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Toronto’s 1881 row of shops at 388-396 Queen West

08 Dec

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The above photo reveals an impressive row of shops on Queen Street West, near the northwest corner of Queen and Spadina. The shops are contained within a single block, built in 1881. Ever since it was constructed, it has dominated the north side of the street, west of Spadina. Beside the blocks, on its east side, is a busy McDonald’s Restaurant, a familiar landmark in the neighbourhood. It is frequented by customers throughout the day and well into late-night hours. However, few who enter the hamburger outlet notice the row of shops, located to the west of it. Perhaps this is because they are no longer as attractive as when they were first constructed. Time has taken a heavy toll on the block containing the five shops.

The facade of the block is symmetrical in design, a feature common to many late-19th century buildings. It was constructed of yellow and red bricks from the brickyards of Toronto, although gazing at it today it is difficult to determine their original colours. The shop on the east side of the group, number 388, was cleaned at some time in the past, revealing the original surface (see photo below). Three of the other shops in the block, have bricks that have been painted, hiding their colours. The shop in the centre of the group, number 392, has been allowed to darken with soot and grime, and it is now a dark grey.

Similar to the old Gurney Iron Works at King and Brant Streets, in their day, the five buildings at 388-396 Queen were extremely attractive. The five shops share a common cornice at the top. It has simple unadorned lines. The slate tiles on the narrow Mansard-style roof beneath the cornice are arranged in a fish-scale pattern. A triangular pediment divides the cornice into two sections and contains the 1881-date that the building was constructed. Below the top cornice is another cornice that is more elaborate, and it has modillions under it. The modillions (brackets) remain on the west side of this cornice, but the ones on the east have vanished. Architectural adornments such as modillions often disappear from buildings over time, as unless properly maintained, they are in danger of falling to the sidewalk below.

The windows on the third floor are rectangular and spacious, well suited to an era without electric lighting. The windows on the second floor are larger, allowing even more natural light to enter the interior. This suggests that the second floor spaces were rented as work shops or for trades that required excellent lighting, and that the third floor contained residential apartments. As previously stated, there are five shops in the block. Constructing large buildings and sub-dividing them into smaller rental spaces became popular for investors in the latter decades of the 19th century, because land prices were steadily increasing as the city expanded.

The postal numbers of the shops have changed since the latter decades of the 19th century, but I will employ the modern address numbers only. In 1880, prior to the construction of the block, there was already a building on the northwest corner of Spadina and Queen, at number 386. Today, a McDonald’s Restaurant is on this site. However, west of this, extending to Cameron Street, the city lots remained empty fields. The Toronto Directories reveal that the corner premises at 386 was the grocery store of Henderson and Company. The building that today contains numbers 388-396 Queen West were all rented by 1884. From east to west (388 to 396), the shops were Mrs. Jones Dry Goods (388), S. Chapman Druggist (390), William Hollingworth boots, (392), William Henley furniture (394), and T. E. Perkins photographer (396). Today, the shops contain quite different enterprises, but the block remains a vital part of the Queen West retail scene. 

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The triangular pediment, high above the street, displaying the year the building was constructed. The bricks are now badly soiled with soot and grime.

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The upper cornice with its straight unadorned lines, and the narrow Mansard-style roof with slate tiles in a fish-scale pattern. Below it is the lower cornice with the modillions (brackets) below it. Under the modillions is a row of dentils (teeth-like ornamentations.) 

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The shops, numbers 394 and 396, on the west side of the block. The apparel shop occupies two of the original shops from 1881.

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(Left-hand photo) shows the shop in the centre position (392), which is now a popular sandwich shop. (Right photo) The linen/towel store occupies two of the former shops (numbers 388 and 390). 

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The third floor of the shop on the east side of the building (number 388). The original colours of the bricks are evident. Much care was given to the patterns of the bricks, which contributes to the overall attractiveness of the facade. (photo, 2013)

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Gazing west along Queen Street from the the southwest corner of Spadina Avenue and Queen Street. On the right-hand (east) side of the 1881 block of shops can be seen a small portion of the McDonald’s Restaurant.  Picture taken in 2012.

