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Towers like TD’s Mies van der Rohe-designed black boxes loom over the survivors of 1904 blaze.
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Don't get much chance to look up at skyscrapers when I'm cycling through the financial district. Too busy watching the pavement doesn't come up to scrape my face.
So I head to the southwest corner of King and Bay for the Ontario Association of Architects' walking tour, but there isn't really enough corner left to meet on.
The area, like much of the City of the Future, has been circumscribed by hoardings. It's dangerous to be on this little patch, what with the crowds of employables rushing through. I could easily be swept along up into some cubicle and either get dragged out by security guards or invited to a staff picnic.
I meet up with tour guide Ed Freeman. We look across the road, where the dirty-looking Carrara marble covering the 72 storeys of First Canadian Place is being replaced by patterned glass. A 200-pound-or-so slab of marble fell off this 1973 tower in 2007.
The Chicago building it was meant to emulate had its marble coat removed long ago. Freeman tells me thermal hysteresis is what happens to the calcium carbonate crystals in marble as it expands and contracts in heat and cold until it gets fed up and takes the plunge. Turns out he's not an architect but a geologist. Bonus!
We head east on King to Yonge to see early "skyscrapers." Before elevators, eight storeys was about as high as anyone wanted to climb to work. There were hydraulic elevators, but electric lifts only came in in 1880. It took seven years for the crucial innovation of doors that close on every floor.
The former Traders Bank, which now houses Sleep Country, has 15 storeys. It was once the tallest building in the British Empire - a tag that seems to be common in Toronto. As for the ox skull decoration on the outside, Freeman can't explain it; I discover more bovinish bones on a building at the corner of Colborne and Yonge.
After the 1904 fire that razed 220 buildings in the area, says Freeman, metal became a much more important building material. You can actually see the fireball on video on the city of Toronto Archives website.
Ghost lettering for Canadian Pacific hovers over what was once an elegant two-storey marble ticket lobby now occupied by the booming franchise catering to Drugged Shoppers at Yonge and King.
We admire the Stanstead granite from Quebec on the Dominion Bank, now One King West condos, but the grand staircase is marred by unspeakable blobs of actual garbage on the wall, defined as "art," I guess. We slip up into the hall where tellers once toiled. The floor is of the best material for the purpose, Tennessee marble, a type of polished limestone.
In 1929, the 34-storey Bank of Commerce (south side of King, west of Yonge) became the tallest in the Empire. The goddess of the harvest is at the door to remind us, "They wanna harvest your money." Squirrels and beavers reinforce the connection between work and material gain.
Murals and the sculpture on the wall at the old/new Scotia Plaza conglom at King and Bay celebrate industry and expansionism. No cameras are allowed inside the portals of Swedish Napoleon Red granite, a hushed realm of the sacred dollar that recalls Stephen Leacock's My Financial Career.
The building features the original stone carvings, including Icarus flying too close to the sun and big bearded men grabbing onto the whole globe.
At Mies van der Rohe's smallest TD Plaza building, we peek in at the fishbowl of yellow daisies the architect specified should be placed on the reception counter daily back in 1969, when the development was completed. We're told that a similar bouquet on the president's desk 54 flights up reminds him of those downstairs.
As an extra, Freeman leads us to the TD Bank Financial Group Gallery of Inuit Art, the whole concept of which I leave you to ponder.
Outside a revolving door, I hear my name being called. A lawyer buddy of mine. Okay, a bicycle courier.
"Another day, another 50 cents."