News & Opinion

Posts Tagged ‘Honest Ed’s’

Rob Ford’s big crack up, Honest Ed’s sale, Trinity-St. Paul Centre reno, and more this week in the neighbourhood | November 1, 2013

In Coming events, This week in the neighbourhood on November 1, 2013 at 12:30 AM
Rob Ford had a very bad day on October 31, 2013 as police release evidence of multiple suspicious rendezvous with drug dealer Sandro Lisi, and Police Chief Bill Blair confirms police have the Ford crack video | Image: Rob Ford press scrum 2011

Rob Ford had a very bad day on October 31, 2013 as Police Chief Bill Blair confirmed police have the Ford crack video in their possession | Image: West Annex News

By West Annex News | Here’s what’s been happening this week in and around the neighbourhood.

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Our top story . . . what else but Mayor Ford’s very, very, bad day on October 31st. With pundits across North America weighing in, we thought we’d offer you links to various source material, so you can take a direct look at the evidence yourself:

Rob Ford pushes the press off his property October 31, 2013 | Image: cbc.ca video screen grab

Rob Ford pushes the press off his property October 31, 2013 | Image: cbc.ca video screen grab

We are proud to see the New York Times recognize that even our crack addicts say “Thank you” when having hysterical melt-downs in their driveway.

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Police surveillance photos of Mayor Ford peeing on a tree | Toronto Police handout/QMI Agency

Talk about gravy, the 474 pages of police documents and photographs released yesterday show that during office hours, our $173,869 per year mayor spends vast chunks of his time rendezvousing with an accused drug dealer and taking delivery of small packages at gas stations and convenience stores, and drinking vodka and pissing on trees in public.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announces police have the Ford crack video | Image: CP24 video screen grab

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announces police have the Ford crack video | Image: CP24 video screen grab

Then there was Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s press conference in which he acknowledged that the police have the famous Ford crack video in their possession, recovered from a computer hard drive seized during the Project Traveller raids in June, 2013.

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Doug Ford watches Bill Blair press conference October 31, 2013 | CP24 video screen grab

You know the ship is really sinking when the rats start to disembark. Former Ford enablers CP24 posted a video of Councillor Doug Ford watching Chief Blair’s presser on TV in Ford’s City Hall office. DoFo was uncharacteristically silent after the day’s stunning revelations.

The Toronto Sun put out a special afternoon edition of the paper recapping the day’s events, and in which the Sun called for Mayor Ford to stand down.

Finally, it’s fun to take a fresh look at Ford fishin’ buddy Stephen Harper’s visit to Fordfest in 2011. Tip to the PM: when you choose your friends not by their character but by how rabid their partisanship, expect things to blow up in your face now and again.

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Honest Ed’s site sold to developer Ian Gillespie

Honest_Ed's_on_Bloor_Street_West_Toronto

The shoe finally dropped. The much-rumoured sale of the 1.8 hectacre Honest Ed site including Mirvish Village to Vancouver mega-developer Ian Gillespie’s Westbank Properties was finally announced on October 27, 2013.

Although vendor David Mirvish blithely claimed Gillespie has a “wonderful track record” and “want to make a contribution to our community” and will “respect the Annex”, Mirvish did not obtain any contractual commitments from Gillespie to that effect.

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Ian Gillespie’s 61 storey Shangi-La towers over the 48 storey Wall Centre, Vancouver’s second tallest building | Image by Kyle Pearce

Gillespie is known for his love of the super-tall and super-luxe. He complained that the Vancouver skyline was “boring” as justification for building his 61-storey Shangri-La hotel/condominium at a time Vancouver’s tallest building was 48 storeys tall.

Gillespie and Westbank are being sued by disgruntled Shangri-la condo buyers for false promises about cost-sharing with the hotel, and are accused of insensitively exacerbating the housing crisis for the poor with their efforts to gentrify Vancouver’s Downtown East Side.

Mirvish says that Gillespie has agreed to lease back Ed’s to him for two or three years, while the new development proposal works its way through the Toronto planning process.

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Trinity-St. Paul Centre unveils renovation

The Trinity-St. Paul's Centre has reopened after an extensive renovation to the performance and worship space

The Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre has reopened after an extensive renovation to the performance and worship space

The Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre at opened its doors on Saturday, October 26, 2013 to show off the results of its $3 million renovation spearheaded by the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.

