West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The West Village Lofts inhabit an old ObusForme factory with quite the history!

History of the West Village Lofts

The West Village Lofts is one of two converted factories flanking the Belt Line Trail just north of Eglinton & Dufferin, on the edge of the Design District. While the West Village Lofts can sometimes be overshadowed by the more famous Forest Hill Lofts on Roselawn, they are an neat little boutique project that is always worth checking out.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The West Village Lofts at 550 Hopewell Avenue

The West Village Lofts was converted from a small ObusForme factory by Stafford Homes. This boutique loft conversion contains 29 unique residences, all with an array of quality features and finishes. The beautiful exterior is done in an architectural stucco finish, with Art Deco details that connect it to the Coats Paton factory on the other side of the old railway.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The West Village Lofts were converted from an old ObusForme factory

Some of the lofts have a private balcony or terrace, but they all have new double glazed oversized commercial grade windows to allow plenty of natural light into each suite. The ground floor lofts have private entrances, the other suites are accessed through the lobby and elevator. Though, with only 3 floors, taking the stairs is never really a chore.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

Big warehouse windows and lots of light is the norm at the West Village Lofts

Ceilings reach to 12 feet, helping to create bright, open spaces. The exposed steel beams give the suites a true lofty feeling, as do the exposed duct work and polished concrete floors. Kitchens feature granite counters and contemporary cabinets with frosted glass upper cabinet doors. Some of the open-concept kitchens have islands, but they all came originally with glass tile backsplashes and pot lights over the counter.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The West Village Lofts have exposed steel beams and concrete floors

Bathrooms have marble or granite vanity tops, some have separate tubs and shower stalls. The lofts also have stacked washer and dryer combos. There is no concierge, but you get a card-accessed security system with an enterphone with in-suite monitoring capabilities.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The lobby of the West Village Lofts is rather nice

There really isn’t anything out there about the building. I don’t think it is that old, nor do I think there is a lot to find out. About the building at least. The company that occupied it, now that is a completely different story!

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The West Village Lofts have a lot more loft character than you would expect from the exterior

Everyone knows ObusForme. From the back rests you see in Shoppers Drug Mart, to mattresses (I had one and LOVED it), the name is everywhere even today.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The classic ObusForme back rest

Frank Roberts became a Canadian business celebrity when he invented the ObusForme back support in the late 1970s. Roberts founded ObusForme in 1980 to sell the novel device he came up with to ease his back pain. Roberts ad invented the ObusForme back rest and made a humble piece of plastic the greatest single success story in the history of Canadian product marketing.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The ObusForme factory probably sometime in the late 1990s

But then his brutal murder revealed the millionaire’s secret life. The enigmatic millionaire was fated to be even more famous in death than in life. For Roberts is the only high-profile CEO in Canadian memory to be gunned down in a mob-style execution.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

Parking garage of the West Village Lofts at 550 Hopewell Avenue

Like many successful men, Roberts was a workaholic, often arriving early and staying late, and working weekends. On a Thursday in 1998, Roberts parked his black Mercedes in his parking space around 7:30 a.m.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The ObusForme factory as it looked in 1998 – note Roberts’ black Mercedes

The low-rise ObusForme factory, at 550 Hopewell Avenue in the west end of Toronto, was located in an area comprised of houses and commercial buildings. Many of the neighbours knew Roberts, if not by name, then certainly by sight. Turning off the ignition, he got out of the car, and went to the trunk to fetch a bag. Moments later shots rang out, and Roberts crumpled to the asphalt. A woman living across the street from the factory ran over when she heard the shots to see Roberts lying in the parking lot.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

Roberts’ 1998 murder was huge news at the time

Although an ambulance raced him from the scene of the shooting to Sunnybrook Hospital, it was too late. Frank Roberts, businessman and larger than life inventor of multi-million selling ObusForme, was dead before he reached the hospital’s emergency department. His murder remains unsolved to this day.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

One of the rather nice kitchens you will find in the West Village Lofts

At the time of Roberts’s murder, it appeared ObusForme was doing well. Over two million of his famous back supports had been sold in Canada, the United States, and twenty-six other countries. The company had beeen listed in the Financial Post as being one of the best-managed companies in Canada for 1995-96 – and Roberts had been selected as one of the Top 100 Entrepreneurs by the Ontario Business Journal. Annual sales were said to be in the $20 million range.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

