York Square: To Preserve or Not (Built Heritage News)

York Square: To Preserve or Not 
Catherine Nasmith
Historic View of York Square, Published around the world
Proposal at 9:50 am Friday, January 16


“I had one night to enjoy the moment.” said Linda Lewis.

On Tuesday a notice arrived saying that the bylaw designating York Square, at the corner of Yorkville and Avenue Road, had been passed by Toronto City Council.

On Wednesday, Linda received a second notice that the application for a 40 storey condo building on the same site was moving ahead. “Its back into the fray,” said Linda. This site is directly north of the east wing of the Ontario Legislative Assembly, so this development could also be one more building looming behind Ontario's democratic symbols.

The Toronto Branch of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, led by executive member Linda Lewis worked tirelessly for two years for protection of York Square. By way of disclosure, I should say I am President of ACO Toronto, and worked alongside Linda Lewis for this designation.

If ever there was a designation report that was OMB proof this is it. The research and reasons are rock solid. Since the motion passed Toronto East York Community Council things have been eerily quiet on that file…the Pollyanna in me hoped the designation had discouraged the developer, or voided the sale of the property.

York Square is emblematic of all that the 1970’s reform Council fought for, and won. The iconic 1968 design by then newly arrived architects Diamond and Myers expressed all that was “Jane Jacobs”. It was the first project in the world to buck the urban renewal (removal) trend and work with existing historic buildings to make something uniquely new. Rightly acclaimed worldwide by urban designers and architects, it became the template for Yorkville developments. It is the first of three groundbreaking designs by the same firm; Dundas-Sherbourne and the Hydro Block followed, proving that Toronto could develop without sacrificing its past. Projects like the National Ballet School by successor firm KPMB with Goldsmith Borgal come from the same font of ideas that have since become hallmarks of Toronto design.

Even without the laws we have today, that 1970’s Council managed to save a lot of Toronto. Ontario now has strong heritage protection laws, but will Toronto City Council have the confidence to defend this modest, yet highly significant project? York Square’s destruction 45 years later would be an ironic victory for a development industry on government steroids.

The property had been in the same family since it was developed. The buildings sit empty now, longstanding commercial tenants evicted. The restaurants are closed. Recent property tax hikes driven by speculative property values set by the province based on what might happen on the site, not what is there, forced a sale.

A public meeting on the proposal will be held next week (see events). If you go to the website you will see the previous scheme. The actual proposal is expected to be posted on January 16, for a January 22 meeting. Here’s the link.

Go to the meeting. Pray for a miracle.