Poor things, those homeowners on Castle Frank Crescent. Surrounded by brick archways, gabled roof lines, half-timbering and sun-porches, they have to walk to the subway station that also bears the name of the home Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe named for his infant son, Francis, if they want to see the clean lines of Modernist architecture. There, they can marvel at the long bus bay’s expanse of glass and rhythmic concrete fins, and the wonderful “flying saucer”-shaped roof that breaks away from the orderly stack bond brick walls at the entrance.
Luckily, for the rest of South Rosedale, examples of Modernism exist on almost every street to provide a respite from century-old turrets and turned porch posts.
That’s because, in the immediate postwar years, this leafy enclave of large, stately single-family homes was invaded by “yellow brick intrusions” with “high walls of brick and glass” that often placed “five hundred people next door where there was a home for perhaps five.”
The colourful descriptors above were penned by one J. Emmett Duff and printed in a March 1955 letter to The Globe and Mail in reaction to apartment buildings. I’m sure he wasn’t alone either, since, by 1955, a handful of long, low, angular buildings had already been built, and, according to Mr. Duff, there were permits “being applied for daily in droves” to build more.
The 1950s, however, was a time of great change. While older Rosedalers – I’m sure Mr. Duff was one – continued to live as if it was the 1920s, potential newcomers to the neighbourhood, writes Patricia McHugh in Toronto Architecture: A City Guide, were scared away by “high taxes and expensive maintenance.” Attitudes about living were changing, too: Who wanted a 50-year-old fixer-upper with 15 rooms and servant’s quarters when one could rent a sleek, turnkey apartment with easy-clean Formica countertops?
Add to that relaxed city bylaws put in place during a housing shortage that began in the 1940s (which led to about 200 Rosedale homes becoming rooming houses) and Rosedale, along with neighbourhoods such as the Annex, were ripe for developer picking. And these “wily developers” adds Ms. McHugh, figured a way around Rosedale’s 35-foot height limit (three storeys) by using the ravines to sink portions of their buildings below grade.
That didn’t stop the old guard from fighting. In October, 1952, the South Rosedale Ratepayers Association published a notice in The Globe for an emergency meeting to discuss a “huge apartment house” proposed for Elm Avenue at Mount Pleasant Road. Ironically, directly underneath was an ad featuring an imposing graphic of three steel I-beams and the proclamation “Plan Now! Fabricated Steel Construction.” The past and the future on the same page … guess who won.
I went to visit the winner last weekend. At Nos. 5 and 11 Elm St., The Clifton is a handsome pair of yellow-brick, five-storey bookends that stretch along Mt. Pleasant to the trees of Rosedale Valley Rd. Between the two buildings is a large courtyard with a burbling fountain. Standing here, the shouts from Branksome Hall across the street (where the emergency meeting was held in 1952) are no match for the songbirds.
I wondered: How many other yellow brick intrusions are in South Rosedale? I printed a map of the boundaries, which take the rather unfortunate shape of limp sock, and began an “architour” of the Other Rosedale. Starting at the big toe at Castle Frank Crescent, I worked my way up to the elastic band at the Summerhill LCBO.
Not expecting any grand architectural gestures, I was dumbstruck by the massive porte-cochère at “the Kensington” on Dale Avenue by architects Crang & Boake. An undulating, wave-like structure with multiple recessed light fixtures, it’s worthy of The Jetsons. The red brick building does require a sculptural statement piece because it’s absolutely huge: there’s a long section running along Dale and two arms reaching perpendicular into the valley.
Next, the curved façade at 36 Castle Frank Rd. was a treat, but not the red brick; thankfully, on Maple Avenue, I spotted the yellow-brick bum of 83 Elm Ave., and was bolstered further by “Forty Glen Road,” which, in addition to buff brick, sports a folded-plate canopy over the entrance (it’s a good thing, too, since The Somerset at 1A Dale Ave. just a stone’s throw away, is also red brick).
But there are so many more to discuss: The Southgate at 45 Glen Rd. has period stair rails visible through a large glass curtain-wall facing onto Maple; Rosedale Court at 30 Elm sports glass-cornered windows on some units; “149 South Drive” is written in lovely gold on the building’s transom window; the Roman “columns” attached to 99/101 Glen Rd. aren’t fooling anyone; the stacked bond brick between the windows at 10 Lamport Ave. are slick; and the many lollypop light fixtures at 158 Crescent Rd. are worth maintaining.
Working my way to the heel of the sock, I catalogued 1 Rosedale Rd. and, at No. 16, Arbour Glen by Bregman and Hamann, which drops down to Rosedale Valley Rd. to become neighbours with the Fontainebleu. At the sock-top in Chestnut Park, I navigated the confusing roads to spy the Roxborough hiding behind vines and, finally, ogled the riveted-steel and frosted-glass canopy at 7 Thornwood Rd.
The total: 19 Modernist apartment houses. Ten in yellow brick, a few beige, one stuccoed over (4 Sherbourne), and the rest in “Toronto red.” All seemed well maintained and a vital part of their surroundings. Even in the residential corridors of power, it seems, time heals all wounds.
And speaking of time, it’s easy to pinpoint when the intrusions stopped: In January, 1962, the Ontario Municipal Board approved a rezoning bylaw to prohibit further apartment construction. And while it stated amendments were possible, the lack of buildings with details such as chocolate-brown brick, archways and coach lamps – popular from the mid-60s to the mid-1970s and known as “Conquistador Modern” – suggests most developers got the message.