Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A New Old Building Downtown

Bud Gowan, owner of Bud Gowan Antiques, is retiring at last. While London will miss both the man and his store, at least we don't have to wonder what will happen to his historic building. 387 Clarence Street has been sold to John and Nancy Fyfe-Millar who plan to renovate most of it into apartments. It's positive news for an historic building in the core area.

Built in 1892 for the Featherbone Corset Company, the structure has had many uses over the years. In the 1940s and 50s it was home to London Shoe Company, as evidenced by the cool "ghost sign" high on the north side. What are ghost signs, you ask? They're faded signs painted years ago by former business owners on older commercial buildings. They provide us with interesting links to London's retail and manufacturing history.

Update, August 19, 2013 - For more details on ghost signs see this London Free Press article.

Update, September 14, 2013 - The Fyfe-Millars held an open house late this afternoon so guests could view the building after Phase 1 of its restoration. Visitors descended to the basement to view the foundations, then climbed the circular stairs to inspect the second, third, and fourth floors. Some folks had a ride in the elevator - London's oldest, shown at left - which is truly an experience in itself. We also had the opportunity to sign a guest book that was enclosed in a lined soft cover salvaged during the restoration.

Rumour has it the ground floor may become a bistro or bar while commercial space will be available on the second floor. An excellent opportunity for a business wishing to locate in the core. Many thanks to John and Nancy for providing us with a chance to prowl inside a great building!

Update, September 2015: The reconstruction project will begin in October and is to be called The Featherbone Building after the corset company. Bravo John and Nancy! This is all so much better than having a certain developer slap his own name on a building and let it sit empty ...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Heritage in the Core

London's Planning and Environment Committee has received  a demolition request for 199 Queens Ave., an attractive Italianate with a large ugly addition. The owner, Farhi Holdings, apparently has plans for the site. Note the building is a Priority 2 structure on London's Inventory of Heritage Resources and is located within the proposed Downtown Heritage Conservation District. Built about 1880, the structure is within walking distance of the Grand Theatre and other downtown attractions. It would make a nice setting for a classy restaurant or boutique hotel. 

Anyone concerned about this should attend the public participation meeting on the second floor of City Hall, at 7:30 pm on Monday, September 24, 2012. While Planning Committee may decide to permit demolition, partial demolition, or refuse demolition altogether, a good showing from the heritage community might tip the scale in our favour.

Update, September 25, 2012: Planning Committee has delayed a decision on this building's future for 45 days while Mr. Farihi and city staff look for a way to incorporate the old building into the proposed new highrise. Kudos to committee members for attempting to save parts of the building rather than automatically granting a demolition permit. However, if incorporating the old structure into the new one means another absurdity such as the hanging of the Talbot Block on the outside of the JLC, it might be better to demolish it. Our cultural legacy should not appear incongruous and silly.

Update, October 15, 2012: Permission has been granted to demolish the building.

Update, February 8, 2013: Walked by this building today. It's weird watching a demolition in a snowstorm.  The front porch is gone already and soon this building will be a memory.

Update, June 15, 2015: Surprise, surprise. The site is still a parking lot.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

This Bud's For You...

Budweiser Gardens. It may sound like the name of your favourite patio but no, it's the new name for the John Labatt Centre. The new sign is up already, thus expunging the name of the oldest continuous industry in London and replacing it with the King of Beers. Another blow to London's heritage - cheers!