The space now boasts a permanent stage and new flooring. Individual upholstered theatre-style seats have replaced the pews.

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The heritage view of Queen' Park has been protected by an Official Plan Amendment

The heritage view of Queen’ Park has been protected by an Official Plan Amendment

Heritage preservationists and Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam have scored a victory protecting the heritage view of the Ontario Legislature. Wong-Tam conducted a two-year battle to convince City Planning to support an Official Plan Amendment to protect the views of Queen’s Park and to convince developers to drop all appeals to the OMB. ____________________________________________________________________________________________

Upcoming:

Friday November 1, 5PM to 8PM, Vermont Square: There will be free cider and hot chocolate for the Seaton Village Community’s Pumpkin Patch in Vermont Square. All are invited to bring their pumpkins to the south-west end of the park any time after 4PM.  The City will dispose of the pumpkins after the event. [Seaton Village Residents’ Association]

Monday, November 4 at 5:00PM in the See House, 120 Howland Avenue: Royal St. George’s College Neighbourhood Liaison Meeting. Once a year, RSGC is obliged to hold a neighbourhood liaison meeting to discuss traffic and other issues of concern to the neighbourhood. Councillor Adam Vaughan and his constituency assistant Areej Hasso are expected to be in attendance.

As for us, we’d like to know:

1. When is the Hydro transformer leaving that was installed on the lawn of St. Alban the Martyr Cathedral without the consent of Toronto Heritage Preservation Services?

2. Hey, what happened to this tree that the OMB and bylaws ordered RSGC to preserve?

2. Hey, what happened to this tree that the OMB and bylaws ordered RSGC to preserve?

3.   How did the low fence promised by RSGC on the Albany Avenue side of the campus morph into a penitentiary-style barrier that’s even higher than the Toronto fence bylaw permits?

4. Heritage signage: RSGC promised new signage for all the designated buildings on campus. Instead, all heritage signage was torn down by RSGC in the fall of 2012.

RSGC PROMISE: heritage signage for all designated buildings. DELIVERED: all heritage signage torn down.

RSGC PROMISE: heritage signage for all designated buildings.
DELIVERED: all heritage signage torn down.

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All images are Louise Morin for West Annex News unless otherwise noted. 

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Related:

Last week in the neighbourhood: In which we learn Honest Ed’s sign is younger than Michael Jackson’s thriller, and other news.

The Cathedral of St. Alban the Martyr: truly a national treasure

Visit Kyle Pearce’ photostream on flickr

In which we learn the Honest Ed’s sign is younger than Michael Jackson’s Thriller, bike lanes on Bloor ain’t dead yet, spooky stuff for Halloween and more this week in the neighbourhood | October 25, 2013

In Coming events, This week in the neighbourhood on October 25, 2013 at 12:05 AM
The Honest Ed's sign has had its day and has to go according to Ed' GM Russell Lazar

The Honest Ed’s sign has had its day and has to go according to Ed’s GM Russell Lazar

By West Annex News | Another week of happenings in and around the neighbourhood.

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The archivists have already spent six months in Ed Mirvish's office | Image: Sun Media screen grab

The archivists have already spent six months in Ed Mirvish’s office | Image: Sun Media screen grab

Before you crazy heritage preservationists get any big ideas, Honest Ed’s always loyal general manager Russell Lazar claims that the famous 23,000 bulb, wrap-around sign at Bathurst and Bloor is younger than Michael Jackon’s Thriller, is brittle, has had its day, and has to go. [thestar.com]

In anticipation of the swing of the wrecking ball, a team of archivist have already spent six months combing through more than 55,000 artifacts left by Ed Mirvish in his old office in the depths of Honest Ed’s. Lazar calls them “relics of a remarkable rags-to-riches life.” [The Sun]

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Separated_bike_lanes_Montreal_October_2013

The prospect of bike lanes on Bloor has made a remarkable comeback in the past week. On October 21, 2013, the city Public Works Committee voted 5-1 in favour of reinstating an environmental study of the impact of bike lanes on Bloor. The study was scrapped in 2011 when Mayor Ford ripped out the Jarvis Street bike lanes. The Annex Residents’ Association and the Bloor-Annex BIA both supported the reopening of the study. ARA director Albert Koehl told the committee that studies show ninety percent of people arriving on Bloor-Annex strip come on foot, by bike, or on transit, and that bike lanes on Bloor have strong public support. Ford ally Denzil Minnan-Wong was the only committee member to oppose the re-opening of the study. Councillor Adam Vaughan said “The world has changed, it is time for Councillor Minnan-Wong to wake up and smell the coffee.” [thestar.com, InsideToronto.com, & @reporterdonpeat/Don Peat on Twitter].

