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Thursday, August 1, 1974

Toronto: Architectural walk

ublished: Globe & Mail, Toronto.

A seven-block walk of architectural whims

by Griffith Evans

Originally illustrated with six photographs by Globe & Mail photographer Dennis Robinson.
I wonder whether anyone else has an interesting walk to the subway as I do? Do people even notice? I must admit that the weather in winter inhibits observation. Most of the points of interest are well above eye level, and the biting wind tends to keep eyes firmly focused on the sidewalk. On the seven blocks I walk, along Yonge Street from Briar Hill to Eglinton, the roving eye can find at least half a dozen features of the older buildings that are a delight. No doubt others have their own favorites.
On the corner of St Clements Avenue stands the North Toronto YWCA. On the whole it is an unimpressive concrete building with large picture windows, usually filled with notices about activities for liberated mothers. However, if you let your eyes pass upward, the most amazing riot of art deco confronts you. Above each window is a large grey, metal panel about half as big as the window and covered with an intricate design of whorls and circles. As if this were not enough, High on the roof line, a magnificent eagle carries a two-sided clock – it is a solid squat bird with the faces of the clock rising up between its wings.
Farther down Yonge Street on the same side, the Capitol Cinema building stands on the corner of Castlefleld, here above the shop signs is a feature of some interest— fluted pilasters, venetian windows and some thin Adamesque designs. On the opposite side of Yonge, we find our next treasure -- and what a treasure, for me, it makes the whole walk worth it even on the coldest days. On the facade, up above the plastic and neon sign advertising Nino's pizza house, i s the full face -- stark white against the yellow-brown brick -- of a roaring lion. It is pleasingly framed In a line of white cornice.
Now back to the original side -- to Shaw's college, the one building that redeems this block. Shaw's has a plastered Spanish look, and you should notice in particular the rainpipes, and the boxes at the point that they disappear into the walls -- they are of a smart black against the creamy stucco of the building.
The next point of interest is the police station. The building itself is fairly dull -- grey stone with some Egyptian style ornament relieved with some yellow-grey brick. However, the light fixtures on the doors are worth a glance. I particularly liked the one on the door farthest north -- it has a delightful nineteen thirties touch.
Our next building for close examination is another gem of the nineteen thirties -- to be precise 1936 -- it must be one of the few buildings in the Commonwealth to display the insignia of King Edward VIII. This, of course, is the post office. In front of the main door stand two slim columns supporting stylized -- not my style I am afraid, I prefer that full blooded lion over Nino's -- Lion and Unicorn supporters of the Canadian and Quebec coats of arms. The real finds on this building are four small bas-reliefs high up on the building.
These represent four current modes of transportation -- on the front of the building, ship and rail; on the north side, a streamlined vehicle, a nd on the south side, best of all. a seaplane with fat squashy pontoons.
Farther on, the block from the post office down is gradually being engulfed with a rising vertical tide of development. On these new buildings, there are no bas-reliefs or odd decorations for tomorrow's walker to discover and enjoy.
Mr. Evans is a Toronto teacher.

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