Hey there! I’m Steve Fudge, and I sell real estate.
Welcome to my blog on housing, culture, and design in the City of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Today I wanted to share my love for Toronto’s Edwardian architecture and, in particular, the adaptive reuse conversion of the former Bell Telephone Company’s world headquarters (circa 1911) into 12 custom contemporary lofts in Riverdale, a handsome residential neighbourhood located east of the Don Valley just north of Gerrard Street East.
Printers Row Lofts
As a housing conceptualist who was actively engaged in the adaptive reuse conversion of several small buildings into loft condominiums in the 90s and 00s, and a realtor who has specialized in the purchase and sale of unique urban homes for 30 years, I have enormous affection for Printers Row Lofts located at 525 Logan Avenue. Converted into 12 dramatic custom contemporary lofts in 2001, over the past 2 decades I’ve seen these 2 and 3-level incubators of domestic bliss evolve according to the wishes, wants and needs of each new incoming resident owner. And amazingly, as much as I marvel at seeing how each owner has transformed their private sanctuaries into personal style statements, I am equally in awe that these same owners are collectively committed to ensuring the building’s historic facade is architecturally restored and preserved.
Originally built in 1911 this eye-catching building was originally constructed as the Bell Telephone Company’s world headquarters. Designed by architect W. F. Carmichael, the complex was built for utility and purpose, with red brick – the most abundant and economical building material in Toronto at the time (and made at the Evergreen Brick Works located nearby in the Don Valley) – used to construct 18-inch thick exterior walls while the 12-inch floor plates comprise layers of concrete, brick and stone. The spatial configuration of the building comprised two floors each containing double-height spaces plus a lower level with generous ceilings.
Architecturally, the popular Edwardian fashion and flavour of the day followed the foundation of classical proportion, which is very much evident in the facade. The scale and rhythmic placement of the large vertical windows balance the brickwork, while the centre inset of the three panels comprising the front facade and the arrangement of the brick corbels each add some depth and dimension. The significant red stone stylobate (both in dimension and weight) delineating the two top floors from the lower level breaks the verticality of the building, visually anchoring it to the site while the understated wood cornice on the parapet frames this compositional confection.
Although when exactly Bell Telephone vacated this building is unknown, in 1959 the company purchased a large property directly behind this one on Simpson Avenue which is still in use to this day. At some point, Bell Telephone became the ABSO Blueprint Factory until it was purchased in 1998 for its conversion into loft condominiums.
The Adaptive Reuse Conversion Of 525 Logan Avenue
Completed and registered as a condominium in 2001, this boutique walk-up called Printers Row was converted by Bob Mitchell of Mitchell & Associates. Launching his business in 1982, I tip my hat to Bob because from day one his focus was on retrofitting and converting adaptive reuse buildings into one-of-a-kind loft condominiums, and he accomplished this by offering the original buyers the opportunity to custom-design and craft their property purchase to suit. Over the span of 3 decades, Bob’s project portfolio includes many of the smaller less-than-twenty-unit adaptive reuse conversions located in the central city including, amongst others, 41 Shanly Street, 75 Markham Street, 289 Sumach Street, 110 Hepbourne Street, 34 Claremont Street, 670 and 676 Richmond Street West, 525 Logan Avenue and 660 Pape Avenue.
In the City of Toronto, when a developer (or property owner) has a site or building that does not fully comply with the provisions of the Zoning By-law they can make an application to the Committee of Adjustment for a Minor Variance. A Minor Variance is when one requests small changes or exceptions to the existing land use, or to the development restrictions outlined in the Zoning By-law, in an effort to achieve the highest and best use of the site while respecting the objectives of the city and its local ratepayers’ associations.
In the case of 525 Logan Avenue (and most small adaptive reuse conversions in Toronto to date), Mitchell & Associates sought to change the commercial-industrial use of the property to a residential one, citing it would be more compatible with the existing fabric of the neighbourhood. They also sought permission to sever the 25×110 foot parcel on the south side of the building for the construction of a new freehold dwelling while requesting minor variances for all the issues associated with the existing as-built structure that did not fully comply with the City bylaws, like granting permission for its height and allowing the building to span the entire width of the property by having a zero-lot-line. As part of the conversion process, they requested approvals to add a one-level structure at grade for parking and lockers that would be ten feet wide and run the same length as the existing building on the south side. On the roof of this new addition, private terraces for the six lofts on the first level would be created, while permission was granted to add a discrete but spacious mezzanine living level with exclusive-use roof terraces on top of the existing roof for the six lofts on the second level. This resulted in the first level having five 2-storey and one 3-storey unit (which includes a portion of the lower level on the streetside of the building), and six 3-storey lofts with roof terraces on the second and new mezzanine level. Each of these 12 units has secure deeded parking.
I had the good fortune of first meeting Bob in 1991 when I was completing my research on adaptive reuse conversions as part of a Graduate Degree in Environmental Studies at York University. He was very generous in mentoring his time, knowledge, and guidance, including teaching me how the art of conversion requires a blend and balance of pragmatism and imagination. He also became a client after I launched my real estate career, hiring me to sell and market several existing and pre-construction lofts. In fact, I personally placed six of the 12 original Buyers here in Printers Row, in addition to the Buyers of the house constructed next door at 523 Logan Avenue.
Printers Row is a well-executed example of how ingenuity, time, capital and hard work can take a utilitarian near-obsolete place of industry and transform it into an inviting near-new place of domesticity. For those coveting these unique urban homes, patience and persistence are required given units in existing conversions don’t come to market frequently and, after 4 decades since the birth of the adaptive reuse conversion market in Toronto, there is a limited pool of properties remaining where it would still be economically viable to undertake (the more recent adaptive reuse conversions are churches and community halls). Today, any properties that allow greater density and height than the existing buildings on those sites will likely be demolished for new construction unless there is a heritage designation which may see the facades saved.
I don’t lament this but it’s unfortunate, because the philosophy of the adaptive reuse conversion market has, as its core values, a commitment to respect and preserve the existing urban fabric of the site and the community it surrounds, the tacet understanding that the retention, retrofit and restoration to respecting a site’s structural resilience, environmental history, architectural integrity, and local vernacular results in rewards that are more sustainable, collectively beneficial, and rooted in community and place.
Wouldn’t you adore an urban dwell ensconced in such rich history and beautiful architecture?
Offered for the first time on MLS in 2022, Loft 105 in Printers Row is the epitome of stylish urban living. Wrapped in the roots of history while boasting the conveniences of modern living, this elegant voluminous space has 979 square feet spread over 2 levels inside, and an exceptional 175 square foot south-facing terrace with gas barbecue hook-up, electrical outlets and water line!
This place is special – and we’re so grateful to have SOLD it to an excited new owner! A Sun-Kissed Contemporary Loft In Riverdale’s Printers Row
Curious about Toronto’s vintage housing stock? Here are a few helpful pieces:
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