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12/20/2011

The unseen Gladstone

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The Gladstone is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto — purchased in 1889.

TARA WALTON/TORONTO STAR

Kate Allen Staff Reporter

Roomy enough to accommodate a gentlewoman's bustle, etched with a cursive capital "G," four wooden armchairs in the Gladstone's basement are tempting tokens of a ghostly Victorian past.

If hotels were humans, the lobby would be the ego: a point of public entry, arranged just so.

PHOTOS: The unseen Gladstone

The basement is the id: detritus of the past, jammed where nobody can see.

The Gladstone's cellar is, admittedly, a sanitized archive. Administrative offices and a kitchen occupy part of it, so all the relics down here have been more or less curated.

But like a good patient of the talking cure, the Gladstone has never tried to repress the darker episodes of its past. The Gladstone is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Toronto — purchased in 1889, the same year its once-suburban environs, the mansion-pocked Village of Parkdale, was annexed by the city — and like anything long-lived, it has had its trials.

Take one ancient telephone switchboard, tucked into an alcove. With a rotary dial and profusion of cords, it initially summons the same eerie charm as the Victorian armchairs. "Kitchen," reads one jack. "Desk," reads another.

Look closer. "BRONCO'S" reads a third, a trace from the Gladstone's difficult middle years. Between the hotel's early days of high fashion and its latter gentrification, it was, many will remember, a flophouse. Poor, marginalized tenants lived upstairs, while the bars below, including Bronco's, drew all manner of patrons, including wild ones.

Hank Young, the famous "Gladstone Cowboy" who in later years operated the hotel's ancient hand-cranked elevator (the gear-room for which is also down below), once attributed the scar between his eyes to breaking up a brawl in Bronco's. Another treasure stashed in the hotel basement, an old jukebox, also presumably dates from this same period, given how heavily it leans on country classics. Ten cents, back then, bought one rendition of Tammy Wynette's plaintive "D-I-V-O-R-C-E.".

Recent additions to the basement better represent the Gladstone's current personality.There's a thick braid of red wires, a leftover art installation its creator never bothered to pick up. Cans of paint unique to each guest room occupy a set of shelves. Creativity and cowboy times are in harmony down here.

12/16/2011

At Norris Crescent: Ormscliffe Estate

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The main house at Ormscliffe, a Queen Anne-style beauty built in 1909 for metal manufacturer Albert Benjamin Ormsby, is at the heart of the estate.

Leslie Scrivener Feature Writer

Hidden behind the apartments of the Amedeo Garden Court are remnants of the age of elegance: Ormscliffe, a rare Edwardian-era property that has survived modern development.

"It is the last great Mimico Beach estate," says Michael Harrison, who grew up nearby and argues the site should be preserved intact.

The estate, or parts of it, is now threatened with demolition as the owners redevelop the property that fronts Lake Ontario. The plan is not finalized but will include rental apartments and condos, some mid-rise but some up to 45 storeys.

In the 1950s, Amedeo Longo, the current owners' grandfather, built six brick low-rise apartments on the site, preserving Ormscliffe and other old buildings among the newer ones.

The main house, a Queen Anne-style beauty built in 1909 for metal manufacturer Albert Benjamin Ormsby, is at the heart of the estate. Occupied by tenants, it's now worn down and trailing with vines.

Dino and Larry Longo, the brothers who run Longo Development Corp., say they've had to get their head around the heritage aspects of the property. But they've hired a heritage architect and recognize that the main house and garden are of significance. The other five buildings, less so.

Harrison, who was raised nearby on Symons St. in a house his grandfather built and where his father still lives, rode his bike in the gardens as a child. "It was a secret estate, something hidden from the street," he says. "You wouldn't know it was there."

And it's still that way today, a place that lures you unexpectedly into the past.

As an adult, Harrison never forgot Ormscliffe and other estates, somewhat Gatsby-ish in their grandeur, that once lined Mimico's waterfront. He's been campaigning to save Ormscliffe and have it protected under the Ontario Heritage Act, a cause he pursues on his blog, mimicoestates.blogspot.com.

The site is valuable not only for architectural interest but also social history, says Harrison, a civil servant who lives in Parkdale.

Ormsby's wife, Sarah, was a suffragette, and her guests included feminist Nellie McClung and British activist Emmeline Pankhurst. Ormsby was big-hearted and opened the estate's gardens, parts of which still exist, to the public. He moved to California to make silent movies, a venture that failed, but then prospered as a fruit grower.

