Special Report: Lister Block

"Replicating" the Lister

I fear the worst: a demolition and a reconstruct of something that resembles the Lister only from the outside.

By Trey Shaughnessy
Published May 16, 2005

Suburban Bureau

At risk of sounding like someone who can't be pleased, I've been thinking a lot about the proposal from LIUNA to redevelop the revered Lister Block building for offices and retail space.

Everything seems perfect - almost - and maybe that's the problem. I can't put my finger on it, like a newly installed showerhead - its my shower, my regular soap and shampoo, but the water sprays slightly different. It's something that I will have to get used to.

The Lister is beyond repair and the best hope is to rebuild as close as possible to the original. According to LIUNA, if parts can't be salvaged they will be "replicated". Keep in mind that this is referring to the exterior, particulaly the terracotta pilisters, and entablatures, copper spandrels and tapestry brick, embellishments that are absent on any buildings post Art Deco.

The fact that there has been very little mention of the interior is troubling. I believe that despite the closed-door negotiations, everyone has the best interests of Lister and downtown in mind. LIUNA has a great track record with the CN Station, and now will enjoy the benefits of an anchor building at both ends of James Street.

Still, the interior is part of what makes the Lister so special. It's the forerunner of the modern shopping mall, and the L-shaped arcade or 'interior street' makes it architecturally significant. Designed with skylights and a duo-tone marble floor, the arcade/mall connected James to King William. It also features marble baseboards and chestnut wood panelled walls.

I doubt these adornments will be salvaged, and I don't even think LIUNA could find tradepeople skilled in "replicating" terracotta friezes.

The Lister stands out as a Classical Reannaissance style among its contemporaries, which were designed in the Art Deco style during the 1920s. I was recently in Toronto's College Park and the similarities struck me. Both 1920s (College Park is Art Deco), six floors, ground floor retail fronting the street and interior, mixed office and residential above, marble indoor mall, prominent location, grand, beautiful but College Park has been saved and functions very well as a modern use. I hope we can be as proud of Lister as Toronto is of College Park.

College Park, 444 Yonge Street, Toronto (Photo Credit: http://www.torontocollegepark.com/)
College Park, 444 Yonge Street, Toronto (Photo Credit: http://www.torontocollegepark.com/

I was snooping around the Lister when a movie was being shot last weekend and had the chance to step inside. "No pictures please". The first thing that struck me was not what I saw, but what I smelled - rot. Clearly, the building is falling apart.

I had a brief vision, similar to the scene from Titanic when the divers imagined the sheer elegance it once possessed - ladies wearing white elbow-length gloves, knee-length skirts and fancy hats, and gentlemen wearing tweed three-piece suits, with an exposed pocket watch chain and tipping their bowler hat as they say hello - and then my heart sank.

The condition was worse than I thought. I fear the worst, a demolition and a reconstruct of something that resembles the Lister only from the outside. I fear the arcade and elegant interior will be replaced with standard-issue cubicles lit with flourescent lighting and an atmosphere of people who want to get out there.

Artist's rendition of the new Lister Block
Artist's rendition of the new Lister Block

The rendering looks impressive and that definitely is our Lister in the drawing. But renderings are often better than the real finished product. AGH was supposed to have a "glittering gold façade;" instead it is dull, yellow siding.

AGH - 'glittering gold' or yellow siding?
AGH - 'glittering gold' or yellow siding?

The Bank of Montreal was to have an addition that occupied the entire neighbouring parking lot. What will be missing from this rendering?

Bank of Montreal showing proposed addition fronting Main Street.
Bank of Montreal showing proposed addition fronting Main Street.

Although I am skeptical that much will be saved or replicated, I am hopeful. I believe it is a good project and LIUNA will do the best they can. Everyone knows that the Lister has to have something done with it and at this point doing nothing isn't an option. Let's just do the right thing.

Trey lives in Williamsville NY via Hamilton. He is a Marketing Manager for Tourism and Destination Marketing in the Buffalo-Niagara Metro.

His essays have appeared in The Energy Bulletin, Post Carbon Institute, Peak Oil Survival, and Tree Hugger.

And can't wait for the day he stops hearing "on facebook".


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