The listing: 49 Benlamond Ave., No. 2, Toronto
Asking Price: $899,000
Taxes: $3,139.39 (2019)
Square footage: 1,200 square feet
Maintenance fees: $550 monthly
Agents: Pasqua Amati, broker, RE/MAX Hallmark Realty Ltd. Brokerage
The back story
There are many ways to live in a condominium in Toronto, high-rise, mid-rise, townhouse, own, rent … but there aren’t many condominium buildings that were built more than 100 years ago. As it happens, that’s just one of the many unusual features of 49 Benlamond Ave. in Toronto’s Upper Beach neighbourhood.
“I love living in a place originally built in 1913, I love all of the features, all of the adornments, all of the quirks, all of the moulding and the trim and the high ceilings and pocket doors … I love having a wood-burning fireplace,” said Anne Louise Bannon of the six-unit building. She bought a garden-facing second-floor apartment five years ago, but even though she’s selling, she will be moving literally steps away to the ground-floor street-facing unit in the building, which she purchased from her former neighbour in April. She’s moving in part because she’s having issues with her knees, and she’s staying so close because she’s come to love the little Benny community.
“I feel very blessed to have found this place,” she said. When she and her husband Rick McMillan, a stage and screen actor who died in early 2017, bought the condo they were downsizing because of his terminal illness. “We thought we had some time,” Ms. Bannon says, her voice cracking with the still-raw memory. Standing in the sunroom at the rear of the apartment – a wall of windows shaded by 100-year-old oak trees – surrounded by her husband’s Dora awards and other accolades (framed letters of appreciation from notables such as Robertson Davies), there are tears in her eyes. “He spent a lot of time here, especially near the end ... he was very happy to be lying on the couch with the sun coming in, people would come over during the day ... he loved it. I’m very grateful for this place.”
The house today
Realtor and friend Pasqua Amati calls “The Benny” one of the best-kept secrets of the Beaches neighbourhood. The units turn over infrequently, sometimes without ever being listed. The building was converted to a condo only in 2002, and was a co-op and rental apartments in its early decades.
It was built in two phases by Toronto builder Alexander McLeod, first a three-apartment building that was later twinned. There are two main staircases, one for the rear units and one for the front (there’s a little-used central fire stairwell that connects all the units). It doesn’t feel like a condo building: people keep their jackets and bikes in the wide and well-lit common hallways, like they are roommates and not co-owners. The exterior is buttery yellow brick and tan-painted wood and green eaves, larded with Edwardian/Victorian flourishes. It has a stately feeling like a courthouse that has been converted to housing.
The apartment is 1,200 square feet, hardwood floors throughout. Through the front door is a central sitting room with wood-burning fireplace. The two bedrooms are accessed by a doorway straight ahead off the central sitting room, the master is 12- by 10-feet and the second bedroom is 13- by-9. Pieces of Anne and Rick’s life and careers adorn the walls.
Back through the sitting room, through the pocket doors (with glass panels, to let the light through) is a dining room with a bay-window and charming built-ins, and the doorway to the kitchen. The kitchen is galley style, renovated in recent years, with laundry and new counters and updated cabinets.
The back of the unit is the sunroom, a glass panelled frame suggests this was once disconnected from the main unit, but now is a sun-filled annex. The unit’s only bathroom is in the rear-corner.
Tasteful and well-maintained homes of this era often feel like time machines. It’s hard to be clear what’s a modern feature and what’s original, but much of the house looks like it could have looked the same way at any moment in the last 90 years.
“For 1913 this would have been really swish... I mean it’s swish now,” said Ms. Amati.
The kitchen is updated, the bathroom too with glass-walled shower, there’s an air-conditioning unit (not all the Benny apartments have one), and the original single-pane windows do have storm windows out the outside for a little thermal protection.
A two-bedroom condo of similar size in Toronto’s core is $1-million to start. You might get a gym, but your fees might also be higher. Here, the tiny board has agreed to a $550 a month fee for heat, water, parking and things like snow removal and some yard care.
Ms. Amati says the kind of people approaching her about the condo are often down-size-curious. "People of a stage in life, retired, semi-retired, they want to sell their big beach house that has this feel but don’t want to lose all of their space.”
The best feature
Buying into The Benny isn’t simply a matter of passing the stress test and getting your deposit cheque in order. This six-unit condo building is a community, and the ladies (and gentleman) who make it are like a startup looking for “fit” as much as anything else. Ms. Bannon says she feels a responsibility to her building mates to ensure the buyer can join that team.
“We’re often in the garden together, we’ll have barbecues or I’ll come home from work and everyone will have a glass of wine. ‘We’re going to pitch in for pizza and call the neighbours,’ ” said Ms. Bannon. “It really is a respite as well ... I have a very busy life as a vice-principal of an all-boys school. I live with 860 boys every day, which I love, but it’s very nice to come home to this quiet.”
Sitting in the yard talking to The Benny members, some who have been in the building since the co-op days of the 1990s, one resident says she’ll only be leaving the building “feet first.” Fellow condo board member Jane tried living in a high-rise with an elevator and a pool off Yonge Street, but it wasn’t for her. “Nobody says hello to each other” in those big buildings, she said. These neighbours meet to discuss condo issues, but also just for traditions like the annual Halloween table out front where they sit in costume to greet and treat the neighbourhood children. It’s a building with incredible heritage character and also human character.
“I love the ghosts that are in the walls, I love thinking about the people who lived here and what it was like,” said Ms. Bannon. “It’s got a grand history, it seems to attract very colourful people.”
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