The 1850s buildings on King Street, with a modern condo surrounding them.
In 1833, a year prior to the town of York being incorporated as a city and renamed Toronto, small shops with living spaces above them were constructed on the northeast corner of King Street East and Jarvis Streets. However these buildings were consumed in the Great Fire that began in the early-morning hours of April 7, 1849. The fire began in a stable on the east side of the 1850s buildings, where today there is a condo. The flames were visible across Lake Ontario, to the southwest, at St. Catherines. The conflagration destroyed many of the buildings on King Street and the surrounding area. Thus, most of the business district of the city of that decade was destroyed.
The buildings that are on the corner today, were constructed in 1850, to replace those that had been destroyed. They were built in accordance with the new fire codes that had been enacted. One of the new requirements was to build brick “party (parting)” walls between semi-detached structures. The “party” walls were shared by the occupants on either side. This helped prevented flames from spreading from one building to the other, as had occurred in the 1849 fire, though it did not prevent flames from spreading across roof tops.
Similar to the St. Lawrence Hall on the southwest corner of the intersection, the 1850s buildings were constructed of yellow bricks. They contain four storeys and a fifth storey under the slanted roof, which has dormer windows that permit as much daylight as possible to enter the interior spaces. In the 19th century, the tall brick chimneys that soar above the roof accommodated the large fireplaces within, since it was an era that lacked electricity and central heating.
The facades on King Street reflect the formal Georgian style. The cornice is plain but impressive, and beneath it is a row of large modillions that resemble dentils. Typical of Georgian-style structures, the dormer windows contain simple geometric detailing. The windows inserted into the brick facades are rectangular and large, dominating the facades that face Jarvis and King Streets. In the 19th century, the shops on the ground floor were eagerly sought as rentals since they were in close proximity to the St. Lawrence Market, where farmers delivered their produce from the surrounding countryside to eager shoppers in the city. While attending the market, farmers and shoppers alike visited the shops on King Street to satisfy other requirements necessary for daily life. This remains true today.
I can remember when these buildings were in poor condition, their bricks discoloured with the grime and soot of the passing years. However, rather than being demolished, they were restored in 1988 by the architectural firm of Clark Darling and Downey. The city is enriched by the survival of these 19th-century structures. They provide a tangible link to Toronto’s past. Their presence has influenced their surroundings, as the modern condos in the area contain more brickwork than otherwise might have been employed. The newer buildings compliment the older structures, creating a sense of cohesion and harmony rather than streetscapes dominated simply by walls of glass and concrete. Despite and hustle and bustle of the streets surrounding the St. Lawrence Market, especially on Saturday mornings, there is a sense of calm and order that a person senses when strolling in a heritage district.
The cornice at the top of the buildings with the row of modillions that resemble large dentils. One of the tall brick chimneys is visible, as well as a dormer window.
A dormer window inserted into the steeply sloped roof. Geometric designs can seen at the sides and above the window panes, which have been modernized.
The south facade of the buildings on King Street East.
This view reveals the east facade (right-hand side), where the flues for the chimney are visible. Unlike those on the west facade, they were constructed on the exterior of the brick wall.
On the west facade on Jarvis Street, the flues for the chimneys are enclosed within the walls.
One of the 19th-century style shops on the ground floor, though the woodwork is likely not the original.
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To view previous blogs about old movie houses of Toronto—historic and modern
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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