Heritage preservation: the good, the bad and the ugly

The distinction between old and new is sadly often blurred when historic buildings are adapted for new uses. Toronto examples show varying degrees of respect for "heritage ethic." Here are six.


Runnymede Theatre, 2225 Bloor West, Alfred Chapman architect, 1927

“Canada’s theatre beautiful” became a Chapters bookstore in 1999 after a popular run as a vaudeville theatre, movie house and bingo hall. Shoppers Drug Mart took over in 2015. The original structural and decorative features of the historically designated building have been preserved, but as with the Brunswick House’s conversion to a Rexall store, its cultural heritage is lost.

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Hard Rock Café, 279 Yonge, John Chorley -Westervelt architect, 1918

Originally home to an outpost of New York-based Childs Restaurant and Offices chain, it became a Hard Rock Café in 1978. According to the city, “the building is architecturally significant for its terracotta cladding and classical detailing.” Its former owners were reportedly unable to afford property taxes and other expenses that could be in excess of $2 million a year. What’s the attraction for new owners Shoppers Drug Mart of a location where few people live but swarms are looking for a good time?

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BMV Books, 471 Bloor West

The former home of the Hungarian Castle restaurant and Annie’s Place upstairs was owned in the 1960s and 70s by Leslie and Annie Racz. When Leslie died in the 80s, Annie closed the Castle. For 17 years it was wrapped in wire mesh and painted black, a building in limbo. After Annie’s death in 2004, it was emptied of 40 bin-loads of garbage, furniture, wine and liquor bottles, rotting food and dead animals. Within a year it was restored to life as an independent bookstore that survives where too many have closed. In other places, buildings have mouldered for years until arson or murder among squatters triggered restoration. If the city is serious about its intent to raise taxes on vacant buildings, that may not happen again.

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Standout, office of Flagship Properties, 365 Queen West, Montgomery Sisam architects

Its architects bill this interesting specimen of -facadism as a “contemporary design that creates a dialogue with the heritage character of the street.”

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Thornton-Smith Building, 340 Yonge, John Lyle architect, 1922

Winner in 1926 of the first Ontario Association of Architects gold medal for design, this building, which originally housed a British antique and interior design store, is now home of Champs and Salad King.

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Dolce & Gabbana, 111 Bloor West

This historic building has been repurposed in ways that conserve its original shape but also make it dramatically “distinguishable as new,” conservationist-speak for how heritage should be treated when it cannot be restored to its original form.

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