Thursday, November 29, 2007

Straighten up, Toronto!

There are a lot of differences between Toronto and Montreal. Bagels, for one. Toronto bagels: not so hot. Montreal bagels: The best.
Oh, yeah, and language for another. Toronto: English. Montreal: French. Unlike the bagels, neither language is better than the other.
Now I've discovered another difference - and a shocking one - between Canada's two major cities: children's posture.

These are Montreal children walking to school. Their posture is so impeccable, they could carry their books on their heads (if their heads were flat, which they clearly aren't). Their stride suggests a sense of purpose. Possibly even joy.

What of the youths of Toronto? Apart from the surrounding city looking an unhealthy yellow, these children are slouching, shuffling, dispirited.
Hold your heads high, youth of Toronto. Straighten up! Put a spring in your step! (It's not officially winter yet anyway.)

Okay, I'll post architecture stuff next time.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Our Lady of York (aka Deeds Speak)

Last Monday, the sculpture of the woman (let's call her Our Lady of York) was taken down from the 60 Richmond Street East building. I was able to document how half of the job was done.

When I arrived at the site, wearing my new steel-toed boots and hard hat, the Lady had been freed from her surrounding brick and was bundled up to protect her from potentially damaging bumps on the way down.
(The relief is about 4 inches, but she was mounted on another piece of concrete, so that her total weight is probably about a ton.The County of York coat of arms, with its "Deeds Speak" motto, had been taken down several days before.)
The guys from Bird Construction began sloooowly lowering her ... and then found the board they'd propped up to ease her down wouldn't work. So they scrambled to find a new board ... which worked just fine.

But as she got nearer the ground, it became apparent that the chain holding her from the top wasn't long enough.
So the guys took a break, sent for a longer chain... and I had to go to my real job. The Lady hung there until she was taken down either later that day or on Tuesday.
I wasn't able to get back to the site to see the complete removal, so I don't know what the next steps would have been: how they'd get all 1,000 pounds of her from an upright position to the horizontal (presumably) to move her to a storage facility.
Where she will end up is a bit uncertain. I talked to Leslie Gash at Toronto Housing, and she'd like to see Our Lady put on the the new building. But the building's design doesn't look like the right style for Our Lady. See renderings of the new building included in this Globe and Mail story by John Bentley Mays.
Leslie said she supposed Our Lady could go inside the building, but she thought the sculpture really ought to be out where it can be seen.
That's my feeling exactly. It drives me nuts when these pieces, executed by some of our leading sculptors, are removed when a building is remodeled - and then put inside, where no one but indifferent employees can see them. The Rogers building at 333 Bloor Street East (a part of the complex where I work) is probably the worst offender, for reasons I outline in Faces on Places.
And that involved a Jacobine Jones sculpture too.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A chip off the old...

...John Kay Macdonald, founder of Confederation Life.
He was immortalized on the south side of the original Confederation Life building at Richmond and Yonge, along with portraits of three of the architects.

When I led a small but enthusiastic Faces on Places walking tour past the building on Saturday, we noticed that JK was missing a chunk from his cap.
It's a designated heritage building, so I'll look into whether there's any way to get JK repaired.

MARINA CITY UPDATE: Lynn Becker, on his ArchitectureChicago PLUS blog, reports that the Marina Towers Condo Association Board has passed its wrong-headed rule requiring people who want to photograph and publish images of Marina Towers to seek its permission and pay royalties. Only now it's citing trademark law rather than copyright. Lynn, a Marina City resident, is so fed up that he's said he won't write about this subject again "unless the MTCA board is actually stupid enough to try to enforce it."

Monday, November 19, 2007

New Loring and Wyle bio launched

Congratulations to Elspeth Cameron (at the left in the picture on the right) whose new biography of Florence Wyle and Frances Loring was launched on Sunday at David Mirvish Books.
The book—And Beauty Answers: The Life of Frances Loring and Florence Wyle (Cormorant)—is a comprehensive look at the life and times of these two American-born Canadian sculptors. If you haven't heard of them, that's not surprising. Canada hasn't really celebrated its artists—other than the Group of Seven and Emily Carr.

When I discussed my Merle Foster project with Sally Gibson (on the left in the picture on the left), and mentioned that Merle was a contemporary of Loring and Wyle, she told me that Elspeth was working on a new biography of them. I Googled Elspeth, who I knew was an award-winning biographer of Canadian literary figures, and found that she was giving a talk about Loring and Wyle in April at Rodman Hall in St. Catharines. I contacted her and told her I'd be attending her talk and would like to interview her for my book afterward. She very generously offered to put me up in her home after the talk, and then spent the entire next day discussing Merle, Loring, Wyle, sculpture, sculptors and more with me. When I left, she gave me a copy of her manuscript. That was a big help in organizing my thinking about Merle Foster—and I got to read it months before it was published.
So I know whereof I speak when I recommend this book to anyone interested in the lives of two extraordinary women whose stories aren't well enough known. (And yes, they're the subjects of the "Loring and Wyle Parkette" at the corner of Mount Pleasant Road and St. Clair Avenue East.)

