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BUILDING THE FUTURE: In the Junction
City planners hesitate to use the word ‘trend,’ however there seems to be a movement toward breathing new life into historic churches by converting them into residential dwellings in Toronto’s west end.
There are several examples of these turn-of-the-century churches receiving a new lease on life throughout the High Park and Roncesvalles neighbourhoods. In one block of Annette Street alone, there are two places of worship whose interiors have been completely transformed.
The former Annette Street Baptist Church, a single-storey church constructed in 1888 on the northeast corner of Annette Street and High Park Avenue, has been rehabilitated as an eight-unit townhouse. Meanwhile, the former Victoria-Royce Presbyterian Church, a historic building that included a Sunday school on the north west corner of Annette and Medland streets, has been re-purposed as a 34-unit modern loft residence.
Triumphal Developments Inc., whose specialty is converting urban buildings into modern lofts, can take credit for the re-imagination. Triumphal developer and co-owner Fred Dyer said he was struck by the church’s architectural features like its copper-covered spire and brick and limestone facade. Dyer said he saw the potential to create “something really special.”
“The actual physical structure was so impressive,” he said, adding he saw the potential to build a “unique living space.”
Victoria-Royce Presbyterian Church is a “well-designed example” of the Romanesque Revival style, which was popular for both religious and residential buildings in the late 19th century, according to Toronto’s Heritage Preservation Services. It boasts oversized round-arch motifs, rugged surfaces and ornate detailing inspired by the revival style of 11th and 12th centuries’ French and Spanish architecture.
Initially called Victoria Presbyterian Church in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, it was re-christened when the congregation amalgamated with Royce Avenue Presbyterian Church in 1969. Victoria-Royce closed its doors in June of 2006.
Aviva Pelt, an assistant planner for the City of Toronto who worked on both the Victoria-Royce and Annette Street Baptist church projects, says the appeal of transforming an already existing building like a church is that a developer doesn’t have to start from scratch.
“It’s an alternative land use. Instead of building a new building, it’s already there. There isn’t a lot available land for building in the city,” said Pelt.
The city is in favour of such conversions and welcomes developers’ applications, said Pelt.
“We’d rather see something happen instead of a building deteriorating,” she said. “It’s a good use.”
A builder seeking to redevelop a heritage-designated building, such as Victoria-Royce Church, faces far more challenges than when building new. Churches are old and most often not structurally sound enough to withstand the division of a floor plan, said Pelt. Developers must work closely with Heritage Preservation Services to ensure the integrity of the historic features remain while also making way for a new use.
“Each project is assessed independently,” said Pelt, noting that Triumphal built an addition on top of the existing Sunday school.
Despite these two conversions on the same street and others in nearby neighbourhoods, Lou Moretto, director of community planning for the west district, said he “doesn’t perceive” an emerging trend.
Nonetheless, there are developers out there like Triumphal that enjoy the challenges of re-purposing heritage structures.
“It takes a lot more time to do a conversion like this,” said Kari Emond, marketing director for the Presbyterian church conversion now known as the Victoria Lofts. “They had to restore the building. They imported bricks from England because they don’t make them here in Canada. A carpenter copied the original mouldings. It takes a lot of time and specialized craftsman level trades. It’s a labour of love.”
Some examples of church loft conversions:
- Victoria Royce Presbyterian Church, 152 Annette St.
- Annette Street Baptist Church, 200 Annette St.
- The Third Church of Christ, Scientist, 70 High Park Ave.
- Howard Street Pentecostal Church, 384 Sunnyside Ave.
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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