My absolute all-time favourite housing project in the city of Toronto came onto the market this week. If I win Lotto Maxx or Lotto 6/49, you will find me knocking on the sales agent's door on Monday morning.
The project is Ancroft Place: 21 two- and three-storey brick townhouses with the look and feel of an English country village located on a leafy cul-de-sac running east off Sherbourne Street just over the Rosedale Ravine bridge.
I need to win a lottery because the prices start just under $1.2-million and run up from there. That $1.2-million buys a three-bedroom, two-storey house, measuring in at about 1,930 square feet. If you need something larger, there are also three-storey homes with up to six bedrooms.
Or maybe No. 18, right at the end of Ancroft Place, might suit you. Previous owner Thomas Kellner, a celebrated custom home builder in the seventies and eighties, lived there. It is 2,660 square feet with a master bedroom the size of a gymnasium, complete with marble-fronted wood-burning fireplace, a finished basement (another fireplace there as well) and a walkout to an in-ground swimming pool and terrace.
I fell in love with Ancroft Place 39 years ago. I was The Globe and Mail's staff real-estate writer and Phil Kosoy, one of the most brilliant real-estate wheeler-dealers the city has ever seen, said he wanted to show me something special. We hopped into his new Brewster green Rolls-Royce one warm fall night and drove to Ancroft Place.
I was enchanted. The string of red brick cottages with their steeply pitched slate-grey roofs and small paned windows sits to the north side of the street, not in a straight row but with some houses stepped back and others gently nudged forward. The south side of the street is the green curtain of mature trees that cover the north bank of the Rosedale Ravine.
It is so neatly tucked away that the traffic of Bloor Street, just a few hundred metres to the south, may as well be in a different city hundreds of kilometres distant.
It had just come on the market. The estate of lawyer and developer Kenneth Ferns Mackenzie, who built Ancroft Place in 1927 as rental homes, decided to sell. Mr. Kellner bought it for $850,000, renovated No. 18 and made it his own home.
This winter, Canlight Hall Realty Corp., which has done rental-to-condo conversions throughout Southern Ontario, bought it from the Kellner estate for a reputed $14-million. It is now selling the 21 townhouses as condominiums.
What Ancroft Place has going for it is history, architectural significance, superb location, a unique lifestyle, seclusion and great beauty.
History first: Mr. Mackenzie built the place two years before the stock-market crash that launched the Great Depression. One long-time area resident said he built it "for the brides of Rosedale." It was the perfect launching pad for the children of well-heeled families. It would place the young women within walking distance of their moms and would allow them to continue to live in the fashion they had enjoyed growing up.
It was also one of the few rental alternatives for those with the desire to live in Rosedale but not the savings necessary to buy a home there. Remember, these were days when mortgage money was hard to come buy. Loans insured by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. would not come about for almost 40 more years.
Hence, the range of sizes - from cozy three-bedroom homes right up to six-bedroom mini-mansions.
At least one Eaton ex-wife lived there after her divorce, plus a couple of Seagram boys. Long-time residents tell of the Seagrams' friendship with a young singer named Robert Goulet, who at the end of an evening with the Seagrams would stand in front of their home and serenade them.
Now, architectural significance: The city named it a historic building in 1972. That means the exterior must remain just as it has for the past 83 years. In fact, Canlight is now in the process of having all those small-paned windows replaced with double-pane, brand-new versions custom-crafted to exactly replicate the original ones; same with the new slate-grey shingled roof.
Eberhard Zeidler, celebrated architect, has rated Ancroft Place as one of the best examples of how to build townhouses the city has ever seen. "They could not have been done better today," he says.
Location, lifestyle, seclusion and beauty are all of a piece. Ancroft Place is so neatly tucked away that unless you know what you are looking for, chances are you would never find it. It is an English country village in South Rosedale, one of the city's oldest and most highly prized residential neighbourhoods.
To be honest, there will be some challenges for buyers. While Canlight will renovate and install elegant new kitchens and bathrooms, upgrade all mechanical systems and wiring and generally bring each home into the 21st century, some buyers may feel the need to do more work.
Also, Ancroft Place continues to be a rental property until the units are sold to new owners. Those new owners will have to serve notice on sitting tenants to vacate the premises. That means Canlight's renovations cannot start until homes are sold and tenants removed.
Canlight has created two model homes - No. 1 Ancroft Place, a three-bedroom home on the northeast corner of Sherbourne Street and Ancroft Place, and No. 18, the former Kellner home at the bottom of the street.
Those model homes should be open this month.