cutine: artist's drawing of an Aura condo suite
College Park condo set to top Eaton’s vision
Stephen Weir, for Metro Canada
13 November 2008 01:31
(The subway newspaper Metro - owned in part by the Star - picked up my College Park story from the Star, edited and added a couple of sidebars that they found on this website.) The article had two pictures.
College Park is on the upswing of a roller-coaster ride of boom, bust and boom all over again.
A revitalized Eaton’s College Park building, with its iconic, five-star Carlu Hall, has reignited an economic fascination for one of downtown Toronto’s most prestigious and historic blocks, bounded by College, Gerrard, Bay and Yonge streets.
Canderel Stoneridge is poised to begin construction of Aura, a 75-storey condominium tower just south of College Park at the corner of Yonge and Gerrard. The residential skyscraper will cover the last street level parking lot along Yonge Street downtown. It will create a vertical community of close to 3,000 people on a block that was once supposed to be the retail epicentre of Canada.
The British Empire is now a dusty memory, but an 80-year-old architectural dream for a classier, bigger and higher College Park still lingers. Aura will be one of the tallest residential buildings in the Commonwealth of Nations and will almost fulfil a corporate dream made by the Eaton family business during the Depression.
When the sod for the limestone and granite College Park store was turned back in 1928, Eaton had grandiose plans to construct the tallest building in the Empire, says Toronto historian, author and broadcaster Mike Filey.
The lower levels would become the retail flagship of Eaton’s department store chain and the upper floors would become both corporate headquarters and rental office space. Before the stately skyscraper could become a reality, the plans were drastically slashed from 36 floors to just seven. The dream of international greatness for the College Park block was put on hold.
“I believe, among other things, the designers (the same firm that designed the Royal York and Maple Leaf Gardens) ran into water problems on site. And while they dealt with that (there was) the economic downturn caused by the Depression,” explained Filey.
The seven-storey limestone and granite Eaton emporium, complete with a looming street-level Roman style archway, wasn’t noteworthy by British Empire standards, but was a bold retail statement for the Dominion. In 1977, the Eaton College Street store was shut down with the coming of the Toronto Eaton Centre.
College Street was converted into a warren of street level, small high-end boutiques. Most of the upper levels were converted into apartment and courts.
Six years after the close of the College Street Eaton store, a decidedly not art deco-style building was cleaved onto the west side of the building — 777 Bay St., a 30-storey sterile glass and steel office tower best known for housing a Haida totem pole — Three Watchmen — carved by Haida artist Robert Davidson.
A row of 10 multi-storey townhouses now line the west side of the Barbara Ann Scott Park and ice rink that is right outside the back door of the old Eaton store.
Two new tall condos — The Residences of College Park — have been built on the west end of the block and are now linked by tunnel to the retail malls and subway station. The Liberties, a 20-storey L-shaped condominium complex at the southwest corner of Bay and Gerrard, completes the block.
In 2003 and 2004, the Carlu — named after its famed designer, French architect Jacques Carlu — was reborn. The banquet facility and auditorium now look exactly as they did in the glory years, except that they are updated with 21st-century technology.
The challenge for the Aura architects is to make sure their super-sized condo does not completely overshadow the Carlu — the very building that is attracting buyers to the block as it is in constant demand for five-star wedding receptions, private parties, fundraisers.
“The Aura will respect the lines of the Eaton building. The podium matches the height lines of the old building. It is an art deco treasure. We cannot mimic it, our design refines it,” said Berardo Graziani of Graziani + Corazza Architects.
Aura will be massive. Its builders will be pouring concrete for the next few years as it goes up 75 storeys (including a four-storey podium). There will be a large retail operation in the podium, above and below the street. An underground mall will link Aura with College Park and the subway.
Eventually, all the buildings on the College Block will be linked to the city’s underground “Path” network. There will be no surface level parking around the Aura. With entrances off Bay and Gerrard streets, a massive garage and loading dock will connect the condo with College Park, 777 Bay St. and the two other Canderel Stoneridge-built towers. The building plans have gone through many changes to answer the concerns of the community.
When will the big hole begin to get dug? The answer, like the multimillion-dollar suites that will populate the upper floors of the Aura, is up in the air. A construction start is dependent on the overall sales of the condo units (they range in price from $500,000 to $17.5 million).
“We are very close to that point,” said Dhanji. “We have sold approximately 75 per cent. Once another 5 to 10 per cent have moved we can begin.”
• With close to 1,000 condo units, Aura will have the population of a town the size of Lakefield.
• The tallest residential building in the Empire and the world is the Eureka Tower. The 12-year-old building is a 300-metre, 91-storey skyscraper located in Melbourne, Australia.
• The 78-storey Q1 Apartment Tower, also in Australia, claims that it is the tallest residential building in the world when measured to the top of its spire, which reaches a height of 322.5m.
The Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat note that there are several residential (condominium) towers being built that will eclipse the Eureka Tower when completed. They are:
• Burj Dubai, Dubai. 160-plus storeys. Office, condo and hotel building and 800m tall.
• Pentominium, Dubai. 120 storeys or 618m.
• Russia Tower Moscow 118 storeys. Office, hotel, and residential building, 612m.
• Chicago Spire, Chicago 150 storeys. Condominium building standing 609m tall.
Historian, author and broadcaster Mike Filey remembers the great Eaton College Park store:
• Building showed the status of the Eaton firm, to be able to build that big during the Depression.
• Building was designed by the same firm that designed Maple Leaf Gardens and the Royal York hotel.
• Building was to showcase what was then the northern end of downtown Toronto. However, expansion jumped over College Park to the Bloor-Yonge intersection.