Thursday, November 4, 2010

Vestibulism on Springbank

Motorists driving along Springbank are treated to an unusual sight these days - a vestibule with no building attached. The former Kensal Park Baptist Church has been levelled, except for its front entranceway. Property owner Tim Owen says he wanted to incorporate the old building into the restaurant he's constructing but discovered the church's foundation was crumbling. Well of course it was. That's how we demolish buildings in London, by neglect. At any rate, one wonders what the cost difference is between repairing a foundation and tearing a building down in order to erect a new one in its place. One would think demolition and rebuilding would be more expensive.

As construction proceeds, it will be interesting to see how the vestibule looks. I suspect about as good as the bricks of the Talbot Streetscape hanging on the outside of the JLC. Or the frontages of the Bowles Building and Capitol Theatre with entirely new buildings behind. I've mentioned this before (see December 10, 2009) - the habit of preserving building facades and pretending we've preserved heritage. Only in the case of Kensal Park, it's not even a facade being preserved, just a vestibule. We've moved into vestibulism.

Restoration vs. Renovation

Some possible good news for an older building. The five-story block known as Jarvis Apartments on Princess Avenue is being renovated into affordable housing for seniors. At age 75, the 64-unit building was in poor condition, was a neighbourhood eyesore and definitely needed repair. Since cheap living in the core is a rarity, it's nice to know that the building is becoming part of an affordable housing project. According to a November 1 Free Press article, "Once-charming apartments restored," rents will be kept at 70% to 80% of market rates for the next 25 years. All electrical work and plumbing is being redone and new appliances added. If only we could get a few more projects like this for (ahem) those of us who AREN'T seniors perhaps I could live downtown again, walk to work, get exercise, do my part for the environment, attend downtown festivals without having to figure out where I'm going to park - all that good stuff.

But wait, further reading reveals that, instead of the original 64 apartments, there's going to be 53, with a range of bachelor, one and two-bedroom units. Woodfield Developments are adding laminate flooring and ceramic tiles. And the reporter adds "its new red brick exterior makes it look thoroughly modern." How much of the original building is left? Is a 1930s building improved by being made to look "thoroughly modern?" This isn't so much a restoration as a renovation, although many writers, including this one, seem to use the words interchangeably.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Sign of the Times

At last London City Hall plans to clamp down on "Farhi" signs. It's about time. I've been wondering for months why it was necessary for a big-time downtown landlord to let us know just how much of the city centre he owns by way of giant banners on all his properties. Sure Mr. Farhi has the right to advertise. It's just that a) many Londoners already suspect he owns nearly everything, b) he could use a little more subtlety, and c) his signs don't exactly add to the charisma of heritage buildings like Wright Lithographing (above). Interestingly, the banners contravene a city bylaw, but politicians have preferred looking the other way to taking on someone as apparently big and daunting as Farhi. Trouble is, every way you look downtown there's a Farhi sign and they're getting harder to disregard.