The gentrification vogue engulfing once-Bohemian Queen Street West will acquire new impetus this summer when the urban furniture store CB2 opens its trendy doors at the historic SE corner of Queen and Bathurst.
Former home of the legendary Big Bop - a trio of clubs (Kathedral, The Reverb and Holy Joe's) catering to largely suburbanite, alt rock teenagers - the 13,000 square foot building at 651 Queen West is undergoing a $4 to $5-million renovation that will replace blare with flair and punk with funk.
The geek-goes-chic makeover is being overseen by Toronto developer Daniel Rumack, who bought the heritage venue in 2007. Until last year, he leased it to former owner and club manager Dominic Tassielli, while aggressively pursuing a new, triple-A-rated tenant. Mr. Tassielli has since relocated to Etobicoke under a new marquee, the Rockpile.
Mr. Rumack said he will spend about $2.5-million to restore the exterior to heritage preservation standards, including restoration roof cornices and the now bricked-in ground-level windows. CB2, a division of German-owned Crate and Barrel, is spending another $2-$3-million to redo the mechanical innards. This will be the Chicago-based retailer's first Canadian location.
The project is part of an on-going flurry of development that is quickly transforming the essential character of the neighbourhood. A few hundred yards east, on the site of a parking lot formerly owned by Mr. Rumack, the sleek new Queen + Portland loft and condos are under construction. Mr. Rumack used funds from the sale of the parking lot to acquire the Big Bop building.
For disciples of raves and heavy metal, the venue was a kind of Mecca. Music historian Alan Cross, senior program director for Corus Radio online, says it was the first club he went to when he arrived in the city in 1986 - to attend a record release party for General Public.
At the time, the building was owned by Lon, Stephen and Douglas Ballinger, who had converted it from a nightclub known as the Holiday Tavern. That aging venue, dating from the late 1940s, had booked a wide variety of musical genres trying to find an audience. After the Ballingers moved to New York City, the venue struggled through a long DJ decade and most of the club action moved elsewhere.
An Italian group, including Mr. Tassielli, acquired it in the mid-1990s and revived the live music format more successfully, competing with The Horseshoe and the Rivoli. Scores of hard-core punk and metal bands appeared there, including At The Drive-In, AFI, Converge, Cro-Mags, Dayglo Abortions, Billy Talent, Alexisonfire, and the Swarm.
In an era known for sex, drugs and rock and roll, the Big Bop did its part to enhance that reputation.
According to Mr. Rumack, CB2 executives initially voiced "some concern" that the Queen-Bathurst corner wasn't quite ready for prime-time gentrification. However, "they chose to push the envelope," in part because rents there are about half the $100-per-square-foot price they are closer to Spadina Avenue.
The only potential glitch in the project is that Toronto's Heritage Preservation Services recently asked the developer to post a letter of credit covering the costs of exterior restoration. The funds would be released once the city is satisfied that its heritage benchmarks had been met.
Such forms of insurance, maintains HPS's acting manager Mary MacDonald, are standard for work undertaken in the city's official heritage district. "It's not something one wants to do," Mr. Rumack said this week, "but it should not be an issue. I don't want to ruffle any feathers. The city will be getting a quality heritage asset."
Once the site of a British military barracks (1842-58), the property became home to a Masonic Lodge between 1858-84. A new Masonic temple, Occident Hall, opened in 1876. It was designed by E.J. Lennox, the architect who would later draft plans for old City Hall and Casa Loma. A fire destroyed much of Occident Hall's ornate Italianate design, including a cupola and a mansard roof, and the building endured a long period of neglect.
Over the decades, said Nexus architect Richard Coombes, the liaison between Mr. Rumack and city officials, the structure's buff brickwork was painted and coated with plaster, while its windows were filled with concrete. The new development, he said, will "restore the exterior to its Victorian glory." Inside, CB2 has opted for a sleek, modern look that nonetheless will retain elements of exposed brick.
Some aspects of the original design, including the cupola, cannot be added back because they violate current zoning regulations.