Speaking of Councillor Vaughan, his fall update is now out and includes a letter from Adam about the need to abolish Ontario Municipal Board.

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1000-1002 Bathurst Street, formerly Spector's Hardware and Plumbing Supply

1000-1002 Bathurst Street, formerly Spector’s Hardware and Plumbing Supply

The Seaton Village Residents’ Association website has more information about the fire at 1000-1002 Bathurst Street, including a link to a 2004 Globe and Mail article about Spector’s Hardware and Plumbing Supply, already dusty and falling down nine years ago.

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What’s up this coming week:

Image credit | Yvonne Eijkenduijn

Image credit Yvonne Eijkenduijn

October 25 to 31, 2013: Halloweek at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Along with the traditional showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Bloor will be screening a number of scary movies from October 25, 2013 to October 31, 2013. The screening schedule can be found here.

Saturday October 26, 5PM to 7PM:  Halloween skating party at Bill Bolton Arena, 40 Rossmore Road in Vermont Square park. Admission is free and prizes will be given away. See Ring Around the City for other Halloween activities at the St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club, including a October 25 showing of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie.   

Saturday, October 26, 10AM to 5PM: Jane’s Walk is partnering with Riverside BIA to present nine new and free walks in the Riverside neighbourhood lead by local personalities. Walks include a fitness/dog walk, a culinary walk, and a medicinal plant and herb walk. Heard of Riverdale but not Riverside? It’s the Queen Street neighbourhood east from the Don Valley Parkway to Degrassi Street, right between Corktown and Leslieville.

October 25 and 26: You should have stayed at home, a G20 drama finishes its run at the Aki Theatre, 585 Dundas Street East on October 26, 2013. While trying to return home from his first-ever protest as a law-abiding citizen at the “free speech” zone at Queen’s Park, Tommy Taylor was swept up in a mass arrest. This much-lauded drama tells his story of his arbitrary arrest, mistreatment by the police, and ultimate release without charges.

October 24 to November 3: The International Festival of Authors at the Harbourfront Centre. The tribute to Alice Munro is on Sunday, November 2nd at 8PM. A day-by-day guide to the festival can be found here. [Torontoist].

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Related:

Last week in the neighbourhood: Report from Fordlandia, and other news

Honest Ed’s: Come in and get lost

Yvonne Eijkenduijn’s photostream on flickr

Report from the Bathurst and Bloor charette, Tedx Toronto video, Bathurst Street fire, destroying the OMB and more this week in the neighbourhood | October 11, 2013

In Coming events, The West Annex, This week in the neighbourhood on October 11, 2013 at 12:05 AM

By West Annex News | Here’s what’s been happening this week in and around the neighbourhood.

Have you seen the terrific Tedx Toronto 2013 conference opening video? A great history of Toronto from age 0 to 220 — in just 2 minutes and 32 seconds. Honest Ed’s and Lee’s Palace both make brief appearances.

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Report from the Four Corner of Bathurst and Bloor community charette

Sketching out dreams for the Bathurst and Bloor intersection in the Four Corners community charette October 5, 2013

Ken Greenberg and friends sketching out dreams for the Bathurst and Bloor intersection in the Four Corners community charette October 5, 2013

Councilors Mike Layton and Adam Vaughan hosted a large gathering of community members from the Annex, Harbord Village, Seaton Village and Mirvish Village on Saturday, October 5, 2013 at Central Technical School to dream about the future of the four corners of Bathurst and Bloor.  With the demolition of Honest Ed’s sadly a foregone conclusion, lots of exciting ideas emerged from the exercise: a piazza at the south-west corner of Bathurst and Bloor for cultural events like the Fringe and farmer’s market, a pedestrianized Markham Street Heritage Conservation District,  and greened laneways to become the new transportation corridors for pedestrians and cyclists.

