Saturday, March 29, 2014

Toronto's St. Jamestown

The north-west corner of St. Jamestown is an interesting piece of Toronto. An office building at the corner of Bloor and Sherbourne houses shops, a private college, and the main entrance to Sherbourne subway station. To the east is a busy fire hall, and to the south is a church. Yet this block also contains several abandoned houses, some of which are heritage properties. Some of these have been boarded/bricked up since before I first became aware of them in 2001.

The James Chalmers Building was demolished in 2006 following its collapse. It had been left unkempt by its owner despite its heritage designation. and remains a vacant lot to this day.

Its collapse also forced the evacuation of 4 Howard Street, which was subsequently boarded up to match its neighbours on Glen Road. The upset caused by these events helped lead to changes that allow the city to mandate ongoing maintenance.

It has long been suspected that the abandoned houses on Glen Road will meet the same fate as part of a gentrification scheme where buildings are allowed to collapse when they cannot legally be demolished. The street sees heavy foot traffic due to the east entrance to Sherbourne Subway Station, and for the still-inhabited homes. It has also been used regularly by film crews; a sign was posted this week to announce filming of a new television series. 14-16 Glen Road, as seen in the picture that can be accessed via the link above (this paragraph), is shown with windows and doors boarded on only one side. With 1 semi-detached home abandoned, the other inhabited renters for some time yet is now also sealed off from the public. The Anson Jones House on Sherbourne (beside 4 Howard Street) can be seen still inhabited on page 2 of the linked site, yet it also now sits boarded up.

Indeed, since the publication of the articles I have linked to, signs have appeared detailing extensive high-rise development proposals. Gentrification is not new to the area, evident in Tridel's postmodern condo building on Sherbourne (almost facing Howard Street) that adjoins an old Knights of Columbus hall which was moved forward several feet from its original site. As can be seen in the picture below, there has been some backlash. A faded sticker reading "Gentrification" can be seen at the top, and it has been graffiti-ed while the buildings remain untouched.
Most recently, fences have been erected around the Glen Road houses. The signs remain unchanged, so perhaps this is a sign of imminent changes to the St. Jamestown landscape.



Blogger Dan said...

Loved the photos. I would like to comment more but I'm busy. Suffice it for now that the fence image you left off with has its own historical past. This looks like an interesting read, so perhaps I'll return later. Very briefly though I was reminded of the fence we discussed in ANT204 when I took that with Leslie Jerymn in a lecture from Sep. 29 2010 on the early privatization of land.

4/01/2014 9:01 PM  
Blogger Matthew F said...

Thank you! I'll have to read about fences after finals... very interesting.

For some context on the photo of the vacant lot, the crem-coloured building to the left is the one that was evacuated and boarded following the collapse of the James Chalmers Building. The brown building beyond the lot is the fire hall, and to the right you can see the backs of the boarded buildings on Glen Road. The building at the far right, which you can just see the edge of, is still inhabited with stores and apartments above.

4/07/2014 11:55 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Thanks for this really informative post, Matthew. This reminds me of "obsolescence" which we talked a bit about in class - basically, the move to make a building or property seem underutilized, or operating below its maximum potential - so, not meeting its highest or best use. It's a neoliberal rationality that seems neutral in motivation, but of course is anything but. Urban space must be stigmatized before it can be valorized, and one quick way of doing this is actively neglecting it.

Making houses and blocks appear abandoned is a tactic that has been used by developers in the past as a way to aid in real estate profiteering.

4/09/2014 12:47 AM  
Blogger Sharon said...

here's an interesting NOW article about building abandonment, and what motivates this:

4/09/2014 12:51 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

"[No] structure should be boarded up during an affordable housing crisis."
How about, no structure should be boarded up PERIOD.

Where will people live? Do you want to live in a ghost town? What ever happened to altruism?

Matthew, a note on The Fence (1879): CH 1 very interesting, the summary of the Enclosure Acts in CH 2 very intesting (particularly "If an acre of land be worth sixpence before it is enclosed, it will be worth eight pence when it is enclosed"), the rest of the book much less interesting

4/13/2014 10:13 AM  
Blogger Matthew F said...

UPDATE: They are doing some work on the houses that are newly-fenced off (in the picture). They have removed most of the boards-- it's so strange to see light flowing through! I haven't been able to get any good pictures unfortunately, but will keep trying. They did replace the boards a few years back I remember, and also did some work on the rooves.

A man on the street saw me trying in vain to get a picture, and told me the houses were finally being torn down. He also told me that they had been boarded since the early 1960's, when most of the rest of the neighbourhood was razed and the familiar highrises were built. I haven't been able to verify his claims, however...

4/24/2014 10:03 PM  

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