College Park (Toronto)

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College Park in Toronto

College Park is a shopping mall, residential and office complex on the southwest corner of Yonge Street and College Street in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. An Art Deco landmark, the building was built between 1928 and 1930 by the Eaton's department store, and was designed by Ross and Macdonald (in association with Henry Sproatt), the Montreal architectural firm that also designed the Royal York Hotel and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, the Château Laurier Hotel in Ottawa, and the Montreal Eaton's store.

Eaton's College Street[edit]

Eaton's began secretly assembling land at Yonge and College Streets in 1910 for a new store. The First World War put the plans on hold, but Eaton's retained the land. During the 1920s, plans were made to shift all Eaton's operations from their existing location at Yonge Street and Queen Street West to the College Street site. Eaton's even offered to sell part of its landholdings to its main competitor, Simpson's, in an effort to shift the heart of Toronto retailing northward and to preserve the synergy created by having two retail giants next to one another. The effort was unsuccessful, and Simpson's chose instead to expand its Queen Street store.

In 1928, Eaton's announced plans for the largest retail and office complex in the world to be constructed on the site, featuring 5,000,000 square feet (465,000 square metres) of retail space and a 38-storey 1920s era skyscraper. Just as the war had intervened a decade earlier, however, the Great Depression curtailed the grandiose plans for the site. The first phase of the project, a department store of 600,000 square feet (56,000 square metres), was the only part of the complex that was ever built. Nevertheless, foundation pillars, 10 feet in diameter, were driven 30 feet down into bedrock during the construction of the first phase to accommodate the tower.[1] On October 30, 1930, the new store was opened by Lady Eaton, the matriarch of the Eaton family, and her son John David Eaton, the future president of the company.

Eatons College Street Heritage Plaque

Even though the rest of the complex was never constructed, the new store was nonetheless a true retail palace, the likes of which had never been seen in Toronto, and was a testament to the retail dominance of the Eaton's chain at that time. Tyndall limestone was used for the imposing exterior. Accentuating the Tyndall limestone was granite and a corrosion-resistant alloy of nickel and copper (Shoemaker, and Smith 22) called monel metal. The monel metal was used copiously on the building as trim and in panels along the window and door frames. In addition to this metal trim, cast stone and carvings acted as detailed decorative elements on the façade (Morawetz 5). Marble was imported from Europe for the interior columns and colonnade. Lady Eaton arranged for two entire rooms to be removed from two manor houses in England and reassembled in the furniture department of the College Street store. The French architect Jacques Carlu (who later designed the Rainbow Room in New York City and the Eaton's Ninth Floor (or the "9ième") in Montreal), was retained to design the interior of the Eaton's Seventh Floor, including the 1300-seat Eaton Auditorium and the elegant Round Room restaurant. Itself an Art Moderne masterpiece, the Eaton's Seventh Floor was at the heart of Toronto's cultural life for many years. The Auditorium played host to the major performers of its day, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, and the National Ballet of Canada. Canada's own Glenn Gould, fond of the Auditorium's excellent acoustics, used the hall for a number of his recordings.

Classified specifically as a stripped classical art deco style, Eaton's College Street emphasized symmetry in the plan and rhythm in the arrangement of the fenestration, doors, and pilasters. A distinct repetitive pattern can be distinguished with the windows and pilasters as well as with the arrangement of large entrances. There are three small windows on the upper levels between each pilaster, and three large shop windows between each entrance. The original Eaton's College Street was designed with large shop windows on the floor level to attract window shoppers and pedestrians. The floor level also highlights another classical art deco characteristic of having a large distinctive base. Aside from the oversized windows, on Eaton's College Street, the base was made even more prominent through the use of the granite and stone carvings framing it. On higher levels however, the fenestration became long vertical strips separated by large pilasters which highlighted the verticality of the structure as opposed to its mass (another distinguishing feature of art deco buildings) (Morawetz 46).

The pilasters of the upper levels have fluting and capitals of ionic composition and support a rather large entablature. Art Deco architecture, well known for its geometric patterns and ornamentation is demonstrated in the detailed entablature, with a sculpted architrave, dentils on the cornice, and a monel metal trim along the top. Along the frieze are round ornamental metal pieces placed in a rhythmic order between the pilasters. Each entrance is flanked by a slightly protruding cast stone frame decorated with sculpted square shapes, dentils and bordered by a spiral ribbon-shaped cast stone. The monel metal trim on the window frames represents the art deco style of having natural shapes such as flowers or sunbursts, as influenced from the Egyptian and Mayan styles (New York Architecture). As can be observed, the trim is indeed a very natural organic shape. However these features are only present on the Yonge Street and College Street frontage. The back of the building, facing the park, while still maintaining a rather symmetrical and repetitive fenestration pattern, is sparse on decoration and entrances have been kept rather nondescript.

The focus of Eaton's College Street, as the store was known, was on furnishings and housewares, although the latter were very broadly defined. In fact, Eaton's boasted that the store was "the largest furniture and house furnishings store in the British Empire". The larger Eaton's Main Store, only a few blocks south on Yonge Street, was never closed, as had been originally intended in the 1920s, and Eaton's ran a shuttle bus between the two stores for two decades until the Toronto subway opened in 1954.