The buoyant mood of the meeting ended when Councillor Vaughan reminded the crowd that their dreams could come to naught, courtesy of the Ontario Municipal Board. “Their decisions are already destroying parts of the city and it’s wrong” said Vaughan. He urged the crowd to question any candidate in the next provincial election who knocks on their door. “If they don’t agree to destroy the OMB, I want you to chase them off your porch, down the street, and out of your neighbourhood.”

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Heritage signs

With the demolition of Honest Ed's inevitable, the fate of the famous sign is unknown

With the demolition of Honest Ed’s now seen as inevitable, the fate of the famous sign is unknown

While the fate of Honest Ed’s sign is up in the air, another heritage sign may live to blink again. BlogTO reports that Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy says the Sam the Record Man’s sign could still return to Yonge and Gould. City Council rejected staff’s recommendation that Ryerson University be granted its request to be released from its agreement to preserve and re-hang the sign. Council referred the matter back to city staff for reconsideration.

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Fire at 1002 Bathurst Street

An early morning fire at 1002 Bathurst October 7, 2013

An early morning fire at 1002 Bathurst October 7, 2013 I Image: CTV News screen grab

A two-alarm blaze tore through a derelict building at 1002 Bathurst Street just north of Olive on Monday, October 7, 2013, temporarily shutting down the Bathurst and St. Clair streetcars and other vehicular traffic. After dozens of firefighters responded and put the blaze out, a body was found on the second floor.

The identity of the deceased, the cause of death and cause of the blaze have not yet been determined. The CBC reports that police are treating the fire as a suspicious event.

1002 Bathurst Street before and after October 7, 2013 fire

1002 Bathurst Street before and after the October 7, 2013 fire

CTV has video of the fire here.

The buildings at 1000 and 1002 Bathurst Street had been the subject of a legal battle between a developer and the city.

After their plan to develop a five-story apartment building on the site was rejected by the city, developer 2031430 Ontario Ltd. appealed to the OMB and in August of 2013 won a settlement with the city to build four meters taller than local zoning allowed, with exceptions also granted in setback, gross floor area coverage, and window set-backs.

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David Mirvish is heading to the OMB in January 2014 to overturn the City’s rejection of his Gehry-designed megaproject for King Street West. Mirvish’s proposal would see the Princess of Wales Theatre and  four designated heritage warehouse buildings demolished in favour of three 80-storey plus highrise towers built on a six storey podium. Planning staff says the King West area cannot sustain the project’s 2,700 plus new condominium units. [thestar.com]

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While average retail rents on Bloor Street hit a new high of $309US per square foot according to Colliers International’s 2013 retail report, this was only a 1.9% increase over 2012. Vancouver’s Robson Street saw a 33% increase to $200US per square foot. The Vancouver Sun reports that the influx of U.S. chains and luxury brands contributed to the dramatic lease rate increases across Western Canada.

Bloor Street still leads Canada in retail rents, but does not make the world’s top ten. New York’s Fifth Avenue leads the world at $3,052 US per square foot.

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Condo financing crunch hits cooling Toronto market. The Star reports that condo buyer are scrambling to get financing to close the record number of condo units coming online. Many bought before financing rules were tightened up by Finance Minister Flaherty and now find at closing they no longer qualify. With some buyers forced to walk away from their deposits, a rapid cooling of the entire market is possible when a record 20,000 to 40,000 units are ready to close next year.

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What’s coming up:

The International Festival of Authors had already scheduled a tribute to Alice Munro on November 2nd when news broke yesterday that she was this year’s Nobel prize winner in literature. If you haven’t bought tickets yet, there still may be some available here.

Après Nuit To October 14, 2013: If you missed Nuit Blanche last weekend or just want to have an encore visit, six Nuit Blanche projects are  extending their run to October 14th including Ai Wei Wei’s Forever Bicycles at Nathan Phillips Square, and Tadashi Kawamata’s Garden Tower at Metropolitan United Church,  two of only a few genuine hits from this year’s annual festival of visual art.

