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Old Posted Apr 12, 2009, 10:47 PM
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Heritage Issues

A thread to discuss heritage issues.
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Old Posted Sep 1, 2009, 2:37 PM
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Unsafe building gets lease on life


A long-vacant property in the heart of downtown has been deemed structurally unsafe, though the building's long history of decay and deterioration could soon reach a happy ending.

Just weeks after city officials issued a mandatory repair order for 142 Dundas St. -- a move that can result in a building's demolition -- the century-old structure near the John Labatt Centre has been purchased by new owners intent on fixing it up quickly.

"It's just an extraordinary building and it fully deserves the restoration it's about to receive," said Peter Mullins, the realtor who brokered the sale of the three-storey building.

"It's wonderful."

The building's pre-sale plight, though, was anything but.

It has been empty for more than a decade -- its last tenant was a Grandma Lee's restaurant -- and damage from a fire several years ago has still not been fully repaired, say city officials who posted a public safety warning on the building's windows last month.

Mullins, who listed the property for $150,000, says the new owners will take advantage of the ground floor that fronts both Dundas and Carling streets -- turning the former into a retail space and the latter into offices.

The previous owners were from outside London.

It's rare for a downtown property to be declared structurally unsound but the move in this case by city officials underscores what could become a growing problem among the core's aging building stock, said Janette MacDonald of MainStreet London.

As the old, empty commercial properties age further, she said, the main concern for downtown boosters like her could shift more and more from getting them occupied to simply keeping them safe.

The challenge, she said, is some owners bought downtown buildings in the 1960s, '70s and '80s hoping to realize huge profits as the property values skyrocketed -- except the values have steadily gone the other direction.

"That's our biggest challenge -- convincing people who paid too much on these to reinvest in them," MacDonald said. "If you do invest in it, the value will return."

To illustrate her point, MacDonald noted a downtown building that sold in 1975 for $775,000 and years later was seized by a bank, eventually hitting the market for $175,000.

But by 2003, with a solid tenant, it sold for $248,000 and after $150,000 in renovations was appraised in 2007 for $548,000.

"The value will go up but there has to be investment," she said.

So-called "orders to make safe" like the one issued by city hall against 142 Dundas St. make repairs mandatory for the owner, who may face legal action and fines of as much as $100,000 if they're not done "in a timely manner."

The ultimate decision, made by the city's chief building official, is to order a building demolished, said Frank Galera, a city building inspector.

City-wide, about one structure is ordered demolished each month, Galera said, noting the most recent case is an abandoned Lorne Ave. home that was razed in recent days.
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Old Posted Sep 1, 2009, 6:51 PM
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As long as it doesn't turn into another parking lot, I'm happy. Dundas Street needs its streetscape.
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Old Posted Oct 13, 2010, 1:59 AM
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$1M London reno turns up historic treasures

Old building at 142 Dundas St. in London is giving up its secrets

View larger version in photo gallery They found a fashion magazine from 1884 above the bathroom.

They found a box of old promissory notes -- including one from the "Free Press" dated Nov. 6, 1867 and apparently signed by publisher Josiah Blackburn -- in a wooden box above the second-floor ceiling.

And they found a bag of love letters -- which somebody had torn into teeny, tiny bits -- jammed beneath a floor board.

Slowly, the old building at 142 Dundas St. in London is giving up its secrets.

"Every time we do some more renovation, we find something new," says Sharon Hassan. "It's like the history of London on a smaller scale."

Hassan is helping to co-ordinate a $1-million renovation of the nearly 150-year-old building on Dundas St., just a few doors east of the Kingsmills store. Bought by Hassan Law Offices last year for $150,000, the local law firm plans to move its offices (now located at 195 Dufferin Ave.) into the downtown space by next spring.

Hassan admits she used to drive down Dundas and wonder why somebody didn't tear down some of the old, decrepit buildings dotting the street like rotten teeth. But now, she sees things differently.

"Lives were lived here and stories were told," she says. "And you can't just tear that down."

As documented in the book Downtown London: Layers of Time, edited by Michael Baker, the building was built during the 1860s by dry goods merchant Andrew Chisholm, who sold a wide range of items including clothing, caps, bonnets and parasols. In 1867 he added a clock, which now sits in the collection of Museum London, to the storefront's third floor.

Following Chisholm's retirement in 1877, the store was taken over by retailing icon Timothy Eaton's brother, James. Then in 1884 it was bought by dry goods merchant R.J. Young, who remained at the site (and in the adjoining store) until 1962.

According to information provided by Hassan's realtor, the property housed the Alexanian and Sons carpet store during the 1970s and early '80s and Grandma Lee's Bakery and Eating Place from 1985 to 1990. It's been vacant for about the past 20 years.

Clearly captivated by the history of the building, Hassan has collected an array of artifacts found within its walls, including old wooden spools, bottles, a shoe and several wire frames once used to display dresses.

One of the more fascinating finds was a bag of what appear to be torn-up love letters. Although no one has yet pieced the puzzle together, an examination of the handwritten fragments reveals words such as "hugs,"

"lips," "my darling" and "longing." Several scraps bear 1930 postmarks from Buffalo, N.Y. and Sarasota, Fla., while one shred indicates the letter was sent to a "Mrs. Helen" (the surname is missing) at an address on Dundas St.

"You can almost picture the life going on in this building," says Hassan, adding she plans to display many of the artifacts in the renovated office's reception area. "It's magical."

Hassan says that during the recent Car Free Sunday event downtown, hundreds of pedestrians trooped into the building and marvelled at what they saw.

"They just loved the building, they loved the history and they loved the story," she says. "I think people just need an opportunity to see Dundas (street) in a different light."
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Old Posted Dec 8, 2017, 10:49 PM
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Old Posted May 8, 2020, 12:53 AM
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467-469 Dufferin Avenue - developer wins appeal to demolish.

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Old Posted May 9, 2020, 1:43 AM
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I'm glad this one's coming down, and the site is being intensified a bit. The Woodfield heritage group wants that neighbourhood sealed under glass, and any development that even mildly looks to intensify the neighbourhood is completely blasted by the group.

I always find myself in the middle on heritage in this city. On one hand I hate how some of our finest heritage buildings are allowed to be demolished with few people blinking an eye, but I also hate that inconsequential, dilapidated, wood-framed, vinyl-sided buildings like this cost the owners $150,000 in legal fees just to develop them.

A lot of the heritage groups in this city cause an us vs. them dynamic. They're divisive, AND almost never save the buildings most deserving of saving. They mostly cause a stink when the building is in their neighbourhood or backyard, and are concerned about shadows and traffic. They never seem to fight for the stately downtown structures that get demolished for parking lots or developments that never materialize.
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