Sunday, October 17, 2010

Feature attraction! gas, milk and a coffee

Allenby (later Roxy) cinema as Hollywood dinner theatre in the 1980s.
Toronto's Allenby cinema – located at 1215 Danforth Ave., just east of Greenwood Ave., later rebranded the Roxy – was designed by noted theatre architects Kaplan and Sprachman in 1936. (After its cinema days were over, it was known to a generation of mostly youthful Torontonians as the home of midnight showings of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and as then as the Hollywood Dinner Theatre before lying closed and derelict for more than a decade. 

About a year ago, things began happening when Imperial Oil (which owned the corner lot, formerly the site of a gas station), began transforming the tired but still intact yellow brick building with decorative stone details into a state-of-the-art On the Run convenience store.
Original canopy has been faithfully
rebuilt, including neon lettering.

With the building now essentially finished, Torontonians who once eagerly lined-up to watch the latest movie now line up in droves to get their daily fix of Tim Hortons coffee!

At end of August, the hoarding was still up.
The contemporary On the Run entrance
is to the far right of the photo, facing west.
 Kudos to Imperial Oil for their wisdom to preserve and restore so much of the building to create a unique 'c-store' experience, and to ERA Architects and Teksign for pulling it off!

Read the story about the building's transformation in articles by Dave Leblanc (The Globe and Mail) and Christopher Hume (The Toronto Star)

Footnote: Other Deco-era cinemas in Toronto designed by Kaplan and Sprachman are the former Eglinton cinema (400 Eglinton Avenue West, 1934-36); the former Bayview (1605 Bayview Avenue, 1936), the former State (1610 Bloor Street West, 1937), the Metro (679 Bloor Street West, 1938) and the Paradise (1008 Bloor Street West, 1939). Two other Deco cinemas (the Pylon – 608-610 College Street, 1939, now the Royal; and the Kingsway – 3030 Bloor Street West, 1939-40) were designed by different architects. Source: Art Deco Architecture in Toronto by Tim Morawetz, 2009.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Art Deco 'scores a hat trick' at 2010 Heritage Toronto Awards

Tim (far right) and Catherine (to Tim's right)
receive their awards on stage at Koerner Hall
in this rather blurry smartphone photo.
Tim Morawetz is proud and delighted to announce that his book, Art Deco Architecture in Toronto: A guide to the city's buildings from the Roaring Twenties and the Depression, which was previously named a 'Finalist' in the 2010 Heritage Toronto Awards, ended up winning an 'Award of Merit' at the event earlier this evening. (The book was one of three Merit Award recipients, from a field of 10 worthy contenders.) A full listing of all the winners and finalists in all categories is available here.

Tim eagerly shared the recognition with the book's graphic designer, his colleague and friend Catherine Hamill of Norton Hamill Design.

In addition, the Deco era was celebrated, in part, when the 'Award of Excellence' was very deservedly presented to A Passionate Traditionalist: John M. Lyle, Architect (Coach House Books, 2009) by Glenn McArthur.  This book is the definitive work on the life and work of John Lyle – a man who many would say was the premier architect of the first half of the 20th century in English-Canada, and a master and promoter of 'Canadian-themed' Deco architecture at one point in his illustrious career.

Finally, the revitalization of the Automotive Building, 105 Princes' Boulevard on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition – arguably Toronto's best example of the Stripped Classical variant of Art Deco architecture – now the Allstream Centre, was also recognized with an Award of Merit in the 'William Greer Architectural Conservation and Craftsmanship' category.

Automotive Building – BEFORE
Allstream Centre – AFTER
Thanks to the vision of heritage consultants Andre Scheinman; E.R.A. Architects Inc., James Bailey Architect, together with the work of Vanbots Construction Corp. and Clifford Restoration Ltd., the 1929 building was restored and rehabilitated into a conference centre. The original Art Deco style building envelope and north and south lobbies were restored and new conference rooms and support spaces inserted into the original open exhibit hall. Restoration work included repairing exterior cast stone and masonry, reintroducing multi-pane windows to match the originals, cleaning and repairing terrazzo floors and refurbishing or recreating original light fixtures.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Art Deco shimmers in Battle of the Blades

Last year, the Battle of the Blades 'figure-skater / hockey-skater combo' TV show took place at Maple Leaf Gardens, the ultimate Art Deco ice palace (1931; Ross & Macdonald, with Jack Ryrie and Mackenzie Waters).

  Georges Laraque and Anabelle Langlois with classic lotus-leaf Art Deco decoration behind.
But this year, despite the fact the show now originates from a brand-new, custom-built set in a giant production studio, the show's designers have retained the Gardens decor. (Read more from National Post columnist Peter Kuitenbrouwer about the creation of the show's set in the Pinewood Studios Toronto.)

Stone 'balconies' accentual recessed vertical strip windows
For instance, the sides of the hall are adorned with crisply fluted vertical piers topped with the Gardens' signature zig-zag details.

More boldly,  there are decorative screens around the ice surface that feature  timeless Deco lotus leaves.

To me, the fact this shamelessly populist reality TV show is putting Art Deco front-and-centre is the best proof that this style truly resonates with the general public!

Notice the bold zig-zags and horizontal stone detailing on the Gardens' facade.

New Women's College Hospital is fracturing its Deco spine

In all the publicity lately about the revitalization of Women's College Hospital, it appears to me that scant attention is being paid to the fact that a heritage building – a National Historic Site, in fact – is being demolished to make way for this new facility.

According to the WCH website History page, the hospital moved in 1935 to its present location at 76 Grenville Street, located close to the University of Toronto. The 10-storey-tall building housed with 140 beds and 45 infant cots, and was officially opened February 22, 1936 by His Excellency, Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor-General of Canada.  The architects of the building were the Boston architectural firm, Stevens and Lee, collaborating with a local Toronto architect, Harold J. Smith.

(For a very detailed history of the institution (formerly known as the Women’s Medical College of Toronto) and its outstanding contribution to women's health in Toronto, click here.)

Now I'm well aware that 'the horse is well out of the barn' in terms of any efforts to save the old building, but I believe it deserves some recognition and celebration for its stately, Deco-tinged design.

Women's College at the time of its opening in 1935. (Credit: City of Toronto archives)
Recent view of the original 1935 wing. (Photo: Alan L. Brown)

On the rather quiet Stripped Classical facade, notice the vertical treatment of the windows, the decoration on the spandrel panels, but especially the multiple-plane detailing of the stone-and-brick corners of the piers protruding above the main roofline on either side.

Beyond its contemporary styling, the building also ushered in some important functional innovations for its time:
  • improved fireproofing, thanks to a combination of steel frames, reinforced concrete, and hollow tile to isolate fire stairs and panic doors, as well as improved electrical systems.
  • enhanced soundproofing to create a quiet environment conducive to recuperation, through the use of noiseless door hardware, elevators and staircases located away from wards, rubber hallway flooring, and a silent light 'call button' system.
  • ease of maintenance to maintain sanitary conditions.
  • efficiency of the floor layout (a double-loaded central corridor).
  • brighter pastel colours – a breath of fresh air compared to the institutional grey and white colour schemes prevalent at the time.
I invite anyone who has information or would like to dig out more information about the design of the 1935 building to add a comment or get in touch!