Nestled in a residential neighbourhood, the vintage brick warehouse at 24 Noble Street is known as the Noble Court Lofts, just northwest of Queen Street West at Dufferin. There are just 79 lofts in the building ranging in size from 460 to 1,300 square feet (which tend to be double units combined into one larger loft). Amenities are limited to a small multi-purpose room and 20 first-come-first-served parking spaces.
Originally built in 1910 as combination industrial and office space, the structure was converted for office and studio space in the late 1980s. Subsequently renovated in 1989 by Greenwin Properties, the Noble Court Lofts is now a mid-rise loft building of 5 stories located in Parkdale, just steps away from thriving Queen Street West.
The lofts are everything you would expect, with 11-foot ceilings, large picture windows, heavy timber posts and beams, sandblasted wood ceilings, hardwood floors and exposed brick walls. The authentic loft nature of Noble Court has made it quite popular over the years with artists in the West Queen West and Parkdale neighbourhoods.
Oddly enough, people tend to expect the gritty ex-industrial Parkdale neighbourhood to be full of lofts… not so. Other than Noble Court, there is only the co-ownership loft next door at 26 Noble (don’t expect to ever see one of these) and then the Brock Lofts next door to that. And that’s it. Yes, there are still some cool old buildings, but they are either rental or commercial. Most are long gone, with only residential streets full of grand old (expensive) Victorian homes.
The building was originally constructed by A. A. Barthelmes & Co., who were action makers (actions are the system of levers between the keys and hammers of a piano that transfer the finger movements on the keys to the hammers and dampers that produce tones from the strings and mute them). In a long and interesting history since then, the building housed key manufacturers, a tobacconist, mops and brushes and more. It was last used by Express Food Wholesale and Universal Toy and Novelty.
Over 100 piano manufacturing companies, individual builders, and makers of accessory parts flourished at some point during the peak era of the industry in Canada, from around 1890 to 1925. A. A. Barthelmes & Co., based out of Toronto in the late 1800s and early 1900s, was one of Canada’s leading piano action makers. The development of piano manufacturing in Canada during in the late 1800s was rather remarkable, with output increasing from a few hundreds to something like 8,000 annually. In 1899 piano manufacturers united to form the Canadian Piano and Organ Manufacturers’ Association, which existed until 1975, when it became the keyboard committee of the Music Industries Association of Canada (MIAC).
Among those who were quick to recognize the possibilities for growth was Mr. A. A. Barthelmes, of the firm of A. A. Barthelmes & Co. They were action makers in Toronto, formerly of New York. He started his company in 1887 and took a silent partner – Mr. T. II. Eagen – 6 months later. The first Toronto factory of A. A. Bartheltmes & Co. was at 89-91 Niagara Street, a four-story brick building of 10,450 square feet. There were 65 employees, known for their skill, and using automatic machines of Mr. Barthelmes’ own invention.
Barthelmes’ main claim to fame was the invention of an action with a “reserve knuckle” which actually amplified the force of the key press. Because of this, A. A. Barthelmes & Co., found that their customers insisted upon all their actions possessing it. I do not know if the building at 24 Noble Street was an addition to the Niagara Street factory, or a replacement.
It seems that Barthelmes got together with John E. Hoare (the president of the Cecilian Piano Co.) in 1920 to purchase the assets of the Karn Morris Piano & Organ Co., Ltd. of Woodstock, the ownership partnership dissolved. Unfortunately, this new concern went into receivership and was bought in 1924 by Sherlock-Manning. Possibly this is when the old brick building at 24 Noble Street first changed hands.
In the 1920s several factors conspired to cause a gradual decline of the piano industry. The player piano craze began to wane. Radio and sound films appeared. Fewer new houses had the space for a piano. Economic conditions were unstable, and family savings were spent on work-saving appliances – refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, and automobiles – rather than on luxuries like the piano. An unofficial study undertaken in the late 1920s found that four in five Canadian homes had a phonograph and/or radio, but only one in five had a piano. As a result of the declining demand several companies amalgamated or were taken over by others. Radio, the phonograph, and, subsequently, TV and more sophisticated home sound systems all conspired to displace the piano as the focus of home entertainment.
Unfortunately, there is VERY little available regarding the building after A. A. Barthelmes & Co. Sure, we can all talk vaguely about key manufacturers, tobacconists, mops and toys – but there isn’t a ton of concrete historical information. It seems that there was something called The Creativity Factory there in 1984, where experimental concerts were held. This is probably during the “office and studio” phase of the building, before the full-on loft conversion.
With easy access to the downtown core by public transit, the Noble Court Lofts is steps from the trendy Queen West area and to the Gladstone, the Drake and Queen Street art galleries. Offering some of the most reasonable hard loft prices in central Toronto, the Noble Court Lofts is excellent for someone looking for an affordable spot in downtown Toronto and an excellent way to enter loft ownership. While prices are low-ish (and not so low anymore, to be honest) mainly due to the small size of most of the lofts (many are single-room studios under 500 square feet), they more than make up for it in character and location.