Bargain Harold's

This undated photo from the City of Toronto Archives shows the building on northwest corner of Spadina and Queen, prior to the construction of the cafe that became the McDonald’s Restaurant. The 1881 block is evident on the left-hand (west) side of Bargain Benny’s, which was demolished. In this photo, the shop at 388 was a drug store.

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After Bargain Benny’s was demolished, a cafe was built on the site. The cafe is where the McDonald’s is located today. The 1881 block of shops can be seen next to it, on the left. This photo, taken in 2012.

NW corner, Queen and Spadina

This undated photo shows the cafe that was on the corner of Queen and Spadina prior to it being a McDonald’s. May’s Deli is closed in the picture, possible awaiting its reopening as a part of the hamburger chain. The 1881-block is evident on the left.

To view the Home Page for this blog: https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/

To view links to other posts placed on this blog about the history of Toronto and its buildings:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/links-to-historic-architecture-of-torontotayloronhistory-com/

To view the links to posts that rediscover Toronto’s old movie houses:

https://tayloronhistory.wordpress.com/2013/10/09/links-to-toronto-old-movie-housestayloronhistory-com/

Recent publication entitled “Toronto’s Theatres and the Golden Age of the Silver Screen,” by the author of this blog. The publication explores 50 of Toronto’s old theatres and contains over 80 archival photographs of the facades, marquees and interiors of the theatres. It also relates anecdotes and stories from those who experienced these grand old movie houses.  

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                To place an order for this book:

https://www.historypress.net/catalogue/bookstore/books/Toronto-Theatres-and-the-Golden-Age-of-the-Silver-Screen/9781626194502 .

      Theatres Included in the Book

Chapter One – The Early Years—Nickelodeons and the First Theatres in Toronto

Theatorium (Red Mill) Theatre—Toronto’s First Movie Experience and First Permanent Movie Theatre, Auditorium (Avenue, PIckford), Colonial Theatre (the Bay), thePhotodome, Revue Theatre, Picture Palace (Royal George), Big Nickel (National, Rio), Madison Theatre (Midtown, Capri, Eden, Bloor Cinema, Bloor Street Hot Docs), Theatre Without a Name (Pastime, Prince Edward, Fox)

Chapter Two – The Great Movie Palaces – The End of the Nickelodeons

Loew’s Yonge Street (Elgin/Winter Garden), Shea’s Hippodrome, The Allen (Tivoli), Pantages (Imperial, Imperial Six, Ed Mirvish), Loew’s Uptown

Chapter Three – Smaller Theatres in the pre-1920s and 1920s

 Oakwood, Broadway, Carlton on Parliament Street, Victory on Yonge Street (Embassy, Astor, Showcase, Federal, New Yorker, Panasonic), Allan’s Danforth (Century, Titania, Music Hall), Parkdale, Alhambra (Baronet, Eve), St. Clair, Standard (Strand, Victory, Golden Harvest), Palace, Bedford (Park), Hudson (Mount Pleasant), Belsize (Crest, Regent), Runnymede

Chapter Four – Theatres During the 1930s, the Great Depression

Grant ,Hollywood, Oriole (Cinema, International Cinema), Eglinton, Casino, Radio City, Paramount, Scarboro, Paradise (Eve’s Paradise), State (Bloordale), Colony, Bellevue (Lux, Elektra, Lido), Kingsway, Pylon (Royal, Golden Princess), Metro

Chapter Five – Theatres in the 1940s – The Second World War and the Post-War Years

University, Odeon Fairlawn, Vaughan, Odeon Danforth, Glendale, Odeon Hyland, Nortown, Willow, Downtown, Odeon Carlton, Donlands, Biltmore, Odeon Humber, Town Cinema

Chapter Six – The 1950s Theatres

Savoy (Coronet), Westwood

Chapter Seven – Cineplex and Multi-screen Complexes

Cineplex Eaton Centre, Cineplex Odeon Varsity, Scotiabank Cineplex, Dundas Square Cineplex, The Bell Lightbox (TIFF)

 

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