Vintage Toronto Ads: Hudson’s Bay Centre

Originally published on Torontoist on January 28, 2015.

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Toronto Star, November 5, 1975.

“A kind of urban Rip Van Winkle” was how the Star assessed the state of Yonge and Bloor in 1970. “We let it fall asleep in the early decades of this century, then tiptoed all around it during the ensuing years building the modern face of Toronto. While glittering towers of glass and concrete and stainless steel shot up everywhere else, mid-town retained a sleepy two-storey profile.”

In terms of large-scale development, the neighbourhood was waking up. Headlines transitioned from the complaints about youth in Yorkville to announcements of new office towers and shopping complexes. By the end of 1970, over 200 storeys of new space were expected to be built within the next four years. While buildings like the Manulife Centre and 2 Bloor West materialized, other ideas, like a pedestrian walkway above Bloor Street into the Colonnade, remained on the drawing board.

Among the first projects announced was a reshaping of the northeast corner of Bloor and Yonge. Backed by affiliates of Swiss-owned developer Fidinam, Toronto architectural firm Crang and Boake revealed plans for the as-yet unnamed complex in June 1969. They called for an office tower, an apartment/hotel tower, two levels of shopping, and an 800-vehicle garage, among other features. Sitting atop a major commuter hub, the complex linked into a series of underground shopping centres stretching westward, whose foot traffic would allow landlords to charge hefty rents. The project soon secured interest from Famous Players cinemas and, vacating its old building on the corner, Royal Bank.

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Toronto Sun, August 7, 1974.

Two major tenants were announced in December 1971: the Workmen’s Compensation Board (WCB), which planned to rent up to 13 floors of office space, and Hudson’s Bay Company. The Bay was familiar with the neighbourhood, having operated a branch of its Morgan’s chain at the present site of Holt Renfrew. The new store would serve as the flagship for the Bay’s rapid expansion in Eastern Canada. It also lent its name to the project: the Hudson’s Bay Centre.

Political controversy soon arose at Queen’s Park. It emerged that Fidinam, which received a $15-million loan from the WCB toward construction, donated $50,000 to the ruling provincial Progressive Conservatives following the decision to move the WCB into the building. A probe by attorney-general Dalton Bales found no wrongdoing under existing laws.

Not everyone was happy with the changes the rising towers brought to the neighbourhood. “Due to the rapid expansion of Bloor from Spadina to Church in the past five years no one paid any attention to amenities, sunlight, wind current, the general environment and the general esthetics,” alderman Ying Hope lamented to the Globe and Mail. “As a result it is rapidly becoming just another canyon with little uniformity and ‘toothgaps’ everywhere. Without some control the whole environment could be killed.”

When The Bay opened on August 7, 1974, district general manager Al Guglielmin promised it would give Eaton’s and Simpsons “a good run for their money.” The 260,000-square-foot store was touted as the first major department store to open in the core since Eaton’s College Street (now College Park) welcomed its first customers in 1931. A fifth-floor exhibition hall showcased displays from community groups. Of its three restaurants, the highlight may have been “The Edibles,” a buffet-style restaurant with English cuisine (roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, fish and chips) decorated with cartoons by Ronald Searle illustrating the company’s colorful history.

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Toronto Sun, January 12, 1977.

A parade on the Bay’s opening morning ran from Varsity Stadium to the store. A year later, on November 6, 1975, the rest of the complex officially opened. To celebrate, high-wire performer Jay Cochrane walked the 287 feet between the two towers at a height of 439 feet above ground, sans safety devices.

One of the Hudson Bay Centre’s persistent detractors has been Star architecture critic Christopher Hume. He has frequently noted its failings, especially the cold concrete face it displays at street level. In a 1987 article on the best and worst buildings in the city, Hume considered it a lowlight:

An object lesson in how to take one of the two most important intersections in Toronto—Bloor and Yonge—and wreck it. Without windows or doors to break up its solid concrete facade, this Crang & Boake monstrosity looks more like a bunker than a department store. The only way life has returned to the corner is through the itinerant vendors who set up their wares around the centre.

A decade later, Hume declared “it sums up everything that shouldn’t happen in a city.”

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Left: Globe and Mail, November 17, 1975. Right: Toronto Star, October 28, 1975.

