The Printers Row Lofts is the lovely boutique conversion of a vintage architectural gem in Riverdale. One of the few loft conversions in the area, Printers Row was originally designed by the architect William John Carmichael in 1911 for the Bell Telephone Company (who also did the 1925 addition).
And here we have yet another loft with a name that has no real bearing on the building’s history. Sure, blueprints were printed there, but that is a bit of a stretch. The building was originally a telephone exchange, maybe it should have been the Exchange Lofts? Just saying… I have heard that it was named for Chicago’s Printers Row, a neighbourhood south of that city’s downtown Loop. Originally, the buildings in that area were used by printing and publishing businesses, with many of them converted to lofts. But that area looks more like King West & Liberty Village than Riverdale, so the connection is lost to me.
Back to this Toronto loft conversion, the Printers Row Lofts created 12 stacked two and three-storey loft spaces, all facing south and all opening out into private roof gardens or terraces. There are six lofts on the lower level and another six above. The conversion process retained some of the features of the massively over-designed original structure, including the 18? thick terracotta and concrete floors that acoustically separate each loft. With secure parking on the lowest level, this discreet intimate walk-up offers stylish low-maintenance living.
The Printers Row Lofts all face the same direction, giving them southern sun – upper units with sensational views overlooking downtown and the lake. The multi-storey and interior mezzanine layouts allow for ceiling heights up to seventeen feet. Lower units have private walled gardens and upper units have roof terraces. All have gas or wood burning fireplaces, oak or maple plank hardwood floors with sisal carpeting on stairs and mezzanines. The opulent baths have deck-mounted whirlpool tubs and the California-style island plan kitchens feature maple cabinetwork and stainless steel hardware.
525 Logan was never the “world headquarters” of Bell. That was the 1929 Beaver Hall Building in Montreal, then the second tallest building in that city. Over 2,000 employees worked in this 20-storey skyscraper that housed the company’s administrative units. The Printer’s Row Lofts was an exchange and would originally have housed tons of operators, connecting calls. Completely different.
Interestingly, another of Carmichael’s designs of note in Toronto was the Parkdale Telephone Exchange Building on Cowan Avenue near Queen Street West, built in 1899. He was the Chief Architect for the Bell Telephone Company (http://dictionaryofarchitectsincanada.org/node/1604) headquartered in Montreal, and designer of nearly one hundred Exchange buildings located in five provinces. Unfortunately, there are not many left and only 2 of his 16 Toronto buildings remain today.
A telephone exchange consisted of one to several hundred plug boards staffed by switchboard operators. Each operator sat in front of a vertical panel containing banks of jacks, each of which was the local termination of a subscriber’s telephone line. In front of the jack panel lay a horizontal panel containing two rows of patch cords, each pair connected to a cord circuit.
When a calling party lifted the receiver, the local loop current lit a signal lamp near the jack. The operator responded by inserting the cord into the subscriber’s jack to ask, “Number, please?” The operator then manually connected the two lines. In 1918, the average time to complete the connection for a long-distance call was 15 minutes.
Early manual switchboards required the operator to operate listening keys and ringing keys, but by the late 1910s and 1920s, advances in switchboard technology led to features which allowed the call to be automatically answered immediately as the operator inserted the answering cord, and ringing would automatically begin as soon as the operator inserted the ringing cord into the called party’s jack. The operator would be disconnected from the circuit, allowing her to handle another call.
As technology progressed, the need for a building full of operators began to wane. It was likely that Bell sold the building to Douglas Goodall sometime in the 1950s for his blueprint company. and most recently used in the printing trade as ABSO Blueprints. Douglas Goodall founded the company in 1952 and ran it for 44 years. I think the company moved to Calgary in 1996-1997, as they seem to have a small presence there now. Could be that they left, then sold the building. Time and planning and converting leads to the lofts being sold starting in 2001.
The 2001 conversion was done by Bob Mitchell. As he usually did, he created a contemporary heritage building in the middle of a residential street. Surrounded by semi-detached houses, the Printers Row Lofts are trendy and a refreshing change in this Riverdale neighbourhood, close to Withrow Park and just south of the Danforth.
This adaptive re-use scheme is one of few condo projects in Riverdale. It dates from an earlier era when a few businesses did manage to establish themselves in what is otherwise an overwhelmingly domestic precinct. Surrounded on all sides by houses, the three-storey redbrick slab feels right at home. It also provides a welcome note of variety in a neighbourhood that tends to be architecturally homogeneous. This strangely church-like structure fits so well into its context, it’s just about invisible. Those who do take the time to stop and look will be rewarded with the prospect of a modest but dignified building that has simple lines and good bones.