Standing proudly in Bloorcourt Village near Bloor and Ossington, this historical church was transformed into 17 huge and luxurious lofts that preserve the integrity and beauty of the original structure. The West 40 Lofts have been creatively and sensitively designed to capitalize on the grandeur of the soaring cathedral ceilings – and the rich detailing of stone columns, capitals, hammerhead wood trusses and majestic brick gothic arches and windows.
After standing derelict for almost a decade, going through multiple developers, bankruptcy and the opposition of the neighbours… finally the former Church of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Cyprian’s was converted into some of the best church lofts in Toronto. Restoring the lustre to its brick and redstone facade and stained glass windows, each huge loft is big enough to be a church on their own.
If you love church lofts, the West 40 Lofts are a must-see heritage building, boasting remarkable interior details like cathedral ceilings, classic stone columns and stained glass windows. Not since The Abbey Lofts has there been a church conversion that has kept so much of the original structure, filling each unit with history instead of drywall.
On top of that, the developer added high-end finishes and glass walls to give West 40 a contemporary style while not overshadowing the classic character and history of the building. These three and four-storey lofts will have quartz counter tops, deep soaker tubs, and pre-finished engineered hardwood flooring. But they also feature historic accents, such as Gothic brick arches, stone columns and massive hammer-head wooden trusses. Some of the units’ ceilings will reach over 20 feet with one unit having a 33-foot height.
The property was listed on the City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties in 1973, and a Heritage Easement Agreement was registered in 2006. De-consecrated in 2002, the church was slated to be converted into residential condos. It was the heritage designation that caused a lot of the problems, I think.
I don’t think I know of another loft conversion that went through this many different developers. The whole thing started not long after the church closed in 2002 and wasn’t finished until about 10 years later. Heck, most of the work did not start until 2011 or so. I first heard about it in 2003, when the project was called the Westmoreland Lofts. But that launch fizzled, I don’t know if I knew why or just don’t remember. Then I had a strange phone call from an investor who may or may not have been working with the folks from The Abbey Lofts, he was rather obscure. And nothing happened.
Then the Lux Group and architect Ferdinand Wagner appeared in 2006 with grand plans to convert the church. I remember hearing from someone it was because Heritage Toronto was being very difficult, making it hard to repair brick and replace missing stone. Stalled and unable to move forward, this attempt died out.
I was back checking it out in 2008, but it was still derelict and there was nothing going on. I photographed it for an article on church conversions that I helped write for Condo Business magazine. Seems that there were various zoning violations and other planning department issues.
Then the church at 40 Westmoreland – building, plans, permits and all – were sold off by the bank in late 2009. I found an article I had written on my blog from March of 2010. This is right after I found out about the bank sale. Guess it had been re-possessed and sold power of sale due to outstanding debts. Part of the problem was a neighbourhood meeting that was convened to decide the building’s fate. The decision to oppose zoning adjustments, which would effectively prohibit condo development, was almost unanimous. How the last developer got around that animosity I do not know.
A real estate agent I know was involved in 2010, he let me in to take photos as I love vacant and historic buildings. If I recall correctly, they were having trouble excavating the basement for parking. Not long after I was there, the project was cancelled and sold off to another developer. My friend the agent was left in the cold, all of his sales wiped out.
Finally, it ended up being completed by George Betak of Dog Day Developers, with Asen Vitko as architect. Vitko and Betak were well-experienced in the revival of heritage buildings in Europe. As with any sort of difficult job such as this, it was a labour of love by architect Vitko (and his residence at one point – he may or may not still live in the tower suite). Getting others to get their heads away from the usual condo concept of tall towers and tiny units cannot be easy.
The West 40 Lofts run from around 1,500 square feet up to 3,000 – massive even by loft standards. Bigger than a lot of houses! It is this size that means most of the stunning interior details such as the soaring wood ceilings, original masonry, solid wood trusses, classic stone columns and Gothic brick arches can be left intact and incorporated into the multi-level homes. Without having to break them all up, there is very little need for drywall. Each suite is unique, spread vertically up through the heart of the church – and from the third level of many of the residences, the view will be of treetops and the city beyond.