Life after Eaton's[edit]

College Park

With the opening of the Toronto Eaton Centre in 1977, the Eaton's Main Store and Eaton's College Street were both closed in favour of the new Eaton's flagship store at Yonge Street and Dundas Street. Fortunately, the College Street store was spared the fate of the former Main Store, which was demolished to make way for the second phase of the Eaton Centre construction. Instead, the College Street building was sold to new owners, and was rechristened College Park. The lower floors of the store were converted to a shopping mall of small, high-end boutiques and a subway concourse (with the marble and Art Deco stylings of the Eaton's store carefully preserved), and the upper floors were converted to nondescript office space.

Although the new owners had originally agreed to preserve the Seventh Floor, they eventually determined that its preservation and restoration was not financially feasible, and they applied for a demolition permit to convert the entire floor to office accommodation. After a lengthy court battle with the City of Toronto, the Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled in 1986 that the 1975 designation of the building under the Ontario Heritage Act protected the Seventh Floor from demolition. (See Re Toronto College Street Centre Ltd. and City of Toronto et al. (1986), 56 O.R. (2d) 522 (Ont. C.A.) Despite several changes in building ownership, and the efforts of local heritage advocates, the Seventh Floor was sealed off for many years and allowed to deteriorate; although it was protected by law, there was no legal obligation to use or restore it.

Over time, College Park was expanded through the addition of a residential apartment building in 1978 and a 30-storey glass and steel office building in 1984 (which housed the offices of the Maclean-Hunter media empire). Although neither addition was architecturally sympathetic to the original building, the heritage and architectural integrity of the former Eaton's store was somehow preserved.

Today[edit]

By the 1990s, it was clear that the boutique-concept shopping mall in College Park was not successful, in part due to the physical design of the ground floor of the building, which was intended for one retailer (Eaton's), not a series of boutiques. The elevator and pedestrian arcade running north-south along the interior east side of the building (along the Yonge Street frontage), while a notable aspect of the original design, prevented smaller retailers from having a significant street-front presence (or, for the most part, having direct access from Yonge Street). In 2001, City Council approved the construction of demising walls throughout the arcade, allowing for the use of the ground floor by four or five larger retailers, all with direct access onto Yonge Street. The mall now counts Winners, Metro, Pharma Plus, and Sobey's as anchor tenants. It has an entrance to the College subway station. A provincial court house occupies one of the upper floors. With the departure of Maclean-Hunter, the floors of 777 Bay are mainly used as office of various ministries of the Government of Ontario.

The heritage character of the building, which was perceived by previous owners as a liability and an obstacle in the late 1970s, was increasingly seen by subsequent owners as an important attribute. In the mid-1990s, the architect Joseph Bogdan was retained to design special lighting to highlight the crown and sides of the building at night, reinforcing its landmark status. More importantly, the Seventh Floor was eventually restored, after years of neglect, and was reopened in 2003 to much acclaim as The Carlu event venue. The restoration process began in 2001 with a $2,500,000 budget and no tenant. But later that year, new tenants Roick and Mark Robert came into the picture with an increased budget. Scott Weir of ERA Architects and Hadi Khouzam of WZMH Architects led the restoration of the space.

The raked floors were removed from the auditorium to return the space's original movable seating. Other modifications had to be made to the auditorium so that modern acoustical equipment could be used. Even the original Lalique fountain, which had long been believed lost, was restored to its place at the centre of the Round Room. The large kitchen in the Carlu was replaced with two smaller ones in different areas of the seventh floor. This made room for a new entertainment space to be added, the Sky Room. The venue's new name was chosen to honour the architect that had originally designed the space. Upgrades were also needed in the HVAC system. These updates were done without damaging or removing the original vents from the space. In 2008, The Clipper Rooms were re-envisioned and renovated by HGTV designer Sarah Richardson.

To the west of the College Park complex, lands originally assembled by Eaton's along Bay Street are now being redeveloped with residential buildings named the Residences of College Park. Although the various buildings on the former Eaton's lands are now all under separate ownership, the entire city block, including Barbara Ann Scott Park at its centre, is sometimes known by many as "College Park".

References[edit]

  1. ^ Osbaldeston, Mark. Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City that Might Have Been. p. 160. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Anderson, Carol; Mallinson, Katharine (2004). Lunch With Lady Eaton: Inside the Dining Rooms of a Nation. Toronto: ECW Press. ISBN 978-1-55022-650-8. OCLC 54005756. 
  • Morawetz, Tim. Art Deco Architecture in Toronto: a guide to the city's buildings from the Roaring 20s and the Depression. Toronto: Glue Inc., 2009. Print.
  • Osbaldeston, Mark. Unbuilt Toronto: A History of the City that might have been. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2008. Print.
  • Shoemaker, Lewis, and Gaylord Smith. "A Century of Monel Metal 1906–2006." JOM – Journal of the Minerals. 58.9 (2006): Print.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 43°39′39″N 79°23′00″W / 43.660929°N 79.383302°W / 43.660929; -79.383302