This isn't the sort of thing I normally write about history. For one thing, I'm generally optimistic about London's heritage record. We've lost some buildings, true, but we've kept many more. Indeed, many of the building's I'm going to talk about were replaced by buildings we value today for their heritage value. Dundas between Talbot and Wellington boasts a nearly continuous string of architecturally interesting buildings on both sides of the street. For another thing the article sounds vaguely clickbaity. "You won't believe these 10 buildings London's torn down!" (Editor's note: I went with this title despite Benjamin's reservations). But with these caveats out of the way, I want to take a walk down Dundas Street from the River to Waterloo and talk briefly about some of the landmarks the city has lost.
The Middlesex County Courthouse
This seems like an odd building to highlight at first glance. After all, the courthouse is obviously still standing - a fine structure on the southwest corner of Dundas & Ridout dominated by a large tower. The tower, however, dates to 1878, and replaced the structure's original facade, the one which Anna Jameson famously referred to as "Somewhat Gothic". The 1826 facade had none of the delicacy of the present facade. Rather, it feels like a classical building dressed up in a gothic disguise, a unique architectural design which I'm not familiar with a parallel to anywhere else on the continent. According to tradition the structure was built in imitation of Malahide Castle in Ireland, Thomas Talbot's boyhood home.
Perrin Biscuits Factory
At the turn of the century Dundas Street was bookended by two large biscuit factories, both of which have since been demolished. Located on the north side of Dundas about midway between Talbot & Ridout, D.S. Perrin's factory was established on the site in the mid-nineteenth century and rebuilt several times over the course of its existence. The factory's iconic tower, dominating the western stretch of Dundas in the late nineteenth century, was demolished when the factory was rebuilt in 1912, and the entire complex was removed in the 1970s, replaced with the current courthouse.
The City Hotel
Better known as the Talbot Inn, the City Hotel was one of the best works of Samuel Peters, London's first resident architect and the architect of the Edge Block on the southeast corner of Dundas & Richmond. The building as Londoners remember it was actually the structure's second form. Peters had designed a smaller structure on the corner, but in the 1870s the building was dramatically expanded with the addition of a Second Empire roofline and five additional bay to the west. The building was the subject of one of London's most intense heritage fights, and on August 27th, 1988 fifteen hundred Londoners forming a human chain around the Talbot Block, stretching along the west side of Talbot Street from Dundas to King. Demolition, of the Talbot Block, however, occured in 1991, with the City Hotel surviving until 2000.
The Gothic Hall
B.A. Mitchell's pharmacy rebuilt their facade three times starting in the 1860s, and always using Gothic detailing to create one of the most impressive storefronts on Dundas. The image shows the 1878 facade, designed by Watson & Constantine.
Ontario Loan Building
The Ontario Loan & Debenture Company was founded in 1872, one of several financial institutions established in the late nineteenth century as London was establishing itself as Southwestern Ontario's financial capital. Seven years later, in 1879, they commissioned Samuel Peters to design them a large new office building on Market Lane, where Fanshawe's present-day downtown campus is located.
Federal Bank of Canada
The current structure on the northeast corner of Dundas & Richmond is at least the fourth building on the site, and the third bank. The first bank was an impressive Second Empire structure designed by George Durand in 1878. At the time Durand, who would later go on to be London's most prominent architect, was a young architect working for William Robinson, and this was one of the first important designs he was entrusted with in his own right. Notably, Durand inserted an image of himself in medieval dress in one of the drawings for the structure. The Federal Bank failed in 1887, and the structure was later occupied by the Bank of Commerce.
Bank of Commerce
In 1905 the Bank of Commerce erected a second bank on the northeast corner of Dundas & Richmond. An impressive classical structure, the building was designed by Darling & Pearson, one of Toronto's leading architectural firms responsible for the erection of banks across the country. The new structure reflected a tendency towards simpler, more monumental architecture which developed at the turn of the century, and dominated the intersection until 1963 when it was replaced by the current building, designed by London architect Edward Hagarty.
Reid's Crystal Hall
While not London's greatest architectural loss, Reid's Crystal Hall is probably its most famous, a fame which came almost entirely in its final day. Built in 1873 to plans by William Robinson, the hall housed Nathaniel Reid's successful business importing china and glassware. Later renovations, however, greatly weakened the building, and on July 16th, 1907 the structure collapsed suddenly, killing seven people and injuring several more. Rescue operations stretched into the following morning. A subsequent inquest blamed the collapse on London's lack of a building inspector, and by the end of the year an inspector had been hired, preventing further catastrophes in the years to come. Reid hired McBride & Farncomb to rebuild on the site, with the new structure standing to the present day.
One of London's best Second Empire buildings once stood on the northeast corner of Dundas & Clarence, where the Huron & Erie Building now stands. Designed by George Lalor of Toronto, the building was built as the home of London's Oddfellows, one of several fraternal organizations in the city. The building featured one of the city's most ornate rooflines, and a spacious hall on the third floor which was temporarily used as a dance studio after having been vacated by the Oddfellows. The building serves as a reminder that many of downtown's lost structures were located on sites where subsequent development added equally interesting sites. In 1931 the Huron & Erie, the predecessor of Canada Trust, erected their new head offices upon the site. The replacement structure, while radically different, is equally interesting, and ranks among London's best Art Deco structures.
Earlier in this post I mentioned that two large biscuit factories served to bookend Dundas Street in the Downtown area. D.S. Perrin was in the west. McCormick's was in the east. Today, of course, we associate McCormick's with the large terra-cotta factory building which the company erected in the Smokestack District in 1914. The company, however, dated to 1858, and in 1872 they had hired George Watson to design a large new factory for them on the southeast corner of Dundas & Wellington.
When the company moved to their new factory in 1914 the city purchased the old factory and demolished it in anticipation of a new plaza which was intended to cover the entire block surrounded by Dundas, Wellington, King, and Waterloo. The plaza, however, never came to pass, and the former McCormick's factory was the only building cleared away before the plan crumbled.
The site of the McCormick's factory sat empty for more than a decade as the proposal for a plaza on the block faded from solid plan to distant possibility. Eventually, the city sold the site and in 1927 John Mackenzie Moore was hired to design a new hotel on the site. The Hotel London instantly became London's most prominent hotel. In the early twentieth century hotels frequently served not merely to provide beds to travelers, but were also important social centers, and the Hotel London played host to dozens of election celebrations and served as the de facto headquarters of organizations as diverse as the London Chamber of Commerce and the local branch of Kiwanis. The hotel suffered, however, as London sprawled following the Second World War, and in 1972 it was demolished, making way for the present structure on the site.
Northern Telecom Building
Finally, immediately east of the Hotel London was a building whose history I know remarkably little about. An impressive Art Deco building - one of only a handful of major London structures built in that style - the former Northern Life Building surely has extensive stories associated with it. It is the aim of History Jam to uncover them.