388 Richmond St. West, Penthouse 6, Toronto
Asking price: $2,395,000
Taxes: $8,970.16 (2018)
Monthly condo fees: $1,585.75
Agent: Christopher Bibby (Re/Max Hallmark Bibby Group Realty)
The back story
In the 1990s, Wayne Scott and Liz Sauter were living in a comfortable, three-storey house in Toronto’s Rosedale neighbourhood.
But Mr. Scott had the nagging feeling that life in the traditional enclave was becoming too comfortable. At the same time, he was intrigued by the way developers were transforming the city’s derelict brick factories and warehouses into residential “hard” lofts.
The couple spent seven years visiting some of the most interesting loft conversions in the city, but they couldn’t find one that combined the right building with a neighbourhood that appealed to them.
Mr. Scott was mowing the front lawn one Sunday morning when a real estate agent he had told about the couple’s search pulled his car over to the curb. He told Mr. Scott about a project planned for the garment district near Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue.
“It was the first day the building was on sale,” Mr. Scott says.
Mr. Scott and Ms. Sauter went that afternoon to see the plans for the District Lofts, which were slated to take the place of a one-storey building on Richmond Street just east of Spadina. Architect Peter Clewes designed a “soft” loft comprised of two towers connected by bridges.
The entirely new project would include the high ceilings, open spaces and industrial elements that made hard lofts so coveted, but it would also benefit from the principles of modern architecture.
The marketing material described an “urban grit” that held great appeal for the couple.
They signed an offer that afternoon.
The couple purchased the largest unit available and moved in in 2002.
“We loved it,” Ms. Sauter declares.
But then came the twist.
Mr. Scott learned that one of the penthouse units was in limbo. A couple had purchased Penthouse 6, but never moved in because their family was expanding. They couldn’t sell because the building was not yet registered.
The owners held an informal “open house” and invited some friends and neighbours.
Mr. Scott and Ms. Sauter were happy in the unit they had occupied for about seven months, but they dropped by to say hello. Mr. Scott recalls sitting on the sofa in the living room and looking at the views expanding in all directions through floor-to-ceiling glass windows in the southwestern corner of the building.
“It was the sense of space and the almost infinite visual space,” Mr. Scott says of the open vistas from the penthouse. “That was the experience that captured me. I find that infinity fascinating.”
The architect’s design allowed light to flow into the two-level unit and a skylight brought more light from above. And because the developer had allowed buyers to move around walls during construction, Penthouse 6 had ended up as the largest unit in the building.
The couple sold their original unit and made the move to the 2,213-square-foot penthouse atop the 14-storey building.
The penthouse today
The layout of the three-bedroom, four-bathroom unit puts the private space on the lower level and the entertaining space above.
The south-facing master suite includes a bedroom and sitting area divided by a fireplace. The large, modern bathroom has a soaker tub and a walk-in shower. His-and-hers closets provide plenty of storage.
Two additional bedrooms and two bathrooms on that level provide space for a family.
Real estate agent Christopher Bibby of Re/Max Hallmark Bibby Group Realty points out that the bedrooms have light flowing through from the dual north and south exposures.
A floating staircase leads to the upper level, where the sloped ceiling rises to 12 feet high.
The U-shaped kitchen stands at the centre of the open space. It includes a built-in stainless steel refrigerator, cooktop and an under-counter wine fridge.
That level has a living area, dining area and a media room. A small bridge leads to a powder room tucked away behind the kitchen. It’s a small detail that brings more light to the lower level and makes the architecture more interesting, Mr. Bibby notes.
Three walk-outs lead to an expansive terrace.
From their earliest days as residents, the couple became involved in the community inside and outside 388 Richmond.
In a way, Mr. Scott became the informal mayor of the building.
“I traded one house for 146 units and the responsibility for making sure everything works.”
Meanwhile, Ms. Sauter got to know Margie Zeidler, the creator of a collection of artists' studios and entrepreneurial offices across the road at 401 Richmond. At the time, the area around Queen West was in transition from an area of garment factories and textile shops to a destination for lounge owners and developers.
“Margie and I were worried about the future of the neighbourhood,” Ms. Sauter says of their early days as activists. “We started with cleaning up the alleyways.”
The two brought in a graffiti artist to create a mural on the walls of the nearby laneway. They fought with city planners to have a sidewalk built and trees planted on the south side of Richmond.
But as they pushed for improvements for the people who lived and worked in the area, the number of clubs also swelled. At the peak in the mid-noughts, there were 92 nightclubs with the licensed capacity to hold 54,000 patrons, Ms. Sauter says.
With the clubs came pounding music, assaults and sidewalks splattered with blood and vomit.
Crime also spiked, Ms. Sauter adds, recalling “2008 was the ‘year of the gun.'”
The couple and other concerned residents pushed for an increased police presence and tighter laws. At one point, the police patrolled the area from a mobile command centre, with officers on horseback and a “gangs and guns” squad.
Ms. Sauter gathered a lot of the statistics that city officials didn’t possess for the Entertainment District that had sprung up south of Queen. That effort quantified the problem and made it visible, she explains.
“It was affecting the quality of the neighbourhood,” says Ms. Sauter, who gained her negotiating skills as an entrepreneur in the e-commerce sector.
Mr. Scott, who works as an executive coach and strategy consultant for businesses, became chair of the King-Spadina Residents Association. In that position, he often found himself meeting with city officials and trying to find common ground with the surrounding club operators.
They supported police efforts and pushed for a new class of licensing for night clubs, Mr. Scott says, adding that conditions attached to the licence made enforcement easier.
“We punched way above our weight in terms of our influence,” he says of the small band of residents. “We were always debating what the public interest was.”
While the couple and their partners had a moderating influence on the club environment, the problem eventually diminished with the efforts of the city and local businesses. The Entertainment District’s most notorious hangouts closed down and the area matured with more upscale restaurants and luxury towers.
“Every time a condo went in, it took away three clubs,” Ms. Sauter says.
Mr. Scott looks back on the years of advocacy as an intriguing experience in personal growth.
“It was an exciting and fascinating time,” he says.
The couple became so knowledgeable about community engagement, they were often asked to present their findings to the officials and police forces in other Canadian cities.
“It was nice to watch the evolution of this neighbourhood,” Mr. Scott says. “What a varied and rich experience we’ve had here.”
The best feature
Three walk-outs lead from the penthouse interior to the south-facing terrace with views toward the CN Tower and downtown Toronto.
Ms. Sauter says the terrace is very comfortable because it’s not too high in the air. Balconies on very high floors tend to be very windy, she says.
The al fresco dining and barbecue area is the setting for many of the couple’s meals.
“Wayne likes cooking, and we eat out on the terrace often,” Ms. Sauter says.
She also enjoys gardening in a large collection of containers spread out to catch the sun in the southwestern corner.