Monday, November 26, 2012

Let It Go

Next week another request for demolition goes before Planning Committee. Labatt's wants to tear down an office building they own at 75 Bathurst Street in order to create more parking. The office was built about 1950.

Already, admirers of 20th-century buildings are getting themselves worked up. Apparently this is a Priority 1 on London's Heritage Inventory. Who'd have thought? Turns out the structure was once used by Silverwoods Dairy and is a prime example of International Style architecture.

This raises a number of questions:

  • Is the International Style really a style or just a replacement for style? Ever since it was created it's been criticized as stark, sterile and just plain boring.
  • Aren't there enough examples of the International Style internationally?
  • In a city that can't bring itself to save something really sweet like  Locust Mount, is anyone at City Hall going to listen if we try to convince them they need to save this?
  • If heritage conservationists try to save every single building, aren't our pleas for conservation taken less seriously?
  • Who's going to renovate this for some other use? And why would Labatt's sell it to them?
Frankly, the only good reason to save this building would be the general principle of reusing all structures instead of tossing more construction materials into landfill sites. That's not likely to convince Planning Committee. Let this one go.

Update, November 27: Planning Committee has OK'd demolition.

Location Location Location 2

In the age-old battle between individual and collective rights there's seldom a clear winner.

Take the battle over 591 Maitland Street for example. On the one side, a homeowner's right to do as she pleases with her own house, including tear it down and start afresh. On the other hand, the community's right to protect our shared built heritage from destruction.

A lot of nonsense has been spouted by both sides in this debate. Members of the Woodfield Community Association are being portrayed as elite impractical snobs trying to force a young couple to live in a shack. Heritage conservationists, on the other hand, talk as though this cookie-cutter home built in 1884 actually has great architectural merit somewhere under its aluminum siding. It doesn't. Even Yours Truly, Roaming Heritage Reporter, hasn't trudged over to Maitland Street to snap a pic. It's not worth braving the cold November wind.

Nevertheless, there's a good reason why this building shouldn't be demolished. It's in the West Woodfield Heritage Conservation District which makes it a designated building under the Ontario Heritage Act. Of course it can still be torn down with the permission of City Council. Several buildings have been torn down in West Woodfield already. But this case is grabbing lots of media attention. Many Londoners are watching the FP with bated breath for the next thrilling installment of the War In West Woodfield.

That means this case could set a notable precedent. Once it's been established that it's acceptable to tear down a house in an HCD, developers (or their children) can tear down another. And another. And another. And next thing you know it's not an HCD anymore. Demolitions have defeated the purpose.

So let's train potential buyers to research an older home before buying it. Get them to take along a checklist that includes questions like:

  • Is this house too small for my growing family?
  • Are the cracks in the foundation widening as I watch?
  • Will a strong wind blow it down?
  • Is it in a Heritage Conservation District?
  • If I volunteer to knock it down does the neighbourhood become a heritage combat zone?
If the answers to the above questions are "Yes," consider buying a house in White Oaks.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mural, Mural On The Wall...

Public art doesn't always appeal to everyone. And there will always be those who'll argue that the money spent on culture could be better used for social programmes.

Nevertheless, local artist Tracy Root's large mural beside the bicycle path under Oxford Street Bridge is worth a second look. Mainly sponsored by London Arts Council and London Cultural Office, Tracy's colourful painting shows rolling hills, picturesque farmhouses, and this male figure ploughing a field. The scene may remind passers-by of their childhood on the farm or of pleasant drives in the country.

We need more of these murals for several reasons: First, they brighten otherwise boring or ugly cement walls. Second, they promote and assist local artistic talent. Third, they act as interesting conversation pieces as walkers and cyclists stop, admire the artistry, and chat. Finally, historic scenes like this remind residents of former landscapes and industries, helping them to connect with their neighbourhood's past. Way to go, Tracy!