Not to take anything away from Elspeth, I should explain who Sally Gibson is. Formerly with the City of Toronto Archives, she's currently a heritage consultant at Toronto's Distillery District. She also recently published an award-winning book on life inside Toronto buildings at the turn of the last century (Inside Toronto: Urban Interiors 1880s to 1920s (Cormorant)) which features Merle Foster's aunt on the cover. Sally's book won Heritage Toronto's Award of Excellence and was short-listed for the Toronto Book Award.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Deeds speak, the saga continues

This is just a quick, pictureless update on the 60 Richmond Street East building. The County of York coat of arms has already been taken down and I'll be notified when the sculpture of the woman is removed so I can photograph her descent and - I hope - her standing next to a man of normal height, just to show off the sculpture's 7.5-foot height.
I'm getting information about how these pieces are going to be reused, and also the fate of the heritage plaque that was mounted on the Berti Street side of the building. There's been too much going on in my other life (my day job) to post much here, but I will gather all that information and update, with pictures, on the weekend.
Again, please stand by.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Deeds speak

Faces on Places was released in June 2006, and a month later, one of the 65 buildings in the book was torn down. It was the 12-storey National Building on Bay Street which I included because of the griffins over the front door. The capitals were modelled by Merle Foster, whose biography I am writing, so I had hoped to return to photograph those details. In its place, the Bay-Adelaide Centre (with its highest tower at 50-odd storeys, the oddness depending on what you read) is going up, and will have a facade of the National Building pasted onto one corner of the new building's gleaming glass. Take a look here to see how ridiculous this will look.

Now I see that another building is coming down. The 60 Richmond Street East building is a fairly nondescript two-storey red brick building that started life in 1946 as the York County Registry Office. Since then, it has been a variety of municipal buildings, and most recently was a combination drop-in/shelter for men. It is going to become a 12-storey, 85-unit community housing building, with most of the units replacing Regent Park Housing.

I don't think the building itself is such a loss, but I was concerned about the sculptures—the County of York coat of arms with its "Deeds Speak" motto (above) on the Berti Street side and a woman standing atop the coat of arms on the Richmond side, both of which were sculpted by Jacobine Jones.
The foreman on the site said they're being salvaged for the city. I thought that might be the case when I saw bricks missing from around the coat of arms.

I've been trying to find out who in which City of Toronto department I need to contact to find out where the sculptures are going.

Watch this space.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Go ahead and shoot

Thanks to Lynn Becker, a writer on Chicago architecture, for letting me use this image (which he created) and for bringing attention to a ludicrous situation that many architectural photographers have run up against in other places. The condo association at Chicago's iconic Marina City towers, in a move he describes as "equal parts loony and arrogant," wants photographers to get the association's "express written permission" to take pictures of the building. The association says that because of "the architectural significance of our building," it holds a "common law copyright on the use of the Association name and building image," under state and federal law.
In fact, copyright is an area of federal law, in the U.S. and in Canada, and neither piece of legislation forbids taking and publishing pictures of buildings. I had reason to check that area of Canada's Copyright Act when I started shooting in earnest for Faces on Places when someone cautioned me against shooting her building. I know of at least one other Toronto architectural photographer who has also run up against that.
For the full story, see Lynn's ArchitectureChicago PLUS blog (see Links in the left column).
Lynn (who I bet gets more mail addressed to Ms. Becker than I do for Mr. Murray) lives at Marina City and says the association board is going to vote on this groundless rule on 15 November. If it passes, he challenged the board to come after him for shooting and posting or publishing photos of the building. "If you're so dead set on embarrassing the building, the board, its residents, and - come to think of it - the very notion of intelligent human life, I will be a willing co-conspirator in getting your buffoonery the widest possible audience," he wrote.
Glad to help you, buddy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Have you seen this man?

I understand the need for pictograms, but what is this one saying? That you shouldn't steal? That you shouldn't dress up in the way movies portray burglars? Burglars not allowed? This sign appears in a parking gararge in Yorkville and is meant to warn car-parkers not to leave valuables in their cars because these forbidden burglars might make off with them. The valuables, that is. Or maybe just the poorly packed but eco-friendly shopping bags.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I just got this back from the framing shop at the end of my street. It's an Award of Merit from Heritage Toronto that was awarded to Faces on Places... well me, actually, and House of Anansi Press, my publisher, last month. I didn't mean to be ungrateful — the frame was okay — I just wanted to get UV glass.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Small world

I came home from a conference in Chicago in late September with two 1GB memory cards full of pictures—pictures from the conference as well as the gargoyles and other architectural critters I found. Somewhere between my study and a friend's car, waiting at the curb, I lost one of the cards. Sugar and I retraced my steps three times, and he took the back seat out of the car twice—but still no card. Until yesterday... when I found the bloody thing in the magazine basket in my living room. It must have flipped out of my hand or pocket somehow as I was walking out, and landed neatly in the magazine rack that I never use and noticed only because I bent down to pick up one of the cat's toys which had come to rest in front of it.
Either that or the cat gently dropped it in the magazine rack after batting it around the apartment for the last six weeks.

The headshot files on the card were no good to me now, seeing as I'd already written the stories that they would have illustrated. But I was glad to be reunited with my architecture pictures.
Such are the hazards of miniaturization—or having a jealous cat.