Monday, April 11, 2016

The Dineen Building, at Adelaide and Yonge Street

The Dineen Building in Toronto is emblematic of the challenges facing the city's most aesthetically contentious commercial strip -- downtown Yonge Street. This is what it looks like (as of last Saturday):

Clearly, someone has invested a great deal to bring this heritage building into the current millennium.

That "someone" is Clayton Smith of the Commercial Realty Group. I'm not fond of the glass enclosure at the top of the building, but otherwise I'd say Smith's architects (George Robb/George Popper) have done exemplary work.

Here's another shot (different digital "filter"). Notice the closed discount shoe place to the right (the north side of the building, both facing east).

If we continue south down Yonge Street, we see further restoration/upgrade efforts of a similar commitment under way.

Crossing the street and facing east, we have this to look at:

This is typical of this portion of Yonge Street, which begins at the south at Front Street and extends north to Bloor Street. The majority of store fronts suggest relatively low rents, and shelves stocked with goods that have "fallen" off the back of a truck.

Even after Queen Street "gentrified" into just another Mall of America, there is no shortage of these sorts of enterprises or commercial districts in Toronto. It could be argued that just about any North American down town is similarly populated, but what is notable about this particular stretch of Yonge is its proximity to Bay Street, and the vaunted TSX. It's been some years since I was last in NYC, so you tell me: are there discount shoe stores and sports nutrition franchises flanking Wall Street?

That building housing "Popeye's" caught my eye, as well -- though not for complimentary reasons. I wondered if, with its reliance on concrete as a means to an aesthetic end, it was an example of "Brutalism." If so, it would be a very early entrant -- this is the Lumsden (now "Dynamic") Building, built in 1910.

Here is some history of the Lumsden Building. I'm not as taken with the Lumsden as the author, but there's no denying its fascinating history (Turkish bath in the basement!), or the imprint it leaves on the immediate neighbourhood. As is, it poses direct aesthetic challenges to its surroundings, and the current attempts to rejuvenate aesthetic appeal and interest.

Here is a profile of Clayton Smith, prior to the Dineen's improvements. The restoration won honourable mention in the 2013 Heritage Toronto Awards. Here is the Dineen Coffee site.


paul bowman said...

Been meaning to come back to this for a while. It provokes me to think how little I know the cities I’ve known best, Baltimore and D.C., and how much less still I know the one — city of cities — I live in now.

I should be able to hazard a rough answer whether there are discount shoe stores and sports nutrition franchises flanking Wall St., since it hasn’t been long since I was down there. But my powers of observation never feel adequate to lower Manhattan. Always a bit bewildered (in finest anti-literal use of the word) walking around there. Over here in central Queens, I’m very much a foreigner, but I don’t feel like I’m from another planet.

On the fascinating Lumsden Bldg., briefly: definitely can’t be called brutalist, as brutalism refers not just to exposed concrete but, most directly, to a quality of finish (‘unfinished’ finish, you could say) of exposed concrete, and to a larger reaction in modernism that represents among other things a specific rejection of just what the Lumsden does, which is to be masonry-like on the surface even though it’s a form of steel rather than masonry construction. But that’s not to say that there might not be interesting historical lines to be traced between the peculiar instances of exposed-concrete skin in a skyscraper like the Lumsden, designed at beginning of the twentieth century on the cusp of modernism’s flowering, and the turn to a raw-er raw-ness in use of concrete among some second-generation modernists later (post-WW2, perhaps significantly) in the century. Started looking into it just a bit after first reading this post, but haven’t really had opportunity to dig. Might try to get a Baltimore architect I’m acquainted with, a guy who takes a good deal of interest in the loss of brutalist landmarks proceeding apace these days, to suggest where to go with that if I can come back to it.

Darrell Reimer said...

Well, you are momentarily off the hook re: Wall Street and environs -- but only for the moment.

As for the Lumsden -- not enough slab in the concrete to qualify for "Brutalism" I'll grant you. But I daresay he paved (ha!) the way. Funny how preservationists are keen on the style these days. Winnipeg has a "<a href=">public safety building</a>," where folks paid their parking tickets and bailed out miscreant loved ones, that some have tried to qualify as a heritage site. I'm rather fond of the place myself, but bringing it into the current century will require significant expenditure. I can understand why some are fond of the wrecking ball -- so long as they don't propose replacing the structure with something glassy.

Darrell Reimer said...

Wups -- getting sloppy.