While the historical designation applies only to the exterior, Vitko and his team felt it was equally important to preserve the interior historical elements. Which makes him pretty awesome in my eyes. You can see the entire historical picture from top to bottom in each unit. Seriously, you really know you are in a church, no matter what room you are in.
Speaking of historical pictures, this is actually the second church for that congregation – and probably the 4th meeting place. Like many congregations of the late 1800s, the parish of St. Mary the Virgin began people meeting in homes, and then in temporary quarters. In this case, the first “church” was a small brick building on Bartlett Avenue. In 1888, St. Mary the Virgin was set apart from St. Anne’s on Dufferin Street to the south. A new building was built on the north-west corner of Bloor and Delaware, and the first services in the new space were held in 1889. The new facilities were designed by the architectural firm Langley & Burke (known for some of the most famous and best-loved churches in Toronto) and included a school house to be used temporarily as a church and a rectory. It served the congregation until 1914, when a new building was erected two blocks west, on Westmoreland Avenue. I don’t know when the original building was demolished, though today it is the site of St. Michael the Archangel Serbian Orthodox Church.
In 1912, vacant land fronting on Bloor Street was sold and a site was purchased two blocks west on Westmoreland, just north of Bloor Street, in order to build a larger church. The cornerstone was laid in 1913, the first service held in the basement in 1914 and the building completed by December 1914.
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Cyprian is an excellent example of Neo-Gothic design that was popular for institutional buildings after 1900. The style was distinguished from the late 19th century Gothic Revival by its reduced scale and more restrained interpretation of design elements associated with early medieval English architecture. While the Church of St. Mary and Virgin and St. Cyprian exhibits the crenelated tower and Tudor-arched openings characteristic of Neo-Gothic designs, it is particularly noteworthy for its distinctive brickwork.
The new church was designed by William A. Langton. He designed a few other churches, most notably St. Stephen’s-in-the-Fields Anglican Church, at College Street and Bellevue. After apprenticing with Toronto architects Darling and Curry, Langton relocated to Boston in 1882 where he worked for H. H. Richardson, the American architect best known for popularizing the Romanesque Revival style known as “Richardsonian Romanesque” and identified by oversized arches and sandstone cladding. This style is best typified in Toronto by Old City Hall, which we call Romanesque Revival in Canada.
Langton did not specialize in this style following his return to Toronto in 1886, but accepted commissions that employed the popular architectural motifs of the period. Langton was recognized for his efforts with other members of the Architectural Guild of Toronto in forming the Ontario Association of Architects, and for his role in establishing a school of architecture at the University of Toronto.
Langton was actually a major player in municipal affairs. The Guild of Civic Art was established in 1897 to “promote and encourage civic art, including mural paintings and decorative sculptures, fountains and other structures or works of art of an artistic character.” At first, activities were limited to mural projects for city hall and the legislature. Then in April of 1901, with its membership at a low ebb, the Toronto Architectural Eighteen Club suggested a meeting to discuss a general plan for Toronto, and sponsored a lecture by Philadelphia architect Albert E. Kelsey on “The Architectural Adornment of Cities“.
With the support of a number of other groups, the Guild called together a large committee to persuade City Council to employ an expert to prepare plans for the improvement of the city. Edmund Burke, then in his second term as OAA president, was among the members of the committee. Note the interesting intersection of the lives of Langton and Burke! Both here, in their work on civic improvement, as well as the fact that the congregation of St. Mary the Virgin moved from a church designed by one, into a church designed by the other. It can be a small world sometimes!
After a year, the group settled on a series of recommendations – including the development of radial roads to provide direct access to the city core from outlying districts, a “circum-ambient” system of parks around the city, and a scheme to beautify the entrance to the city at the foot of York Street.
At the OAA convention in 1906 Burke encouraged delegates to educate the public and city authorities about the benefits of civic planning. Then William Langton gave a comprehensive address on the state of urban planning in the United States and its application to the city of Toronto. These projects would, Langton said, create a town of “some character,” capable of generating civic pride among its inhabitants. I would think that the West 40 Lofts have retained so much “character” as to be certain to generate pride amongst their residents.
