To those who know, it remains one of the most romantic love stories of all time.
Imagine the pressure: You meet the love of your life but, five years later, your, er, job, disallows you to marry; you tough it out because your sense of duty and obligation override your emotions; less than a year later, you cast aside that mantle and run into the arms of your lover … and spend the rest of your life having adventures together.
That story – of King Edward VIII and how he abdicated the throne for American socialite Wallis Simpson – is forever trapped in stone as “ERVIII” on the face of the 1936 Dominion Public Building on Yonge Street just north of Eglinton Avenue.
“If I recall, we couldn’t find another one in Toronto, so it’s extremely unique,” remembers architect Graeme Stewart of ERA Architects, the firm that helped developer Rockport Group restore the building. “And the building itself, it’s this reduced from of Classicism, and it’s quite beautiful, so we were thrilled to work on it.”
Exciting, eh? But, for decades, what happened inside the building was less than exciting, as the humdrum business of sorting mail took place at Postal Station K. If it weren’t for the generous forecourt, which had become a gathering place, and the fact that it was on the site of Montgomery’s Tavern, where William Lyon Mackenzie assembled his rebels in 1837, it’s possible the site might not have loomed so large in the mental map of North Torontonians.
But boy, did it loom … so large in fact, when Canada Post put the building up for sale in 2012, there were cries of “Not another condo” and “Save Postal Station K” heard regularly, and loudly. Talk, back then, was not only to preserve the building and forecourt completely, but also that the building continue to be accessible to the public rather than transformed into yet another private amenities space.
Today, standing in the colourful, shiny-clean, bustling space that is Stock TC, chatting with Terroni co-founder Cosimo Mammoliti and architect Ralph Giannone, those eight-year-old rallying cries absorb into the happy din of customers filling carts with everything from fresh pasta and cowboy steaks to croissants and bomboloni.
“It is our first one, this grocery concept,” says Mr. Giannone, who with wife, Pina Petricone, designed the interiors of Mr. Mammoliti’s successful restaurants. For this space – created with artisanal butcher Stephen Alexander of Cumbrae’s (the 'C' in ‘TC’) – the challenge was to respect the history of the building while giving it new life. “The secret is that there’s a huge commercial kitchen on display, so all this product, everything that’s made, is coming off that line.”
Indeed, framing a few of the food prep areas are wiggly bits covered in felt to represent curtains, thereby turning employees into actors: certainly more exciting than watching mail shoved into slots. But, in tribute to that former function, there are poker-like tells throughout the design, and they start right under one’s feet.
“We did not know that this floor existed,” says Mr. Giannone, moving over to allow this author to fully drink in the emerald-green and black bowtie-pattern rendered in gorgeous terrazzo, “because it was covered by three inches of concrete.” While not all of it could be restored, there was enough to demarcate the centre-hall floor plan that once existed.
And, even though the original coffered ceiling had “disappeared over time,” the team – which included ERA Architects – decided to create custom, boxy light fixtures with the exact dimensions to hang at the same spots to create “ghosts” over the raw (and original) concrete.
Upstairs, where the soon-to-be-opened restaurant, Stock Bar, is located – “We originally just wanted the ground floor,” Mr. Mammoliti says with a laugh – the eye is struck immediately by the warmth of leather, brass, tile, and golden wood, which combine to evoke a 1940s/50s men’s club atmosphere.
To keep things playful, however, marble in the floor surrounding the bar has been notched to represent a postage stamp. “Do you know what it is to cut every piece of marble, and then put the piece [of wood], do we really have to do this?” Mr. Mammoliti remembers lamenting to Mr. Giannone, “Who the heck is going to notice?” Both men laugh, and Mr. Mammoliti quickly confirms that it was all worth it in the end.
Overhead, Ms. Petricone points to felt chevrons in the ceiling: “It echoes the big filing cabinets of the post office.”
The third-floor event space, by contrast, is an airy pavilion or “garden room” that would fit right in on Palm Canyon Drive in the Palm Springs of the 1960s or 70s, with shopping mall-esque brown quarry tile, archway portals, and a rich, mahogany zig-zag ceiling. “This is transportive,” Mr. Giannone says. “You want to be somewhere else, you’re not necessarily in Toronto.” Hopefully, Torontonians will embrace this space for weddings or landmark birthdays, says Mr. Mammoliti, who opens glass doors to show off the massive outdoor terrace. Out here, one marvels at the fact that RAW Design chose real limestone – rather than the ubiquitous metal panel or cement board – to clad the large soffit on the rental tower overhead.
The soffit pairs well with the original building’s Queenston limestone, which had to be restored, ERA’s Mr. Stewart says: “There was an enormous expense that went into this, so kudos to the ownership group … they really didn’t cut any corners.”
Ironically, standing up here where one can almost reach out and touch the ever-growing forest of high rises around busy Yonge and Eglinton, what is most striking is directly below, where a neighbourhood’s love affair with a simple, quiet forecourt, has been rekindled.
“It’s an important space in the city,” Ms. Petricone says, smiling.
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