James Franceschini, a penniless immigrant who founded Dufferin Construction, bought Ormscliffe in 1925 for $68,000. He added stables and rings for his prized hackney show horses and built a $150,000 central heating system that operated out of shabby buildings that still stand on the east side of the property. The estate was renamed Myrtle Villa, after his daughter. The initials MV can be seen in the iron gates on Lake Shore Blvd. W.

During World War II Franceschini was interned. "I cannot think of a better teachable moment than for people to stand in front of the Franceschini mansion and reflect on the fact that even a man who had obtained such wealth could be arbitrarily denied his human rights, be jailed and have his property seized for no other reason than being Italian," Harrison wrote recently to the Etobicoke York Community Council.

But preserving all the buildings on the property, not just the main house, has been debated. "Is it more important to preserve housing with no architectural significance at all or to build for the community, with public access to the water, which we don't have now?" asks Larry Longo.

The future of the property is in limbo until decisions have been made on a planning and revitalization report known as Mimico 20/20.

"I'm not trying to stop the development of the site, but protect the historic buildings and landscape elements," Harrison says. "It will result in a better project for them and even help in their marketing scheme. It's not just a condo development — it's built on this historic estate and they can use it to enhance their project. I'm hopeful it will come around."

12/09/2011

At Connaught: Ashbridge Estate

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Preserved by the Ontario Heritage Foundation and housing the offices of four different community groups, Ashbridge Estate stands majestically across from the Connaught streetcar yard as a reminder of one family's — and our city's — rich history.

PAUL HUNTER/TORONTO STAR

 

Paul Hunter Feature Writer

It was, in the memory of a 43-year-old recalling his early teen years, a pastoral haven in the big city, a refuge from the bustle, a Dickens-like slice of life in an unlikely corner of Toronto.

In many ways, the Ashbridge Estate remains just that. Preserved now by the Ontario Heritage Foundation and housing the offices of four different community groups, it stands majestically across from the Connaught streetcar yard as a reminder of one family's — and our city's — rich history.

"It was almost like a little oasis in the middle of the city," says Matt Pickett, recalling his visits to spend time with his step-grandmother, Dorothy Shaver Ashbridge Bullen, some three decades earlier. "You'd be going down Queen Street and there were some rougher parts — the racetrack used to be just up the road — and some seedier parts, but you'd pull up on the streetcar and there was just a calmness in that place when you'd walk in."

Bullen was of the third, and last, generation of the Ashbridges to occupy the house, which was built in 1854. The property — once a vast expanse of 600 acres stretching from Danforth Ave. to Ashbridge's Bay — had been in the family for two centuries. The widow Sarah Ashbridge, with her five children, began clearing the land in 1794 after she had fled Philadelphia to escape religious (she was a Quaker) and political prosecution.

The family thrived in farming, but as Toronto began to grow and the next generations of Ashbridges became professionals, the land was parcelled off until, in the 1920s, it was just the two acres on which the house still sits. It was designed by a local architect named Joseph Sheard, who would go on to become mayor of Toronto in the late 1800s.

That's the kind of stuff you can read on a historic plaque. Pickett, whose grandfather married Dorothy Ashbridge after having a family of his own, has a history he holds in his heart.

His memories are of a house full of welcoming love and happiness. The smell of roasts that would be served on Indian Tree china, the colourful bursts of floral wallpaper, the chimes of a grandfather clock that stood guard at the top of the stairs, gorgeous 19th century furniture, beautiful art — including a Group of Seven piece — on the walls, a collection of Japanese netsuke carvings and a garden that seemed to go forever and had more nooks and crannies than any child could every possibly explore.

Mostly, though, he remembers Dorothy, the grande dame of the house, who valued history and archeology — she encouraged digs on the property while she lived there — kept the feeders stocked so she could watch the birds, cherished exotic plants and trees, and loved nothing more than a house full of laughter and music. She employed a full-time gardener, and the property was pristine during her lifetime.

"It really was a home," recalls Pickett, a high school principal in Owen Sound. "She was just a regular person . . . such a nice lady.

"She had a gentleman who looked after the grounds and he would drive her everywhere. I describe it as a Driving Miss Daisy situation. Dorothy was a woman ahead of her time, very independent. You'd never know that she had a penny or that her family had anything.

She would give the shirt off her back to someone in need."

She also gave away her home. In 1972, in recognition of the property's historical value, Dorothy and her sister Betty donated the home to the Ontario Heritage Foundation with the condition that they be allowed to live in the house as long as they desired. It was turned over in 1997 when Dorothy died at 91.