But how did the two architects’ works combine later on Westmoreland Avenue? Church of St. Mary the Virgin & St. Cyprian is an odd named church. Everyone knows Mary, but Cyprian is a rather obscure saint. He was bishop of Carthage and a notable Early Christian writer, many of whose Latin works are extant. He was born around the beginning of the 3rd century in North Africa, perhaps at Carthage, where he received a classical education. Soon after converting to Christianity, he became a bishop in 249. A controversial figure during his lifetime, his strong pastoral skills, firm conduct during the Novatianist heresy and outbreak of the plague, and eventual martyrdom at Carthage vindicated his reputation and proved his sanctity in the eyes of the Church. His skillful Latin rhetoric led to his being considered the pre-eminent Latin writer of Western Christianity until Jerome and Augustine.
The original St. Cyprian’s on Manning Avenue was actually designed by famed Arts and Crafts architect Eden Smith (there is a real who’s who of Toronto architects involved in this story). It is now Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral, awash in gold leaf and the vibrant icons of the Eastern church. There is little to suggest that this building was once an Anglican mission church of St. Thomas’s, established to address poverty in Seaton Village.
Before the first St.Cyprian’s was built, the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine established a mission house on Follis Avenue in Seaton Village. The Sisterhood, which had begun in 1884, was invited by John Charles Roper, vicar of St. Thomas’ Church on Huron Street and chaplain to the sisters, to open up a mission house in order to address the endemic poverty of Seaton Village.
Early oversight of the mission was shared between the parishes of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields on College Street, St. Alban’s Cathedral on Howland Avenue, and St. Thomas’ on Huron Street. The architect of the current loft structure, William Langton, was also the architect of St. Stephen-in-the-Fields. Small world. Even smaller when I mention that I played hockey at the St. Alban’s Boys and Girls Club when I was in elementary school!
In 1891, the parish of St. Cyprian’s was formally constituted, and Eden Smith’s frame church was opened in 1892. Just a couple of years later, the present St. Thomas’ building was opened, also designed by Eden Smith. The first St. Cyprian’s was located on the south-west corner of Christie and Dupont.
As the parish grew, a larger building was required. The new building, on the north-east corner of Manning Avenue and Follis Avenue, just several houses away from the SSJD Mission House, was completed in 1907 and designed by architect Robert Balmer McGiffin. The old church was moved to a location beside the church and used as a parish hall. It was replaced by a new parish hall in 1922.
The pattern of growth and decline for St. Cyprian’s mirrored other parishes in the city as people moved to the new suburbs and the people who had immigrated from other countries moved in. By the mid-1960s, St. Cyprian’s was faced with the decision of soldiering on with limited resources, or closing and amalgamating with another parish. In 1966, the decision was taken to amalgamate with the Church of St. Mary the Virgin to the west and the amalgamated parish of St. Mary the Virgin & St. Cyprian was born.
After St. Mary the Virgin & St. Cyprian’s closed in 2002, some of the furnishings and memorials were taken to the new parish, and others went to a new parish being built in North York. The parish name also went to North York. St. Cyprian’s is now near Finch and Leslie and has a number of furnishings from the original St. Cyprian’s on Manning Avenue. The building was purchased by Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral, who continue to use it to this day, as their former building and is now used by the University of Toronto.
Couple of other interesting tidbits. Christ the Saviour’s building on Glen Morris that they moved from, had previously been a Lutheren church. And, the old organ used at St. Cyprian’s has been played faithfully at St. James’ Caledon East since it was moved there around 1945. And, of course, the fact that the whole point of this article is to discuss the re-purposing of the beautiful old church at 40 Westmoreland as lofts. Lots of building re-use going on! Recycling is good, right?
Positioned on a residential street north of Bloor Street West, the Church of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Cyprian remains a local landmark. Nearby, the Bloor-Gladstone Branch of the Toronto Public Library (completed 1913) at 1101 Bloor Street West and the Paradise Theatre (1937 and replacing an earlier theatre dating to 1910) at 1006 Bloor Street West are other notable buildings that are recognized on the City’s heritage inventory.
The West 40 Lofts are great spaces for entertaining and the neighbourhood is vibrant. The lofts of West 40 is nestled amongst tree-lined streets, just north of the eclectic Bloor West Village, near Ossington Ave. Tons of shops, great restaurants and bars are only minutes away – and Christie Pits Park is just down the street for days when you just want to lounge in the sun.