Dear Mr. Gehry,
I am still mad at you for November.
But, in the spirit of a new year and a fresh start, I offer an olive branch by way of a proposal.
First, I’ll refresh your memory, since it’s altogether possible you’ve forgotten dismissing the entire architectural contents of North America’s fourth-largest city, save for two buildings: Osgoode Hall and Old City Hall. I don’t mean to suggest you’ve forgotten because you’re an octogenarian, but rather because your work takes you to many different cities, and your autumn visit to Toronto may very well be a blur by now … such is the life of the jet-setting architect.
Funnily enough, I sat in the audience during a talk you gave at “new” City Hall in September, 2010 – do you remember that event honouring the 100th birthday of its architect and the 45th anniversary of the opening of the building itself? – and you were full of praise for Viljo Revell’s futuristic masterwork. But I guess it’s fair game for the wrecker’s ball, too, huh?
In any case, I’m not here to discuss City Hall. No, I’m offering my services as a “heritage” tour guide the next time you come to town (and with that Mirvish + Gehry condo proposal being, well, rather bold, I’m sure you’ll be here again before long). I’ll bring along my friend, architect Jerome Markson, since the two of you grew up a stone’s throw away from one another and you were both born the same year.
To whet your appetite, here are a few highlights:
To remind you that Toronto isn’t exactly a spring chicken, we’ll start at Scadding Cabin, the oldest building in the city. This humble log cabin was built by the Queen’s York Rangers in 1794 as a residence for John Graves Simcoe’s good friend John Scadding; it was moved to this location on the grounds of the Canadian National Exhibition in 1879 because, even back then, there were people who cared about our built heritage.
While on the Ex grounds, there are some great examples of pavilion architecture I’d like to show you, ranging from ornate Art Nouveau all the way to amazing Modernism of the 1950s and 60s. I’ve often thought the C.N.E. is a great first destination for first-timers because of this wide scope.
Since we’re so close, next we’ll whip over to Fort York. Then again, growing up in Toronto, you must’ve gone on a field trip there? Nonetheless, you might be interested to see the new visitor centre by Patkau Architects/Kearns Mancini Architects.
After a drink at the Wheat Sheaf (1849), we’ll move north, but skip The Grange (1817, oldest surviving brick home in Toronto) since you grew up near there, and veer east to the corner of Simcoe and Adelaide. Here, now re-built and attached to the new Shangri-La hotel is Bishop’s Block, which was once part of a Georgian row house complex butcher John Bishop built to attract the pre-city elite in the early 1830s (remember, York was founded in 1834). Hmm, a heritage building grafted onto a new tower … now where else might that work?
Next I’ll take you along King Street, W. through the financial district, where we’ll have a quick peek at Mies van der Rohe’s tallest-ever tower (he’s a pretty important guy, don’t you think?) and then end up on Front Street East. You already know the Gooderham “flatiron” building, but it wasn’t on your list, so we’ll skip it and I’ll show you the charmers of the old warehouse district: the Beardmore Building at 35-39, and the Dixon Building – thought to be one of the last cast iron façades left in the province – at 45-49 (both 1872), to name just a few.
Oh, and up on King East you should see the enormous windows of the old Army and Navy Store at 133 King East and Paul Bishop’s 1848 townhouses at the corner of Adelaide and Sherbourne before we go to the Distillery District, a national historic site of Canada.
If there’s time, I’d love to show you the University of Toronto’s St. George campus, too, since it’s got a great many heritage buildings…
Look, I understand that when you left the city in 1947, it was a pretty dull place. You probably didn’t notice most of our heritage buildings because they were covered in soot.
But we’ve changed a lot in the almost seven decades you’ve been gone, and I’d argue that, nowadays, most of the buildings I mention above mean a lot to Torontonians.
But we also like new architecture, and a trio super-tall Gehrys would be great, in my humble opinion. But must we give up those heritage warehouses on King West to have your work? Couldn’t you place those billowy, street-level forms you’ve come up with just outside of them, like a protective screen, giving them a sort of trapped-in-amber look? It’d be like that great juxtaposition of the 1844 Clarkson Gordon Building that now lives inside Santiago Calatrava’s Galleria at Brookfield Place.
Oh, and if you haven’t seen that, either, we can add it to the list.