55 Castle Frank Rd., Toronto
Asking Price: $5,695,000
Taxes: $22,231.40 (2022)
Lot Size: 60- by 168-feet
Agent: Alison Cook, Chestnut Park Real Estate Ltd.
An empty house always has a story. When the furnishings and those who used to live there are gone all that remains are memories, but sometimes the memories can make a palace.
Anne Murdock used to live at 55 Castle Frank Rd. with her husband of 35 years, Bennet Murdock, a renowned psychologist who developed mathematical models of human memory. When Mr. Murdock died in 2022, she was no longer living with him, but now that his estate is selling the house, she’s happy to talk about some of the glorious years they spent there after buying it in 1975.
“I had looked at the house with a friend about a month before it went on the market; she was interested in Swedish modern design and Marimekko [a company specializing in bold textiles],” Ms. Murdock said. The house had been updated from its Victorian interiors by the previous owner, but initially it was out of the price range of a University of Toronto professor and a woman just beginning her own business.
However, there were some whispers that the seller was quite motivated, and while skiing in Vermont she saw an advertisement in The Globe and Mail announcing a “Huge Markdown!” So she brought Prof. Murdock back with her to have another look just hours before an agents’ open house.
“We walked through the house, and he never asked one question, never said a word,” Ms. Murdock said. “Our realtor said, ‘What do you think?’ And he said, ‘We’ll take it.’”
They lived there together for about a decade: “It just was a safe-feeling house; a place where you could relax,” Ms. Murdock said. “My husband used to say ‘Who needs a cottage? I’ve got everything I need right here.’ There are balconies off the second floor where you can sit out there and read and enjoy life.” Not to mention the large pool in the backyard, and generous space indoors for what became quite the party spot.
The house today
Even for Rosedale, this is a large house: almost 5,400 square feet and eight bedrooms above grade with a semi-finished basement to boot.
The front entryway is tucked behind fence, and opens into a central hallway between a formal sitting room and a large office space, both with wood-burning fireplaces.
Early on, Ms. Murdock made use of these front rooms as she was pulling together what would be her career and passion for the next 30 years: Hart/Murdock Artists Management. She connected with Joanne Hart on the women’s committee of the Toronto Symphony and the two created a program to tour the symphony around Ontario. It was a time when the Ontario Arts Council was looking to spread performances to smaller population centres and Hart/Murdock saw an opportunity beyond the symphony to expand.
“Sometimes when we worked from Castle Frank we would do auditions for artists there in the living room on the main floor, it had lovely acoustics,” she said.
Among the acts she brought to Canada were such British companies as the King’s Singers and the Scottish Baroque Orchestra. She represented many classical Canadian musicians as well: from pianist Jon Kimura Parker to mezzo-soprano and Order of Canada recipient Catherine Robbin.
The basement had a softer floor, so they decamped there when auditioning dancer and choreographer Menaka Thakkar, one of Canada’s premier performers and educators in traditional Indian dance.
As the business grew, so did the opportunities to entertain, and the kitchen – which wraps in an L-shape around the back quarter of the house – was the central hub of their social lives.
“We were sailors, so we’d invite the sailing club for parties,” said Ms. Murdock (this is an understatement – she and her husband were on the Albacore team that represented Canada in world champions on three occasions). “I was in a choir, so we’d have them over, we’d invite the people who worked for us over. … Sometimes at Christmas we’d have a hot mulled cider party for the neighbours.”
The kitchen is what you might call “High 70s” with brown subway tile floors and honey-coloured cabinets, knotty pine planks on the ceiling and a huge brick column anchoring the middle of the prep area. Originally, there was a lot more colour in here: “The kitchen had one orange wall, fuscia wall and purple wall, it was sort-of wild but wonderful,” she said.
Splotches of that bold colour remain: Firetruck-red on a stair-rail to the third floor, a deep purple mantle on a second-floor fireplace, cabinets in red or bright orange or purple, and a few of the radiators retain purple, blue or red paint. “Over the years when the walls were repainted he didn’t want the bright walls anymore and he had more beige-y coloured walls done, but still a lot of the drapes were bright colours,” Ms. Murdock said.
Off the kitchen is a second office space (Mr. Murdock had a penchant for moving his at-home cognitive research work spaces to different areas of the house over the years) and the stairwell leading upstairs.
In addition to 1970s design, there are many Victorian touches remaining, such as the wood-panelling on the stairs: “It’s a whole wall of beautiful carvings of birds and exotic plants,” Ms. Murdock said.
The ceilings on the second level are 10 feet high, only a touch lower than the main floor’s 11-foot heights, and there are four bedrooms including the primary suite with a bay window and ensuite bath and walk-in closet. The Murdocks moved to Toronto in 1965, and by 1975 their eldest children were in university. Their youngest had such a “typical teenager” room that Ms. Murdock allowed a film crew to shoot a commercial in it.
“It turned out to be really complicated: dozens of people around with extra lighting and big cameras … I thought it would be, you know, a little extra pocket money. But it definitely wasn’t worth it for all the uproar it caused,” she said.
The third floor could be used as a separate apartment, with its own kitchen, bathroom and three bedrooms (and a separate private entrance).
“One time we represented a dance group from Montreal and they weren’t being paid much, so they all slept on the floor on the third floor,” said Ms. Murdock, who hastens to add she had some mattresses for the dancers. Her husband’s grad students would also occasionally camp out in the upstairs suite.
The best feature
The house needs work: the floors are showing their age, as are some of the more modern fixtures. In Rosedale the kind of houses that fetch top dollar are still a mixed bag, according to listing agent Alison Cook. “Some people love everything from the Victorian doorknobs to the carvings, and some people are like ‘I might remove it all,’” Ms. Cook said. White walls and white oak floors with black accents are trendy, and there certainly are few places with fuchsia walls hiding under a layer of paint.
Mr. Murdock’s research specialty was working toward a complete theory of memory: one of his models showed that we’re more likely to remember a word if it appears at the end or the beginning of a list.
So if you’ve made it to the end of this list of words, Ms. Murdock would like you to remember this: “It’s just a comfortable house to live in, a wonderful place for the family … and to bring your friends over for a swim.”