Another similar kitchen from another West Village Loft

Like any business, ObusForme had its detractors. There were the ongoing legal battles over copyright infringement and the fourteen-year patent for Roberts’s famous back support was coming to an end. Before he died, Roberts was debating if ObusForme should go public. But none of that turned into any leads.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

Frank Roberts in the ObusForme factory on Hopewell Avenue in 1988

Roberts’ son Brian took over the company after his father’s murder. Brian had been a fifty-fifty partner with his father, but they didn’t always agree when it came to running the business. After the murder, Brian bought Frank’s shares from his estate. Under Brian’s leadership, the push to introduce and distribute new products became much more aggressive. All along, father and son had different ideas when it came to marketing. Frank’s plans were modest, selling the ObusForme in kiosks in malls across Canada; Brian’s vision was larger, and included distribution to large retailers like Shoppers Drug Mart and Canadian Tire. There were plans to market many new products, nine in total, by the end of 1999. For the first time in the company’s history some of them would be sourced offshore, in countries like China, Thailand, Vietnam, and South Korea, where turnaround times were fast, and labour costs considerably less than in Canada.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

One of the lovely west-facing balconies – with gas hookup for BBQs

But this drastic expansion; the cheaper offshore production, a new line of products and an updated image could not save the company from its financial woes. By 2005, the business was running into monetary troubles following their expansion into the American market; Integral Orthopedics, Inc. acquired ObusForme in April of that year. In 2008, ten years after the founder Frank Roberts was shot and killed in the parking lot of the company he built, ObusForme was forced into receivership, crippled by an accumulated debt of nearly $11 million. It would seem that once again, the son flew too close to the sun.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

Inside one of the West Village Lofts

ObusForme would have been out of the Hopewell building by then, as conversion began around 2004. I am not sure when they left or where then went in the interim before bankruptcy. We just know that the had to have been out of 550 Hopewell because the first lofts were listed on MLS by Five Fifty Hopewell Limited (Stafford Homes) in the summer of 2004. The lofts were completed and the condo corporation registered in 2006. Stafford also did the much larger Forest Hill Lofts to the north on Roselawn Avenue. Which makes sense, due to location, as well as the similar exterior look of both buildings.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The ObusForme factory as it looked in 2004, plus the proposed finished product from Stafford’s marketing materials – it changed quite a bit!

With Forest Hill to the east and the Design District to the west, this particular spot always seemed somewhat nameless. The neighbourhood was called Fairbank in the old days (no ‘s’). The name began with the Fairbank Postal Village at the intersection of Vaughan Road (with was originally an early settler’s street crossing though farmland on the way to Vaughan Township) at Eglinton Avenue and Dufferin Street. The postal village name came from the Fairbank Farm owned by English settler Matthew Parsons, which was named by his father-in-law Jacob Mackay.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The Fairbank neighbourhood as it looked back in 1911

Fairbank’s early development centred around the intersection of Dufferin Street and Eglinton Avenue. This neighbourhood began with a one room school house which was built in the 1860’s and followed by a hotel, a post office, a church and a handful of stores. Fairbank’s growth from a rural hamlet to a big city neighbourhood began to take shape in 1892 when the short lived Belt Line Railway opened a station here. Fairbank’s development was further enhanced in 1924 when the Toronto streetcar railway began service to this area.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

Map of the Belt Line Railway, with the Fairbank station highlighted

The neighbourhood has many rolling hills and steep, climbing streets. To the west, Prospect Cemetery separates Fairbank from development, along with the railway. Most of the neighbourhood as it exists today was planned in the interwar years (1920s & 1930s) with mostly small single family “storey-and-a-half” and two-storey detached homes on residential streets.

West Village Lofts – 550 Hopewell Avenue

The Fairbank United Church, built in 1889 and remains almost untouched to this day. Located on Dufferin a little more than 3 blocks north of Hopewell. Photo from 1959.

Now fully integrated into the current City, the West Village Lofts are minutes from the Allen Expressway, with easy access to Hwy. 401 and the upscale Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Overlooking the Walter Saunders Park and the Greenbelt Trail, West Village Lofts is just a short drive to the city’s downtown core and to the upscale Forest Hill Village.

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