesterday Walnut Hall could still have served a purpose despite its structural failings.
"These are the types of buildings that are reusable and therefore there's no excuse why these buildings shouldn't be saved and reused," Hume said. "It's not like Maple Leaf Gardens which is hard to adapt to some new use. These buildings could be used as residences, offices, retail. These buildings are instantly adaptable."
Hume said modern developers could learn a lesson from the way the hall – one of the city's few remaining examples of Georgian architecture – was built to the property line, taking advantage of all available space.
"How many buildings do we have left in the city from 1856? Almost none. ... These buildings are an important part of Toronto and they have to be saved. To let them fall down, to me, is a mark of shame for the city."
Police and fire officials were first called to the scene yesterday after a passerby noticed bricks falling from the second and third storey of the four-storey building around 4 p.m., said police Staff Sgt. Howie Page.
By the time officers arrived minutes later, a hole could be seen forming on one of the walls and it wasn't much longer until the entire building appeared to sway back and forth, seemingly buckling under the pressure.
By 7 p.m., a building inspector had examined the scene and recommended the demolition.
As a last spit in the face of the citizens of Toronto, the building was felled, with the development advertisement still hanging from its walls.
The loss of the Walnut Hall is a tragedy that all citizens of Toronto should be concerned with. We have lost many of our historical buildings, and with each one, we lose a piece of our history - our connection to our past. If we don't understand where Toronto has been, how can we possibly strive to make things better?
The City of Toronto has the power to legislate property standards on heritage buildings, and affect repairs to those properties at the owner's expense, should they neglect these buildings. I can only hope that they use these powers, and save the city from becoming one with no traces of life before the second world war.
For an excellent article on the subject, check out Torontoist.
Labels: urban design