Now it is occupied by offices of the Ontario Archaeological Society, the Ontario Society of Artists, Fusion: The Ontario Clay and Glass Association, and Camp Quality, which operates camps for kids with cancer and their families. The public is free to wander the grounds.

Pickett is certain his step-grandmother, a supporter of the arts and various charities, would appreciate how the place is being used today.

"I think she left it to the city because she knew it was significant," he says. "I think she saw the value in public property. It's valuable park space and green space. In that area there isn't a ton — it's pretty congested."

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Dorothy Shaver Ashbridge Bullen was of the third, and last, generation of the Ashbridges to occupy the house, which was built in 1854. In recognition of the property's historical value, she and her sister Betty donated the home to the Ontario Heritage Foundation.

PAUL HUNTER/TORONTO STAR

 

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Ashbridge Estate was designed by a local architect named Joseph Sheard, who would go on to become mayor of Toronto in the late 1800s.

PAUL HUNTER/TORONTO STAR

11/05/2011

At 2155 Lake Shore Blvd. W.: Casa Mendoza

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Casa Mendoza Restaurant and Inn is a Spanish hacienda that is the last of the Lake Shore motel strip that is being replaced with high rise condo developments. Casa Mendoza will soon meet the same fate.

STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR

Leslie Scrivener Feature Writer

She looks out the rear window of the Casa Mendoza, the lone survivor of Etobicoke's motel strip. Gazing toward Humber Bay, Teresa Bodzan, who runs the restaurant and inn, sees the future: condominium sales offices. They are bright, modern boxes, not far from what was once a dock where boaters would tie up and come in for a drink and dinner.

That doesn't happen any more. There's a road now, Marine Parade Dr., between Casa and the lake, used by cyclists, strollers, runners and condo buyers. A red-and-white lighthouse and a rowboat, where wild chicory and yarrow grow, are no longer useful, just decaying ornaments.

There are two guests staying at the Casa Mendoza, with it Spanish-style arches, iron grilles and white stucco. The menu in the restaurant is old school, seafood platters and mixed grill.

Casa will soon be knocked down to make way for a road connecting Lake Shore Blvd. W. to the lake. Condos will follow.

Some will call it progress. After all, the Casa, which over the years has been a marine yard, a banquet hall and the Dutch Sisters Inn, has had a good run since 1928, when naval architect Hans Sachau built it. Its neighbours, motels named the Silver Moon and the Rainbow, have been demolished, their furniture crumpled up and bulldozed into kindling.

The Beach Motel, famous for its water views and moulded plastic Solair chairs prized by modernists, was vacated over the summer. The building remains, ripe with the melancholy of decay. Mattresses are stacked up, doors lay open. Vagrants have been sleeping and drinking there. Drivers on Lake Shore Blvd. W. can see through the motel's dirty windows through to the lake in the distance.

In the 1960s and '70s, the motel strip, with budget rates and access to the city, was popular with families and drew visitors to the CNE and the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. "The manager, Wink, was worth the trip to Canada," a guest wrote about the Shore Breeze in an online review.

Later, the establishments became popular with a clientele whose needs were hourly.

But still, some might call it a shame.

Queen_lastcall RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR

The dining room where Bodzan sits has an old-world feel, dark chairs, dark wood and white tablecloths. On weekends, a silver-hair crooner, Tomanel Raposo, plays at the piano bar, tunes like "Me and Mrs. Jones." The dance floor, under the disco ball, is packed with smooth-moving couples.

Her eyes well up.

"If I was the owner, I would never develop this," says Bodzan, 66, in lightly accented English. "For me it is a sentimental thing."She came from Warsaw in 1988 and has run the business since 1990. The property is owned by a developer. "Every day, people come and say, ‘Teresa. I hope you stay.' But I'm here as long as the owner of the property wants me here."

How long that may be is not clear, possibly months. One of Casa's regulars started a petition that garnered some 2,000 signatures. As the Lake Shore changes, it read, "It's more crucial to maintain a tie to the past." Nothing came of it.

"I am not even ready to describe what it will be like when are tearing it down," Bodzan says. "Every day I am walking here and crying."

Married and now a grandmother, she's not interested in retiring. "I have to do something." She arrives in the morning and works the kitchen at night, calling out orders.

