Call on the Province to stop the demolition of 18-28 King Street East and designate these buildings as heritage properties that help define Gore Park as the city's geographic and civic heart.
By Kieran C. Dickson
Published December 29, 2012
The Gore has been the heart of civic and commercial life in Hamilton since the earliest days of the city - and it remains so today. Postcard images of Gore Park have been synonymous with Hamilton for over 150 years, and this landmark has been the predictable destination when Hamiltonians have come together as a people, in protest or to celebrate the end of wars.
The importance of Gore Park to Hamilton's history and identity cannot be overstated. But what exactly is "the Gore"? The park itself does contain a grand fountain, our Cenotaph, and some of our most important statues, but it isn't really that narrow little triangle of land that means so much.
What's truly important is the civic square, defined by an intact streetwall that includes important heritage buildings - some of which are older than the park itself.
The current plan to demolish a substantial portion of the streetwall along the south side of the Gore is a major threat to the integrity of this most important civic space.
The block in 1892
The buildings that are the subject of the demolition permit are 18-28 King Street East. This stretch is essentially four buildings, now divided into five storefronts.
The limestone-faced buildings at the west end, beside the Bank of Nova Scotia, date from the 1840s and were designed by William Thomas, about whom more below. The stone façades are essentially intact above storefront level and each building has interesting arched windows and decorative stone elements.
The one building has very distinctive "eyebrow" dormers with inverted U-shaped windows facing the Gore; two of these remain intact today.
There aren't many pre-Confederation stone commercial buildings still standing in Hamilton. These two on the Gore appear to be in good shape, apart from the obvious cosmetic issues at storefront level.
Specifically, there doesn't appear to be cracking or out-of-plane alignment visible from the exterior.
Pre-Confederate stone commercial buildings on the Gore
The other two buildings are of later construction, but are still over 135 years old. These are four-storey Victorian storefronts.
As with their older neighbours, the façades of these buildings have been significantly modified at street level, but many upper-floor window details and the cornices have survived. The eastern building (28 King Street East) has distinctive full-height windows in each upper-level floor.
As with the older Thomas buildings, the two Victorians look structurally sound, with no obvious deformities in the exterior masonry.
Upper levels of the west-side buildings
Upper levels of the east-side buildings
The quality of all of these buildings is reflective of the company they kept a hundred years ago, with the Birks Building at one end of the block and grand stone banks filling out the streetwall.
William Thomas designed some of Canada's most important buildings in the mid-19th century. He was the architect of St. Paul's Church and Inglewood House in Hamilton, but nationally he's probably better known for projects such as the Brock Monument in Queenston, St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto, and the Commercial Bank of the Midland District -- now part of the Galleria at Brookfield (BCE) Place.
Downtown Hamilton is undergoing a major transformation. The historic commercial and mixed-use districts of our lower city are now attracting young professionals, and the repurposing and renovation of properties around James North, Locke South and Ottawa Street have made these the neighbourhoods of choice for many.
The Gore has great potential for joining these vibrant mixed-use neighbourhoods. Its central location is very attractive for those seeking complete neighbourhoods with opportunities to live, work and play without having to drive. Indeed, the Gore Park area might well become one of Hamilton's most desirable urban addresses within the next decade.
But such rejuvenation will only happen if we leverage the Gore's appealing built form - the heritage buildings, the pedestrian-friendly intact streetwall, and the mix of residential, office, and retail uses.
For these reasons, we can't accept the demolition of this streetwall on the Gore. While the buildings are privately owned, this threat to our civic space gives rise to a public interest - a public interest which is recognized and protected by the Ontario Heritage Act.
The demolition plan also threatens the private interests of those who have worked for years to redevelop our downtown in a way which makes the most of Hamilton's distinctive architecture and civic spaces.
The demolition permit may be executed as of January 9, 2013. Under normal circumstances, Council would have an opportunity to act upon the Municipal Heritage Committee's recommendation to designate (and thereby protect) the buildings. But because the demolition permit was obtained before the holiday break, demolition may occur before the next Council meeting.
Accordingly, at the municipal level we need to call upon Council to have a special meeting before January 9th to address the issue - and to designate the buildings at that time. The email addresses of all members of Council, including Mayor Bratina, are linked through the side column.
But we can't safely assume that Council will have a chance to meet before demolition begins. Therefore, we also need to call on Minister Michael Chan, whose portfolio includes heritage, to issue a stop work order and/or a notice of intention to designate under the Ontario Heritage Act.
This will provide an opportunity for both City Council and the Province to address the question of whether these buildings deserve protection. Minister Chan's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please contact these elected officials and also your local MPP to express your concern and to seek immediate action - and please share your letters as responses to this article. In addition, please consider joining the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario, which is fighting to protect built heritage in Hamilton and across Ontario.
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