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Home of the Week: Toronto’s Downtown abbey

2 Wellesley Place, built in 1899, was designed in the Romanesque Revival style by Toronto architect Charles Gibson for businessman Rupert Simpson.


Asking price: $3.2-million

Taxes: $16,734 (2013)

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Lot size: 61-by-88 feet.

Agent: Erica Anne Cook (Royal LePage Real Estate Services Ltd., Johnston and Daniel Division

The back story

In 1899, Rupert Simpson was a businessman and co-owner of the city's first knitting mill, Toronto Knitting and Yarn Factory. Mr. Simpson hired Toronto architect Charles Gibson to design a house and stable in the area surrounding Jarvis and Wellesley, where many business titans had grand estates.

Mr. Gibson designed the three-storey house in the Romanesque Revival style. The house is built of red brick on a sandstone base.

In 1922, the house was turned into a convent for Catholic nuns. Later it became a nurses' residence for Princess Margaret Hospital. The house was put to very different use years later when the owner rented it to the Rolling Stones when they were in town. The band used the third floor as a secluded place to practise, says real estate agent Erica Anne Cook.

In 1984 the house was listed as historical by the City of Toronto and, in 2000, it was designated as protected under heritage conservation rules.

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Some of the notable architectural features include the entrance porch and door, the tympanum and arch above the entrance, and the basket weave pattern in portions of the brick. In 2002, the stable was severed from the house and now has a separate address.

The house today

The stained glass, ornate woodwork and elaborate plaster ceilings and walls have all been preserved at 2 Wellesley Place.

Owner Frank McCrae bought the house about six years ago and gradually repaired and restored period details. Now the house is often used as a location for film and television productions, says Ms. Cook.

The house has served as a location for the Russell Crowe film Cinderella Man, and The Time Traveler's Wife, starring Rachel McAdams.

The interior provides about 10,000 square feet of space, including a 2,500-square-foot basement that is partially above grade.

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Visitors arrive to a reception hall with panelled and carved oak and a grand staircase. The main floor living room and dining room have tall ceilings, original stained glass windows, sliding pocket doors and 11-inch high baseboards.

"Many of the rooms have original fireplaces," says Ms. Cook, pointing to intricately painted ceramic tiles.

Most of the seven bathrooms have been restored in period style and the main floor kitchen has tall oak cabinets designed to look as if they have always been there.

The electrical system is updated and a security system has been installed. The second floor and the basement have been zoned for commercial use. Currently the second-floor offices are rented. The third floor has been divided into two large living suites.

At the front of the house, the room where the Rolling Stones used to practise has been turned into an open living and dining area with a large island for the kitchen.

Ms. Cook says many potential buyers have looked at the house, including some with creative ideas for using the large space.

A psychologist considered turning the residence into a suite of offices because the formal layout and hallways allow for excellent privacy. A restaurateur considered serving dinner in the gracious principal rooms and using the large kitchen and family room for preparation and storage.

The house has three staircases, which make it very easy to divide into separate living areas, she points out.

"I think some people have trouble wrapping their head around it because it's so big."

The best feature

The winding staircase leads from the main floor to an upper vestibule with a built-in oak bench. Above, an expansive curved window topped with stained glass brings light to the second floor hallway and down through the stairwell to the first.

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