The Toronto 2013 Chocolate Festival starts October 12 and runs to November 3 in venues all around the city. Visit the website for coupons redeemable during the festival at participating chocolatiers, pastry shops and restaurants, and for tickets to the Chocolate Ball, Chocolate Dinner, and Chocolate High Tea and the King Edward Hotel.

Heritage Toronto Awards Tuesday October 15, 2013 at Koerner Hall, Royal Conservatory of Music. The awards recognize individuals, community organizations, industry professionals and associations for exceptional contributions in heritage conservation.

Tadashi Kawamata's Garden Tower in Toronto, 2013, at Metropolitan United Church, 56 Queen Street East to October 14, 2013

Tadashi Kawamata’s Garden Tower in Toronto, 2013, at Metropolitan United Church, 56 Queen Street East to October 14, 2013

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Related posts:

Last week in the neighbourhood

Honest Ed’s: Come in and get lost

Jane Jacobs and the hazards of popularity on commercial streets

The Weekly Wrap for January 14, 2011

In This week in the neighbourhood on January 14, 2011 at 12:01 AM

Koreatown is getting less Korean. Cathy Conway looks at how cheap rents are attracting new business that are changing the face of the Bloor strip west of Bathurst. [Open File Toronto]

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Honest Edwardianisms. The Dominion Modern Gallery puts on a show devoted to the art of Honest Ed’s hand painted signs and sign painters. [Dominion Modern]

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Look around in an urban Whole Foods, and you will see people who came from the suburbs and will head back eventually to live.” Alex Bozidovic likes Witold Rybczynski’s latest book Makeshift Metropolis. [The Globe and Mail]

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“Enough wicked humour and touching moments to make for a worthwhile evening.” Jon Kaplan reviews Tarragon’s current Mainstage show The Misanthrope. [NOW]

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Ford balances his 2011 budget by deploying the entire Miller surplus of $346 million in a single year. Daniel Dale on the new mayor’s unconservative approach to the budget. [thestar.com]

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.

For columns from previous weeks, visit the Weekly Wrap archive.

Arrivals & Departures: Lettieri Espresso Bar and Hero Certified Burgers at 581 Bloor Street West

In Arrivals & Departures, Eating & Drinking on January 9, 2011 at 2:23 AM

Lettieri Espresso Bar closed its doors for good on December 30, 2010

Another one bites the dust . . .

By West Annex News | Coffee Corner, Java Junction, or Corporate Coffee Headquarter; whatever you call the aggregation of coffee shops around Bloor Street West and Albany Avenue, the group suffered its first fatality at the end of 2010 when Lettieri Expresso Bar on the south-west corner of Bathurst and Bloor quietly closed its doors on December 30.  A note posted on the front door reads: “After eight years of making fresh espresso, Lettieri Espresso Bar will be closed on December 30, 2010.  We have loved being a part of this community.  It has been an absolute joy serving you. Wish you all have a very happy new year.”

Good-bye note from Lettieri franchise owner Joe Lee | click to enlarge

Signs already hang in the windows announcing that a Hero Certified Burgers will be moving in to the 581 Bloor Street West space.  The Lettieri website says cryptically that Lettieri is “co-branding with Hero Certified Burgers”.  Lettieri directs readers to the Hero website for further information, but we found no mention there of Lettieri or of co-branding. John Lettieri is the founder of both the Lettieri Espresso Bar and Hero Certified Burgers franchises.

Honest Ed's signage overwhelmed that of Lettieri

It’s hard to say what lead to the demise of Lettieri. Once inside the shop, it was an attractive, soothing, light-filled space with large east-facing windows looking out on Bathurst Street.  And Lettieri made arguably the best-tasting espresso-based drinks of all the chains located on the West Annex Bloor strip. But tucked in the north-east corner of Honest Ed’s, the garish extravagance of  Ed’s signage overwhelmed that of Lettieri’s; it was easy to forget the coffee shop was even there.

And Bathurst Street still forms a considerable psychological barrier for Annex shoppers. Although the number of non-Korean-themed shops establishing themselves west of Bathurst on the Bloor West strip is increasing, many shoppers still hold on to the notion that Bloor west of Bathurst is a Korean ethnic enclave with little to offer shoppers who do not share that ethnicity.   As we noted in a previous post, the stiff competition with four major coffee chain outlets killed a local tea shop in 2010. With that competition located on the more desirable West Annex side of Bathurst, the few extra steps to cross the street into Koreatown apparently proved a few steps too far for Lettieri’s survival.

Lettieri Espresso Bar was located at the south west corner of Bathurst and Bloor, in Honest Ed’s

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In Arrivals & Departures, we watch the changes in the commercial/retail strips of the West Annex on Bloor, Bathurst, and Dupont Streets, and think about these changes in the context of Jane Jacobs’ analysis that popularity on retail strips can lead to commercial monocultures and store vacancies and Max Fawcett’s thesis that the Annex is un-gentrifying.

Visit the Arrivals & Departures archive.

The weekly wrap for December 31, 2010

In This week in the neighbourhood on December 31, 2010 at 12:01 AM

"Then and Now" by Erik Mauer | 1 Spadina Crescent

Beautiful, poignant, historic. 1 love T.O. collects photographs from Erik Mauer’s brilliant “Then & Now” project. [1loveT.O.]

A 29-storey hotel and condominium for Dupont and Brunswick? Perry King reports that the Wynn Group is moving forward with its application for rezoning 328 to 374 Dupont Street.  [Annex Gleaner]

“He’s not sure that Burke’s speech will make any difference to the clowns who have been hissing things about his sexuality at him for years.” Mary Rogan looks at Brian Burke’s visit to Royal St. George’s College to talk about homophobia.  [GQ]

The city’s Heritage Preservation Department employs only one person to conduct heritage evaluations. Josh OKane investigates the sad state of heritage preservation in Toronto.  [Open File Toronto]

A condo explosion is on the horizon for Yorkville . Matthew Harris documents the pending construction projects.  [blogTO ]

The Alahambra Theatre stood across the street from Honest Ed’s. GBC uncovers photos of the old theatre before its demolition in 1985 to make way for a Swiss Chalet.  [Lost Toronto]

Older, whiter ridings are given disproportionate representation to the detriment of those younger and more diverse. John Michael McGrath exposes the inequities of Toronto’s unequal wards. [Open File]

In 2005, Jacobs wrote Bloomberg  “come on, do the right thing.  The community really does know best.” Jaret Murphy reviews “The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs”. [City Limits]

“The main entrance of the Heritage Mansion will be reserved only for senior staff and visitors.” Gerald Caplan uncovers some quirks in the deal Peter Munk struck with U of T for his School of Global Affairs.  [rabble]

No front door for you. The future Peter Munk School of Global Affairs | Image courtesy of SimonP/Wikimedia Commons

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Every Friday, the Weekly Wrap collects articles from around the web about or of interest to residents of the West Annex.

For columns from previous weeks, see the Weekly Wrap archive.

Visit Erik Mauer’s entire “Then and Now” photoset.

Honest Ed’s: come in and get lost

In uncategorized on December 4, 2010 at 6:59 PM

Honest Ed's, est. 1948 | 581 Bloor Street West

“What would immigrants in Toronto do without Honest Ed’s, the block-wide carnival that’s also a store, the brilliant kaaba to which people flock even from the suburbs.  A centre of attraction whose energy never ebbs, simply transmutes, at night its thousands of dazzling lights splash the sidewalk in flashes of yellow and green and red, and the air sizzles with catchy flourescent messages circled by running lights.  The dazzle and sparkle that’s seen as far  away as Asia and Africa in the bosoms of bourgeois homes where they dream of foreign goods and emigration.  The Lalanis and other Dar immigrants would go there on Saturdays, entire families getting off at the Bathurst station to join the droves crossing Bloor Street West on their way to that shopping paradise.


The festival already begins on the sidewalk outside:  vendors of candy, nuts, and popcorn;  shop windows bright and packed;  shoppers emerging, hugging new possessions; and bright signs with all the familiarity of hookers clamouring for attention. 

‘Come in, don’t just stand there!’ shouts a sign wickedly.  ‘Come in and get lost!’ winks another.  And in you go, dissolve into the human tide flooding the aisles and annexes . . . in this place so joyous and crazy where people give free unasked advice, and just as freely demand it.”

– M.G. Vassanji, No New Land, 1997, Toronto, McClelland & Stewart

 


The life and death of a great Toronto neighbourhood

In Arrivals & Departures on August 22, 2008 at 5:46 PM

Max Fawcett explores the worrisome decline of the Annex

It might be time for Toronto’s urban geographers and city planners to add the term un-gentrification to their lexicon, because that’s precisely what’s happening in the Annex, one of their city’s oldest and most famous neighbourhoods. Unlike other neighbourhoods in the city that are being bought out and up by neo-yuppies, who spark the transformation of old carpet stores and empty storefronts into painfully hip clothing boutiques, espresso bars, and of-the-moment restaurants, the Annex is sliding in the other direction. Where the neighbourhood was once a bohemian haven defined by a decidedly middle-class ethic it now is rapidly becoming nothing more than an upscale student ghetto defined by fast-food restaurants, ten dollar martinis, a dwindling clutch of futon stores, and a startling increase in the number of vacant storefronts and the homeless people that populate them.

One of the most important and visible aspects of the gentrification process is the influx of new and interesting restaurants that in turn attract more people to the neighbourhood and more fuel to the fires of gentrification. It stands to reason that the reverse is also true, and that the disappearance of interesting restaurants portends trouble ahead for a given neighbourhood. That’s precisely what has happened over the past five years in the Annex, as the diverse selection of quality restaurants that served something other than sushi and shawarmas have been replaced by places pursuing the aforementioned culinary zeitgeist or downmarket chains aimed at cash-starved students like Pizzaiolo and St. Louis BBQ. Meanwhile, the supply of quality delicatessens, bakeries, and speciality suppliers, necessary adjuncts to a prosperous local food culture, have all disappeared.

Another important factor in and indicator of the process of gentrification is a vibrant nightlife built around interesting and eclectic bars that draw in young people from other neighbourhoods, and here again the Annex exhibits the opposite trend. In better days, the neighbourhood’s evening trade was anchored around Lee’s Palace, a venerable old music hall that hosted some of Canada’s best live music performances. Nearby bars like the Tap and Las Iguanas, which were jointly managed and staffed by former members of the early 90s band Pursuit of Happiness, attracted a healthy mix of musicians, artists, and locals, while the Green Room was popular among underage kids from across the city who were looking for their first drink. Today, in contrast, the nexus of the Annex’s after-hours scene is located in the bowels of the Brunswick House, a place that attracts crowds of professional pukers, UFC aficionados, and other people that normally head to the club district. The only thing they have added to the neighbourhood is an increase in late night fist-fights, noise disturbances, and property damage.

As if these trends aren’t discouraging enough, those interested in the long-term health of the Annex must now also respond to the death of both its heart and soul. Dooney’s Cafe, the long-time haunt for writers, artists, and other assorted political and cultural rabble-rousers that acted as the neighbourhood’s soul, was sold recently. Ownership of the famous cafe, which successfully fended off the predatory gaze of Starbucks in 1995 in one of the neighbourhood’s seminal moments, passed from the steady hands of Graziano Marchese to those of Marnie Goldlust, a 25 year old with no experience in the business or, perhaps more importantly, in the neighbourhood and its unique politics. Its devoted core of regulars, which included people like Globe and Mail columnist Rick Salutin, writer David Gilmore, jazz impresario Bill King, and actor Tony Nardi, has already abandoned the place for more hospitable climes, most of which are situated outside the Annex entirely.

The neighbourhood’s heart, meanwhile, is slated for transplant surgery. Honest Ed’s, that infamous insult to good taste that anchors the neighbourhood for tourists and locals alike, is widely expected to meet the business end of a wrecking ball sometime in the near future, as David Mirvish converts it and significant parts of neighbouring Mirvish Village into a lucrative mega-condominium project. While the finished project and the upwardly mobile tenants that will populate its units may help to stop the de-gentrification of the Annex by providing local merchants with an influx of new residents with disposable incomes to burn, it could just as easily accelerate the process by replacing a glittering monument to the neighbourhood’s quirky eclecticism with another cold and sterile condominium block.

