Time versus the Sylvan Apartments
Christopher Watt – Open File
Designated a heritage site by the city, the Sylvan Apartments are celebrating their 100th anniversary by growing more decrepit each day.
“It’s definitely kind of mysterious to me,” says neighbour Geoff Piersol, looking across the street at the abandoned building one overcast morning.
When the 30-year old information professional was thinking about moving to Dufferin Grove last year, the view of the vacant two-storey structure on the corner of Sylvan Ave. and Havelock St. hardly registered. But once Piersol moved in across the street, he took some photos of the “seriously spooky” property for a guest post on his girlfriend’s blog.
From Piersol’s perspective, the Sylvan Apartments only get more intriguing with time. It’s no a surprise that they’re in rough shape, he says, but that they remain standing at all.
Some municipal history may be in order. Fire insurance maps show that east-west Sylvan Ave, and north-south Havelock St. were joined up by an extension to the former in 1910. In that year, most of the Sylvan Apartments were built. A 1927 addition to the structure running south down Havelock established the property as the corner’s main architectural feature.
It wasn’t until 2006 that Toronto city council designated parts of the Sylvan Apartments, which ended up totalling 16 units, as being of cultural heritage value. A bylaw notice described it as a “well-designed early 20th-century apartment building with features of Edwardian Classicism by Toronto architect James A. Harvey.”
In 2007, the Ontario Municipal Board heard from property owner JDC Property Management on grounds that city council had understandably failed to respond within 90 days to a rezoning application made by JDC that would have left the Sylvan Apartments open to demolition. While JDC tabled a no-fault settlement in the weeks before the hearing that would have preserved at least some of Harvey’s work, city authorities refused. As one expert for the defence said before the OMB, according to public documents, Toronto doesn’t do “facadism.”
The Sylvan Apartments had been contested for a number of years already. In 2003, JDC acquired the property from the estate of one Jean Gwendoline Hutson. (“Miss Hutson” a poem by former resident John Skaife, is here.) Local heritage aficionados soon took issue with the prospect that 42 condominium units might one day appear on the site.
From his side of Sylvan Ave., Piersol describes the changes he’s noticed across the street since he moved in, the kind of subtle changes to which century-old properties seem prone.
Vandalism is clearly increasing. He points to a second-storey window, where someone got inside and spray-painted four letters — ELYK — on the interior of the glass. (It seems cryptic, but consider an alternate scenario in which some squatter-artiste named Kyle seeks local fame.)
A minor epidemic of ground-storey graffiti seems to be getting worse, Piersol says, though not long ago someone stopped by with a roller and some brown paint.
The building has been vacant since 2006 but has not been totally forsaken. Someone mows the lawn on a fairly regular basis. A magnolia tree presides over the property’s unlikely backyard, an open greenspace without an interior fence.
“I was back here in late May, early June. It was amazing,” Piersol says, walking around the southernmost units on Havelock, bringing a row of somehow English-seeming garages into view. The garages are notable at least partly because the driveway leading up to them is so overgrown that it has all but disappeared.
But for Piersol, real insight into the Sylvan Apartments’ past has been fleeting. Walking up Havelock a few months ago, he says, he noticed what looked like a hydro bill on the ground, and now wishes he’d taken a photo because the balance owed was something like $3,000.
Odd items abound in the backyard. The head of a stuffed animal lies decapitated on the grass, perhaps forgotten by whoever was setting off fireworks behind the building some weeks back. A wooden staircase that once connected to a second-floor balcony has been torn down and now resides on a ground-floor deck near a not-quite-empty can of Tuborg beer.
A newly broken pane of glass on the second floor catches Piersol’s eye. “When I first came here, none of this debris was here. None of these windows were broken. I hate to see this stuff,” he says.
At some point the Sylvan Apartments start looking less like a relic of early 20th-century Toronto, frozen in time, and more like a symbol of 21st-century life in a city where there’s money to be made when buildings fall apart.
“Parts are so damaged that in the best-case scenario, maybe some kind of architectural salvage is possible. But it probably has to be torn down. That’s what I think, anyway,” Piersol says. Indeed, the Havelock side looks like it’s starting to sag.
Asked if he considers the Sylvan Apartments an eyesore, Piersol is quick to emphasize that he doesn’t mind the property this way and actually finds it interesting.
“You can kind of see some details inside when the light is right. I’d love to [see more] in there,” he says.
Update, Aug. 16:
The Sylvan Apartments redevelopment is held up by the owner’s stalled plans to develop 16 rent-geared-to-income units on Dovercourt Rd. north of Dundas St. W., explains Chris Gallop, a staffer in Ward 18 councillor Adam Giambrone’s office.* That development was put on hold by the recession.
“The holdup is at his end,” Gallop says. “His approvals stay in place for perpetuity.”
Contact the Jeffrey Team for more information – 416-388-1960
Laurin & Natalie Jeffrey are Toronto Realtors with Century 21 Regal Realty.
They did not write these articles, they just reproduce them here for people
who are interested in Toronto real estate. They do not work for any builders.
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