Sunday, June 30, 2013
The Loblaw Groceteria building sticks out like a sore thumb. A beautiful old art deco thumb amongst modern condo tower fingers made of steel, concrete and glass. It remains frozen in time as traffic and pedestrians pass it by twenty four hours a day, year after year. The hustle and bustle of everyday life continues outside these walls, but inside, nothing has happened in quite some time.
The opposite was true when T.P. Loblaw opened the Loblaw Groceteria building here in 1928. In those early years, all of the hustle and bustle of this neighbourhood happened within these walls. Unlike today's corporate world where blue and white collar employees rarely intermingle, and in some cases aren't even on the same continent, employees of all strata at Loblaw Groceteria worked together, under one roof. The building contained administrative offices, as wells as facilities for the processing, manufacturing and storage of groceries, and was equipped with a garage, carpentry and paint shops, and rail access for freight delivery. Loblaw provided many luxuries to keep their employees happy and productive, including on site euchre lounges, billiard rooms and bowling alleys, as well as hosting concerts and staff-produced plays in the cafeteria.
Towers of concrete and steel are replacing well constructed remarkable and historic architecture, and two paid fifteens and an unpaid thirty minute break in tiny lunch rooms have replaced the luxuries once afforded this work force. It is hard to believe we call this progress.
Loblaw’s — Bathurst Street from the northwest, 1936. City of Toronto Archive.
Loblaw’s from the southwest — Bathurst and Fleet, 1936. City of Toronto Archive.
In 1934, a $375,000 addition of extra warehouse space was constructed on the rear of the building. In the mid-1970s, Loblaw relocated and the building fell into disuse. In the mid 1980s, they allowed the Daily Bread Food Bank to use the space, and they occupied the first floor warehouse until 2001. Since then, the building has sat vacant, and for the most part it has been sealed tightly and inaccessible, with the exception of the odd event and movie shoot taking place inside.
Hoping to construct a new superstore on the lot, Loblaw's put forth a proposal in 2004 to completely demolish the heritage building, but it was rejected. A similar proposal in 2011 was eventually accepted and work got under way in mid-June of 2013. The 1934 additions are being demolished. Whether the original four storey structure is to be preserved, or demolished completely with the south and west walls to be rebuilt with salvaged materials, is unclear.
There was nothing different about the hustle and bustle outside the building yesterday. Life carried on as per usual at the busy intersection out front and vehicles whizzed by on the Gardiner Expressway up above the half demolished warehouse out back. Inside though, something was different, as we explored this historical gem and played a cat and mouse game with the security guard stationed inside.
On the other side of a mountain of concrete and rebar that resembled a war zone, we remained silent, in stealth mode, Ninja and I. Each step through the darkness more cautious than the next, leading us closer to both the main building and the security guard we knew to be inside. It is remarkable how loud a small piece of dirt under one's shoe can echo while attempting utterly silent footwork. Accidentally kicking a tiny fragment of broken glass on the concrete floor in pitch blackness seems deafening when you aren't sure if security is just around the next corner.
The power was on, and some areas were even lit up. Every second, like a metronome, a constant banging echoed from the demo site at the rear of the building, although no workers were present. Water dripped and puddled throughout the Groceteria. We explored the entirety of the original building, up to the fourth floor and beyond to the rooftop, and then down into the dank boiler room in the sub-basement. Yellow caution tape crissed and crossed many different sections of every floor, taping off areas apparently at random.
While photographing the beautiful staircase in the administrative area, I knew security was directly beneath me, he didn't have to announce it. But he did. We stood silent between camera clicks, listening for any acknowledgement of our presence being detected. But it wasn't. And then, a loud voice belted out a few notes of a song we weren't familiar with. He sang it loudly and confidently. And then the silence returned, and we continued our adventure. We never did find any bowling alleys or cafeteria's; perhaps they have been dismantled, as the building's interior is merely a shell.
We spent a few hours looking around and photographing, soaking it all in and evading the security guard.
Back outside in the hustle and bustle of modern Toronto, concrete condos and cranes constructing more concrete condos tower overhead. It is disturbing how willing we are to forget our own past, and to destroy and build over it. In my opinion, it is the condo towers that are the sore thumbs, and these historic structures that we tear down in the name of progress are worth being pointed out.
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