Un-gentrification shouldn’t be confused with de-gentrification, a concept best described by writer Adam Sternbergh in a November 2007 piece in New York Magazine on the New York borough of Red Hook. In it, he describes how Red Hook failed to take off as the latest it-neighbourhood despite the fact that it was subject to the attentions of New York’s real-estate developers, artists, professional hipsters, and other members of the vanguard of gentrification. It was, as Sternberg noted, a realtor’s dream, “boasting Manhattan views, a salty maritime history (working piers! Brawling sailors!), and a brochure-ready name, all of which would play perfectly on some theoretical condo prospectus. Seeking waterfront living with a dusting of urban grit? Then drop your anchor in Red Hook!” The fact that Red Hook has yet to exchange its bars and diners for flower boutiques and it-fashion stores left Sternbergh wondering whether gentrification was the raging and unstoppable fire that its proponents depicted it as or instead a flood that raises all ships but eventually, and indeed inexorably, puts them right back, and in so doing leaves behind a badly damaged version of the original landscape. The Annex, however, is a unique case, and as such doesn’t co-operate with Sternbergh’s analysis. Far from being a neighbourhood awaiting the arrival of gentrification, be it with anticipation, nervousness, loathing, or some combination thereof, the Annex is one whose cycle is already complete. It is un-gentrifying, a phenomenon that may merit its own feature article one day.

The recent shootout that left two wounded at the corner of Bloor and Brunswick Streets, the geographical heart of the Annex, should have served as a bloody reminder of the Annex’s decline, or even a catalyst for discussion about it. Instead, it elicited no more than the usual isn’t-that-terrifying and aren’t-guns-terrible titterings that inevitably accompany the rubbernecking spectators and the police tape at shootings. That nobody seems to have noticed the broader trend that produced the shooting is a consequence of its comparatively glacial pace. While previously no-go neighbourhoods like Ossington Street or West Queen West appear to gentrify in a matter of months, the Annex’s decline has been much more gradual. But that difference in pace makes it all the more dangerous and all the more difficult to reverse. The people affected by it, from local residents and business owners to the ever-shifting landscape of public officials and politicians, have been lulled by the gentle grade of the decline into believing that the long-vacant storefronts, corporate fast-food outlets, habituated homeless population, and pools of blood and broken glass that should be viewed as warning signs are instead perceived as longstanding characteristics of the neighbourhood and elements of its charm. Unfortunately for those who care about the neighbourhood, it appears that nothing, not even the shooting of innocent bystanders on a popular street corner, is capable of exposing this dangerous deceit.

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This article was first published in Dooney’s Cafe.com and is republished here with the kind permission of  the author.  Max Fawcett is a freelance writer and former resident of the Annex.  To see more of his work, visit Dooney’s Cafe.com and www.maxfawcett.com.

Earth Hour report card

In uncategorized on May 1, 2008 at 11:10 PM

By West Annex News | Ah, Earth Hour, when you care enough to make a token gesture.  Then again, some don’t even care that much.

Here’s our own highly subjective report card on March 29, 2008 Earth Hour in the West Annex.

PASS:

Honest Ed's | 581 Bloor Street West

The gaudy old tart of  Bloor Street shows her heart of gold: Honest Ed’s outs her billion flashing lights –  for an hour. Grade: B

Dooney's | 511 Bloor Street West

While outside the iconic sign remained on, inside was a strictly candlelight-only affair at local fave Dooneys. Grade: B+

By the Way Cafe | 400 Bloor Street West

Walking the Walk: The glare of nearby streetlights and signs are deceptive:  it’s strictly LED light strings and candlelight inside By the Way Café. Grade: A

FAIL:

Lights ablaze at Fresh |521 Bloor Street West

Talking the talk. Some adopt vegetarianism as the most meaningful lifestyle change one can make to combat  climate change.   And then there’s Fresh, where it was business (and lights) as usual. Grade: F

All lights on deck at Royal St. George's College | 120 Howland Avenue

With outside lights ablaze in every building, Royal St. George’s demonstrates its usual care and concern for the welfare of others. Oh, and look, someone’s left a window open to let the heating escape. Grade: F

Who says the big corporate chains are uncaring?

Who says the big chains are cold and uncaring?  We do!  It’s lights on as usual at Starbucks, Pizza Pizza, and Cobbs. Grade: F