Despite her industry, some customers sensing the end is near have coveted the Casa's fittings, especially the ornate iron gates at the back of the patio. "This is still a business!" she exclaims. "We are alive here, we are not dead!"

By mid-afternoon, Bodzan has to attend to her duties: do inventory, order scallops, salmon and shrimp, take reservations, get vegetables from the Ontario Food Terminal, make sure someone makes apple crumble, and look after payroll. It's payday.

Above her is a neon sign, advertising in glowing red letters the name of the upstairs bar. It says "last call."

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Vanessa Rawecki (right) and friends Josie Borrelli (left) and Franklin Ramlal mix it up on the dance floor. Casa Mendoza, a staple of the Lakeshore Strip of hotels and motels, is the last holdout of the redevelopment of the west Lakeshore area.

RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR

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"If I was the owner, I would never develop this," says Teresa Bodzan-Jackson, who runs Casa Mendoza.

STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR

10/28/2011

At Roncesvalles: The corner

Jennifer Wells Feature Writer

A pentimento moment.

A gentleman stands on the curb, staring at you, wearing a fedora and a swell double-breasted coat, like it’s 1936 and there’s someplace important he’s gotta be.

Let’s imagine he just exited the B & G coffee shop and milk bar. Or let’s say he’s freshly arrived in town, having travelled the King’s Highway by Gray Coach, stepping out onto the bone-dry pavement at the intersection, his brogues snapping to the corner where Queen St. meets King St. and they both meet Roncesvalles.

The Gray Coach could take you places. Tickets available for all North American Routes! Buffalo. Washington. Chicago. What’s your fancy?

The bus depot fades into history. The outline of the late art deco terminal emerges in bas relief, now in the guise of a McDonald’s, where a young woman in black Nike high tops is 40 cents short for a large apple juice and where dads speed through with their hungry soccer-playing kids and where Lynn, a pixieish 50-something, circles the air with an unlit cigarette as she spills a long tale of grievance before ordering a cheeseburger and offering the name of her psychiatrist and her mental health nurse, should anyone have any questions about today’s troubles. There’s a cavalcade of characters, let me tell you, at this nexus of Parkdale and High Park.

A crazy cat’s cradle of transit wires still threads the sky. The intersection used to be a five-way, explains Ted Wickson, the erstwhile TTC archivist. Last March, Wickson presented a historical retrospective on the 501 car, end to end, to the Toronto Transportation Society.

Back in the day, the Sunnyside Bridge carried traffic down to Lakeshore Road. Contemporary area residents who have serially suffered from transit construction may be interested to learn that on a single day in 1923, the entire quilt of tram rails was ripped up and replaced. In nine hours. That is a fact. Wickson knows everything about the granite used to pave the intersection. It was quarried in Quebec. It lasts forever. Or would have.

The Laura Secord candy shop is long gone. The handsome striped awnings that unfurled to the street from Tamblyn Drugs and United Cigar Stores have disappeared, those stores eventually replaced by a donut shop, which is gone now too.

If you look south, instead of down at your shoes all the time, you can see the lake and, sometimes, a late season sailboat.

Who’s got time for sightseeing? Transit riders bolt off the Queen car and sprint around the corner to catch the King car headed north to Dundas West station.

The Long Branch riders? They wait in stopped time. There was a day when Long Branch riders had their own streetcar, which looped through the Sunnyside car yard. No longer.

It’s coming on winter.

The lights in the shops are being lit earlier.

James Dy, elfin and friendly, is up on a ladder at his antique shop, polishing the crystals on one of his beloved chandeliers, which cram the ceiling. He estimates that the French extravaganza in the window weighs upwards of 70 kilograms. He laments that the character of the street is changing, that there are fewer antique stores than there used to be. Still, the street car stops right outside and that’s been good for business.

He flicks a switch on a design of his own creation, and a magnificence of cascading amethyst comes to life in the twilight.

Steps away, at Bar Salumi, Fabio Bondi looks up from a glass of red wine. The bar was designed as a holding tank for the overflow from Bondi’s adjacent restaurant, The Local Kitchen. There’s a warm focaccia in the window, its yeasty aroma beckoning. The Queen car rattles past and Bondi readies himself for that moment, when the gloaming sinks to nightfall.

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From bus depot to McDonald's, from fall to winter, from day to evening--all is flux at the nexus of Parkdale and High Park.

TORONTO STAR

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Chef Fabio Bondi co-owns Bar Salumi, designed as a holding tank for the overflow from Bondi's adjacent restaurant, The Local Kitchen.

STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR