A Gooderham Gallery

Originally published on Torontoist on October 13, 2011

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Gooderham Building, 1996. Photo by Boris Spremo. Toronto Star Photo Archive, Toronto Public Library.

An iconic image of Toronto: a photograph looking west from the intersection of Church, Front, and Wellington Streets, with the Gooderham Building (a.k.a. the Flatiron) as the focal point. The unusual skinny, triangular shape, which predated New York’s flatiron by a decade, was the result of the clash between Wellington Street’s adherence to Toronto’s square grid and Front Street’s looser paralleling of the 19th century shoreline. In the 120 years since George Gooderham first surveyed his business empire from his fifth floor office, the building that bears his family’s name has evolved into a Toronto landmark.

And it’s a landmark that theoretically could be yours. Current owner Woodcliffe started the bidding process this week to find the next custodian for the historical site, which provides an opportunity to look back at how it became one of Toronto’s most beloved buildings

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Coffin Block, Front and Wellington Streets, 1873. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 7335.

Before the Gooderham Building was erected in 1891, another flatiron-shaped structure occupied the block. Consisting of three connected units, the structure was known as the Coffin Block due to its resemblance to the end of a funeral box. Among its tenants were a telegraph office, a stagecoach booking office, and additional guest rooms for the Wellington Hotel, whose main premises were located on the northwest corner of Church and Wellington.

Whoever archived this image determined that notes written on the side of the photo weren’t enough for future researchers.

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Gooderham Building, circa 1893. Toronto Illustrated 1893 (Toronto: Consolidated Printing, 1893).

Here’s a wealthy person the Occupy Wall Street movement might respect: when George Gooderham died in May 1905, he purposely left most of his fortune in the hands of the Ontario government. He decided against selling any of his stocks to anyone else due to his belief that it was unconscionable to evade provincial succession duties. The portion of Gooderham’s $25 million estate that the government received wiped out the provincial deficit.

Though Gooderham’s fortune was based on the Gooderham and Worts distillery, he built it through investments in banking, insurance, and railways. He was among the founders of Manufacturer’s Life (now Manulife), served as president of the Bank of Toronto (an ancestor of TD Canada Trust), and backed the construction of the King Edward Hotel. His philanthropic interests included key financial and managerial roles at Toronto General Hospital and the University of Toronto.

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Gooderham Building, 1890s. Photo by F.W. Micklethwaite. Library and Archives Canada, RD-000335, via Wikimedia Commons.

Architect David Roberts Jr. was no stranger to the Gooderham family when he was chosen to design the new building. Among his other commissions was Waveney, George Gooderham’s mansion at Bloor Street and St, George Street, which currently houses the York Club. To replace the demolished Coffin Block, Roberts designed a five-storey red brick office building trimmed with Credit Valley stone. Gooderham’s personal office was located at the top of the semi-circular tower in the front, where he could view of many of his business interests. Also included for Gooderham’s benefit was a tunnel under Wellington Street to the head office of the Bank of Toronto (now the site of Pizza Pizza).

The effect the building created was summed up by Patricia McHugh in her book Toronto Architecture: A City Guide (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1989), “With a richly textured facade and kingly chateauesque towered roof that still dominates this busy corner, the building stands as an apt symbol of the Gooderham family’s powerful position in the community.”

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Gooderham Building, between 1966 and 1972. Photo by Ellis Wiley. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 124, File 2, Item 65.

Gooderham and Worts maintained offices in the building through the early 1950s. By the 1960s, despite its growing status as a local landmark, its future seemed in doubt. As plans evolved for a Centennial-related series of arts complexes in the neighbourhood, the buildings that occupied the rest of the Gooderham’s little island were razed for a temporary parking lot. By 1966, the orphaned building was the temporary headquarters for the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts rising to the west. As the 1960s, the Gooderham provided office space for arts organizations like the Mendelssohn Choir, the Shaw Festival, and the Folk Arts Council.

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Globe and Mail, September 19, 1973.

But the Gooderham Building managed to survive in an era when one aging downtown building after another fell to the wrecking ball. New ownership in the mid-1970s poured money into renovations. Instead of building arts schools or small concert halls beside it, the City of Toronto approved the public space that officially opened as Berczy Park in 1975. That same year, the Gooderham Building was declared a historic site.

Two attempts were made to dress up the west wall, which had actually belonged to a long-gone neighbouring building. A mural of clouds painted by Daniel Solomon during the early 1970s was eventually covered over—allegedly the wall was too poorly prepared to handle the piece. Attempt number two began with a suggestion from the city’s heritage agencies that any future artwork should incorporate the architectural stylings of the surrounding 19th century buildings. A combination of commercial donors and funds from the Wintario lottery provided artist Derek Besant with $80,000 to come up with a durable piece of art. The result: 49 panels of a polyethelene-based construction material called Alucobond that formed a trompe l’oeil special effect of a wall curling at its edges.

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Berczy Park looking east at the Gooderham Building, before and after landscaping. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 200, Series 1465, File 623, Item 5.

When Besant’s piece was unveiled on September 19, 1980, the Globe and Mail’s John Bentley Mays called it “an engineering masterpiece and an artistic triumph that will be flying high on the Flatiron Building for years.” Two restorations later, the piece is as much a Toronto landmark as the building itself.

The building’s landmark status has grown with time. As larger office towers filled the skyline to the west, it has provided photographers with an interesting contrast of past versus present. The site has consistently been one of the most popular attractions during Doors Open. Any new owner would risk a public outcry if they messed with the flatiron shape or the well-restored building’s other unique attributes.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The building was purchased by Commercial Realty Group.

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Editorial on what would become Berczy Park, Toronto Star, August 8, 1972.

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Globe and Mail, September 19, 1980.

Discover the Feeling When You Come to Play

Originally published on Torontoist on July 17, 2008.

If Reba McEntire and Tony Bennett come to Toronto to play, why shouldn’t tourists follow suit?

Two decades ago, Metro Toronto urged tourists to “discover the feeling” while sampling its neighbourhoods and attractions. The focus of the late 1980s television spot that we’ve dug up today is the multitude of leisure activities the city offers. Viewers in markets like Cleveland and Detroit were enticed to check out ballet, fishing, gondola rides, horse racing, boutique shopping, bike taxis near the Gooderham Building, and Jim Clancy leading the Blue Jays to victory over the Indians or Tigers.

The producer’s sure-fire bet to bring in the crowds? Hire a pair of dueling fencers and a fog machine to lend an air of mystery and old-fashioned adventure to Casa Loma.

As for when the headliners came to play, Tony Bennett crooned at a Variety Club of Ontario fundraising gala in February 1988 while Reba McEntire took the stage for two nights at Massey Hall that October.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Here’s an earlier version of the campaign, featuring Rochester native Chuck Mangione instead of Reba.

The lone surviving comment on the piece is typical of trolls with pseudonyms who are oh-so-happy to put down the city. From “Astoria”: “LOL Plezzzzz Toronto is such a boring place and non world class as its wannabe inhabitants claim – keep tryin’ tho!” My retort to this sort of shit: a city is what you make of it when you actually experience it.

I also wrote an article on the print version of this campaign, which originally appeared on Torontoist on August 11, 2009.

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Monthly Detroit, July 1985.

Last year, we featured the television spots used during the latter half of the 1980s to encourage tourists to come to Toronto and “Discover the Feeling!” Today’s ad is an early print version of the campaign used to lure travellers from Motown into driving east on Highway 401. After a year of development by Camp Associates, the new tourism slogan was unveiled in 1984 as a replacement for “Toronto…Affectionately Yours,” which had been used since 1972.

Early reaction to the new slogan was summed up by Star columnist George Gamester: “’Discover the Feeling!’ doesn’t sound like much for $50,000. But then ‘I Love New York’ probably didn’t sound earth-shattering when first proposed, either.”

While people on the street seemed to be happy with the new slogan, describing it as “catchy,” “neat,” and “memorable,” a vocal group from Metro Toronto Council wasn’t. Suburban politicians grumbled that “Metropolitan Toronto” was mentioned in small print and that municipalities like Etobicoke and North York were ignored in favour of the core city. Public representatives with wounded egos made the media know that they were mad as hell that the word “Metro” wasn’t included in the new slogan, even though Camp Associates had discovered that its inclusion confused test audiences outside of the region. According to North York Alderman Betty Sutherland, “If we’re paying for this, I think it should be geared towards Metro Toronto…If you’re coming to visit you’re coming to see more than downtown.” In his characteristically understated style, North York Mayor Mel Lastman claimed that “I never felt more insulted in my life.” He felt the slogan didn’t paint a positive image like Buffalo’s “Talking Proud,” but told visitors to “take a gamble and come to Toronto to see if it’s still a dull city.” Lastman wasn’t crazy about the new logo either, noting that if it appeared on television, it wouldn’t prevent viewers “from going to the bathroom.”

Along with Etobicoke Controller Chris Stockwell (who noted, “I’ve seen better slogans on a used car lot”) and Scarborough Alderman Kurt Christensen, Lastman urged Metro Council to reject the slogan. Among the suggested alternatives were “Metro: Experience the Magic” (suggested by Stockwell) and “You Ought to See Us Now” (rejected by Camp Associates, favoured by Metro Chairman Paul Godfrey). After three hours of debate at the October 23, 1984 meeting of Metro Council, “Toronto—Discover the Feeling!” was approved by a twenty-two to ten vote. Bad feelings lingered on—Christensen failed in attempts to reopen the issue, while Stockwell was irate when only two out of twenty-two pictures in a new tourist brochure showed suburban sites (the Zoo and the Science Centre).

The slogan remained in use for the rest of the decade. Its replacement, “Couldn’t you use a little Toronto?,” was also greeted with underwhelming enthusiasm by Metro Council’s executive committee when it was rolled out in 1989, with Metro Councillor Howard Moscoe proving to be the only member to openly defend the new slogan and its starlit skyline logo.

Additional material from the June 9, 1984, August 25, 1984, and October 24, 1984 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the March 1, 1984, June 9, 1984, October 20, 1984, October 23, 1984, January 1, 1985, and May 3, 1989 editions of the Toronto Star.