In recent years, the shopping complex underwent years of renovations. The Bay gradually lost its flagship status after Simpsons on Queen Street changed branding. It appeared the space would be transformed into the Canadian flagship for Saks Fifth Avenue, until Hudson’s Bay management decided to convert part of the Queen store. Height-wise, the complex looks tiny compared to new neighbours like One Bloor East. Amid the current developments in the neighbourhood, some might say the site feels like the Rip Van Winkles it displaced.

Additional material from the June 18, 1969, December 7, 1971, March 17, 1972, October 1, 1973, and November 7, 1975 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the November 14,1970, November 2, 1972, January 5, 1973, July 17, 1974, August 1, 1974, May 9, 1987, and September 19, 1998 editions of the Toronto Star.

The Rise and Fall of Stollerys

Originally published on Torontoist on January 21, 2015. Additional archival images have been included.

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A policeman in fur busby directs traffic at Bloor and Yonge in front of Stollery’s men’s and boys clothing, with Humphrey gas arc lamps extending from the windows, circa 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1034, Item 816.

There’s a good chance Frank Stollery wouldn’t have been impressed by what happened to his building this past weekend.

During his 70-plus years in the garment trade, Stollery made it a point not to cut corners. As a young foreman cutter in Montreal, he questioned management’s insistence on using inferior materials when the cloth he required for a necktie order was unavailable. That experience helped motivate Stollery to launch his own menswear business in 1901. Over time, he developed a reputation for quality work, refusing to trust the advice of salesmen and carefully examining the cut and strength of cloth with a large magnifying glass.

But the cutting of corners, or at least the exploiting of existing laws, was on display at the southwest corner of Bloor and Yonge this past Saturday. Workmen armed with crowbars chipped away at the façade of Stollerys. Art Deco stone carvings dating from a 1920s expansion vanished from the streetscape. Work was completed so hastily that little to no sidewalk protection was erected.

The building’s swift demise—which occurred one day after Mizrahi Developments received its demolition permit from the City—raises a number of issues regarding Toronto’s handling of heritage preservation.

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Toronto Star, January 23, 1919.

Even if you have doubts about the building’s historical merits, it’s hard to deny that the undertaking involved a certain amount of arrogance. As Star architecture critic Christopher Hume observed, “To send in the wrecking crews on a weekend—before the hoardings are even up—is as succinct a way as possible to give the city the middle finger.”

“We don’t feel there is any heritage value to it and neither did anyone else for the last 100 years,” developer Sam Mizrahi told the Star over the weekend. Yet Stollerys was one of the first businesses to make a name for itself in Yorkville. When Stollerys opened its doors in what was then considered a semi-suburban area, pessimists believed its proprietor would starve to death within a year. But the business prospered, as did Stollery, who was active in the local business association and served a one-year term as a city councillor. After renting the property for years, Stollery purchased the site in 1928 for $400,000 and transformed his store into the building currently fading away.

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Globe and Mail, December 16, 1963.

The store was praised by Advertising Age magazine during the 1950s for its straightforward sales pitches. “The copy doesn’t do much of a job of whetting desire, but it does an excellent job of carrying conviction,” columnist Clyde Bedell observed. “The advertising is successful because it fully, sincerely, honestly, warmly, effectively served the public in connection with what it offers.”

Frank Stollery sold the business in 1968, but continued to work there full time until his death three years later at the age of 91. The ensuing years saw renovations, a third-floor addition, family feuds, and a growing sense that time was passing the store by. While it carried high-end English labels, the presentation grew tired. “The windows look a lot like those of Honest Ed’s,” Karen von Hahn wrote in the Star in 2014, “except that Honest Ed’s sells jackets for $14.99, not two-ply cashmeres for hundreds of dollars.”

Like Honest Ed’s, Stollerys sat on prime real estate. Mizrahi, who bought the property in October 2014, is promising to build a retail and residential complex—complete with underground TTC access—that will complement the intersection’s other towers. British architect Norman Foster (whose work includes U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, Berlin’s Reichstag, and London’s City Hall) is reportedly attached to the project, currently called “The One.”

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Stollerys, between 1966 and 1972. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 109.

Details about Mizrahi’s plans have yet to be divulged, and a building application has yet to be submitted. This concerns Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre – Rosedale), whose ward has already witnessed heritage demolition fiascos such as the one involving 81 Wellesley Street East. Wong-Tam made a motion for the building’s heritage designation at the January 13 session of the Toronto and East York Community Council, less than a week after Mizrahi applied for a demolition permit. While residential developers must submit replacement building plans before a permit is issued, commercial developers are under no such obligation. “One hundred and ten percent, I want to see that done for commercial properties,” Wong-Tam said Monday. “We want to prevent properties from being randomly demolished across the city.”

