Frank Gehry doesn't mind reflecting on his childhood in Toronto's Jewish district, a lean but enlightening period spent in and around his grandparents' cramped, plain, red-brick row house at 15 Beverley St.
The renowned 81-year-old architect, since of Los Angeles, is happy to talk of the miniature cities he built with his grandmother from wood scraps she brought home for the fire; of the raucous union meetings his great-uncles, who were tailors, held upstairs; of the nights his grandpa dozed on the porch after smoking a cigarette.
Mr. Gehry has little time, however, for unremarkable old buildings - and even less for uninspired new ones.
He makes this quite clear when asked about the impending demise of his old boyhood home, which city officials have deemed important for its connection to him, and about the new condominium proposed to replace it.
"I don't think people should hold up the future for anchors from the past," Mr. Gehry told The Globe over the phone from L.A. "There are some things that should be preserved, but there's a lot of stuff preserved that's irrelevant, and I don't think the fact that I or my grandparents were there has any real historic value to anybody."
Having said that, Mr. Gehry is less than eager to embrace the property's future as planned by BSäR Group, developers of 12°, a mid-rise stack of apartment storeys offset at 12-degree angles.
"It's awful," he said as he perused a concept drawing online, then braked slightly to offer the benefit of the doubt. "It's probably some young architectural firm."
Actually, the firm is Core Architects, whose substantial portfolio, which includes many a Toronto condo, has won a raft of honours. The BSäR project, aimed at "smart, stylish urbanites," has been the object of much buzz in the neighbourhood, which also houses Will Alsop's playful Ontario College of Art and Design, and Mr. Gehry's 2004 redesign of the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Nonetheless, Mr. Gehry likes what he likes, and in this case, beauty has gone wanting in the eye of the beholder.
"I hope they don't put a plaque in the lobby that says I lived there," he said. "I would be insulted by that. Who wants a plaque with your name on it in some shitty-looking lobby?"
In short, Mr. Gehry would prefer his name be left off any effort to save his grandparents' old house or sell the new condo.
So far, there's been no real groundswell to stop the demolition of 15 Beverley, despite its listing by Toronto heritage officials as significant, due mainly to the Gehry connection. Even if there was, "I would have nothing to do with that," he said. "I've had four of my buildings torn down in the last few years, and in each case I was asked to come and help protest, and I refused."
Mr. Gehry said supporters of 12° have been in touch with him to talk about acknowledging his historic link to the property. He called this "a generous gesture, maybe, or an opportunistic gesture, I don't know."
As far as he's concerned, "they didn't need to do anything for me," since he isn't objecting to the demolition.
If he winds up with any regret at all, it won't be for the lost row house.
"It would have been great if it could have been a really great building they built there," he said, "but that would be too much to expect, wouldn't it?"
Of one thing Mr. Gehry is sure: Life will go on.
"You know, I think you've got to live in the present," he said, "do your work, do it as best you can."Report Typo/Error
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