Saving Art Deco in Toronto

Slightly hidden from view by the construction walls that encircle it, an abandoned warehouse stands at the corner of Bathurst Street and Lakeshore Boulevard West. Known as Loblaw Groceterias, it was built in 1928 to house the consolidated headquarters of the present-day grocer giant. But unlike its predecessors, it appears wholly neglected with many broken and boarded up windows. What remains intact, however, nearly ninety years later, is masonry detail along the first floor facade and roof that speak to the distinct architectural style in which it was built: Art Deco.

Strong symmetry, opulent ornament and bold geometric forms characterize this style. The most iconic example might be the top of the Chrysler Building in New York City, completed two years after the Groceterias in 1930. Loblaws Groceterias is therefore evidence of a specific building period in the Toronto’s history, when the city participated in an architecture movement popular around the world from the late 1920s to the early 1930s. It was the style chosen for the Old Toronto Star Building and the University of Toronto’s Jackman Humanities Building, both built in 1929, and old Maple Leaf Gardens – now Ryerson University’s Athletic Centre – built in 1931, to name a few. In fact, the details on the facades and roof of Loblaw Groceterias are nearly identical to those of The Old Toronto Star Building, despite their very different functions. The choice of such a contemporary style was likely a deliberate effort to provide the company with a modern and professional image.

The Old Toronto Star Building

The Old Toronto Star building was demolished in 1972. And given that construction walls currently surround it, it might appear that Loblaw Groceterias is set to suffer the same fate. Inspection of the posters plastered to these walls, however, reveals that the building surprisingly features in a redesign of the entire block. It is set to be part of a larger complex consisting of two condominium towers and a new grocery store, as well as office and retail spaces.

Planned Development

Its current state of dilapidation does warrant some refurbishment. The building must be taken down – the heritage consultants for the development have revealed the metal frame holding all the brick and limestone in place is rusted beyond repair. The brick and limestone masonry, however, will be carefully catalogued and stored off-site, eventually returning to be used to rebuild the original walls.

It would seem that the very development set to invade this heritage site was the catalyst for this restoration effort. So it is thanks to the least likely of parties that this Art Deco edifice will not only live again, but also hopefully, once restored, warrant a second glance.

– Holly Hudyma

Sources
Dave LeBlanc, “Groceterias redux: Turning a decrepit icon into a mixed-use hub,” August 13, 2015. theglobeandmail.com; wikimedia.org; Agatha Barc, “Nostalgia Tripping: Toronto’s Art Deco Heritage,”December 4, 2010. blogto.com

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