A key issue affecting Stollerys, and sites like it, is that the City’s building department is required to grant a demolition permit if all requirements have been met. Provincial stop orders can be issued to prevent hasty action when it comes to potential heritage sites, but that hasn’t happened since 2009, when 7 Austin Terrace was saved.

The fact that the process of identifying potential heritage buildings is such a slow one concerns advocates like Catherine Nasmith, president of the Toronto branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario. “It takes the city ages to put any of this stuff into place,” she told the CBC. “Once [a building] is damaged and torn down, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Nasmith also observed that developers dislike heritage designations because of the limits they place on reshaping properties. This sentiment was echoed by the City’s chief planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, who tweeted earlier this week that Mizrahi had “acted rashly” because he worried the building would indeed be deemed to have heritage value.

So what could Toronto do to avoid more hasty demolitions such as the one that took down Stollerys? In general, it needs to put in place more people (paid or volunteer), who could improve the flow of designations by identifying potential heritage sites. Building a heritage impact assessment into the demolition permit process could also have a real impact—and encourage the City and developers to arrive at constructive solutions. Adding extra time to the process might also provide more opportunities to come up with imaginative ways to readapt heritage properties or to integrate them into new structures. And if it’s ultimately determined that a building can be demolished, it’s possible that elements deemed to be of historic merit could be archived, saved for future museum display, or even given to the descendants of those who worked on its construction.

It’s probably too late to salvage pieces of Stollery’s. Of concern now is whether the site will become a lingering eyesore. If Mizrahi’s construction plans end up being delayed, he could, of course, build goodwill by allowing temporary public use of the site via a park or plaza. “All we can hope for now,” Christopher Hume concludes, “is that city hall suddenly lurches back to life and does what it can to ensure that what replaces Stollerys isn’t as tacky as its builder’s behaviour.”

Additional material from the May 1, 1951, June 18, 1954, May 14, 1957, and January 4, 1971 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the July 21, 1928, January 4, 1971, January 5, 1971, April 23, 2014, January 18, 2015, and January 19, 2015 editions of the Toronto Star.

Cumberland Terrace Tells the Story of Yorkville at a Glance

Originally published on Torontoist on November 6, 2014.

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While most time capsules are buried in the foundations of buildings, their contents to be revealed at some future date, Cumberland Terrace is a living (if barely breathing) piece of Me Decade retail architecture frozen in time.

Promoted as “the nicest way from Yonge to Bay” when it opened in October 1974, the mall’s resistance to modernization—orange and brown tiles, large banks of phones, signage for chains such as Teriyaki Experience unused elsewhere for decades—gives Cumberland Terrace the feel of a living museum, and makes it perfect venue to celebrate the history of Yorkville.

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Trifold Creative, whose recent downtown work includes Adelaide Place and 438 University, has covered the windows of empty storefronts with snippets of neighbourhood history—a project titled “Yorkville History at a Glance.”

According to Trifold’s website, it’s an attempt to “revitalize, direct traffic flow and brighten up Cumberland Terrace’s walkway by creating an engaging yet aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.” Given 9,000 square feet to cover, their designers combined sketches, historic photos, and watercolour splashes on white backgrounds, bringing some light to the dingier corners of the mall.

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From stories of Victorian businesses such as Frogley’s Bakery and the Severn Brewery, to tales from the neighbourhood’s hippie era (including a nod to Joni Mitchell), the project covers the breadth of Yorkville’s varied history. Most of the stories run the length of an average storefront, although some stretch out a bit farther—one series of panels offers visual representations of TIFF People’s Choice Award winners, while another salutes the local contemporary art scene with a tribute to the late Walter Moos that incorporates works he displayed at his gallery.

The panels fill space while the future of Cumberland Terrace is determined. Since 2008, several developers have come forward with proposals to bring the site into the 21st century. Owner Oxford Properties submitted a development application to the City this summer based on designs by architectsAlliance. The plan calls for a 54-storey residential tower with a 50-foot lobby surrounded by a revamped mall that will be better integrated into the streetscape.

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But until a proposal is chosen and construction begins, visitors may continue to marvel at the time-warped Cumberland Terrace, and perhaps learn a bit about the history of Yorkville, too.

UPDATE

As of June 2018, the history panels are still there, and Cumberland Terrace still awaits redevelopment.