Category Archives: History

A SoBi tour with Bill Curran

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Bill Curran pointing to the landscape beyond as he discusses the surrounding neighbourhood

Architect Bill Curran and I have been planning a bike ride for some time.

We often tour around Hamilton, checking out buildings and houses, discussing architecture, the neighbourhoods, and Hamilton’s deep history. Because of how large Hamilton is geographically, we either pick a neighbourhood to walk or we end up taking a car to cover the most ground possible. This weekend we were finally able to go for a bike ride. The area we picked is one of Bill’s favourites: the industrial north.

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#419 Lawanda is a personal favourite at the Locke Street hub

I grabbed a SoBi (there’s a rack conveniently close to my apartment) and was on my way to meet Bill out front of his office on James Street North. He had a route in mind, but we basically just winged it, taking alleys, bike lanes, and roads through the city to reach our destinations.

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Hidden behind it’s green shell is an old car dealership complete with a car ramp to the second floor

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The overlooked Our Lady Of Glastonburty Orthodox Church with little ornament on an expansive street of traffic

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Bill giving me a history lesson about the building that was once Mills Lighthouse

Our first notable stop was the Cannon bike lanes. There we stopped at points to discuss laneway housing, an old car dealership for sale, and a subtle little church easily missed by car.

Laneway housing is something Hamilton needs more of. They add density, character to neighbourhoods, and help increase the city’s building stock in an unobtrusive way (just to name a few of the benefits). Bill’s firm, TCA, did a study on Laneway housing in conjunction with the city and you can read it here.

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Moving day at a row of apartment buildings just West of Barton and Wenthworth

Next we made our way to Barton. We saw a street on the turn around. Although Barton faces many obstacles, we are seeing pockets of growth and investment sprinkled throughout. Many barriers are still in the way, but there are encouraging signs almost anywhere you look.

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Lawanda in front of a post and beam pavilion at Birge Park

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Rocketships of wooden wonder

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The new pool at Birge Park

We cut through some more alleys and streets before reaching Birge Park. This small park just received a makeover, which includes a new wading pool and change room building designed by Kathryn Vogel Architects. The building has a contemporary feel to it with its overhanging rooflines and stucco accents, while the pool is nothing short of functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.

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Karma Candy Factory

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The Galley Pump Tavern. A local favourite.

Continuing north, we passed Karma Candy factory, the Emerald Street Footbridge, some local watering holes, and numerous other businesses sprinkled throughout the area. The history in the North End is deep. There’s so much to discover that you can’t find it all in one bike ride. It would take many. I was curious about everything and I couldn’t keep track of it all.

Then came Burlington Street. It’s a different world. Trucks zooming by. Potholes like craters on the moon. We had to weave through areas like a downhill slalom just to get to our destinations.

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A handsomely detailed early modern office building that once housed Stelco offices.

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POV from Lawanda’s perspective

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Bill discussing the port lands

We stopped by a handsome old Stelco office and made our way down closer to some of the ports. I wanted to ask Bill what his opinion is regarding the future of our Waterfront since it’s a hot topic in this city. He had differing opinions on what Pier 7 and 8 should look like and that more port lands should be accessible like they once were. After 9/11 security concerns changed that, he said, and the ports became impossible to access. I forgot what the world before 9/11 looked like.

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The former, recently charred Hamilton Hells Angels clubhouse (and before that the Gage Tavern) at Gage and Beach.

Before we knew it we were at Gage and we decided to cut south. We passed the recently closed Hells Angels HQ and made our way past more industrial buildings scattered amongst housing on Beach road. One thing I noticed was the many simple, functional, modern buildings sowed about the area. We need to do more to reuse these diamonds in the rough, as many now sit completely or partially vacant.

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Hamilton Moderne

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A beautiful Hydro Electric Station turned office building on Sherman with classical features, detailed reliefs, and ornament

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A swiss cheese makeover at Victoria Ave

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The Repite Centre, refaced by Greg Sather in 2005.

Next was Sherman. We rode past Cotton Factory and discussed its impact, the history, architecture, and the work ecosystem inside it. We also passed some charming early modern buildings on Sherman. I was too busy keeping my eyes on the road to take too many photos, but I certainly want to go back and look at more of what we saw that day.

The tour kept going. It was a long day. 21 kilometers were travelled. Lots of liquids were consumed. I won’t keep you much longer, because pretty soon this article is going to be as tiring as our bike ride. We explored a lot of the city and much of it is hard to retrace.

You know what was one of the best things about the ride? Taking a SoBi bike. If you haven’t yet tried one, you should. They are convenient, easy to use, and offer a better way to travel about the city. Those little blue machines are one of the best investments this city ever made. Don’t believe me? Sign up and let me know what you think. I promise you won’t be let down. And you’ll probably become hooked (like me). I barely even drive my car anymore.

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Converted: New Student Residences on Main St W

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One of Joseph B. Singer’s lesser-known buildings is being converted into student apartments.

The modern office building located at 1100 Main Street West, completed in 1965, is getting a new lease on life. After years of businesses coming and going, the three-storey office building will be repurposed to accommodate residential space for students of McMaster University.

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Following a record of site condition, Webb Planning Consultants had applied for and received a Zoning By-law Amendment for residential use as of December 2014. The once commercial building will be converted into a 41-unit multiple student residence (including a residential property next door) by Collaborative Structures Limited.

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The building is composed of a steel and concrete frame structure, with a white and black brick façade, steel mullions, and a piano key-like cornice.

Joseph B. Singer’s most notable building in Hamilton was the recently demolished Board Of Education Building (built in 1966). Other notable buildings include Adas Israel Synagogue, Shalom Village Nursing Home, and many schools throughout Hamilton, including Sir Allan MacNab Secondary School.

The new student residence is called MainMac Residence and units are already available for rent. The property is owned by Collingwood Cambridge Holdings.

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The Tims They Are a-Changin’

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On Saturday, the newly built two-storey Tim Hortons Store Number One, located at Ottawa Street and Dunsmure Road, opened its doors to the public.

After a slow down in growth and decreased market share due to the emergence of independent coffee shops, smaller coffee house chains, Starbucks, and other global chains like McDonald’s McCafé, Tim Hortons have rebranded themselves as a “café and bake shop.”

Part of this rebranding strategy is building stores that have an urbane feel to them. Stores that accommodate the in-and-out customer they’re used to, while providing a welcoming atmosphere for all demographics that wish to stay. This new design strategy is largely due to the ground they’re losing in larger markets, like Toronto, as small towns are already saturated with Tims at just about every corner.

The new Store #1 fits into that rebranding strategy that’s been contracted to WD Partners Architecture + Engineering, a global firm responsible for the design of many large retail companies like Whole Foods, TA, Big Lots, and Walmart. They are responsible for building and remodeling over 1,200 Tim Hortons locations and providing them with a ubiquitous look, complete with fireplaces, comfortable seating, and a more relaxing atmosphere.

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The exterior of the building resembles many of the newly constructed prefabricated Tim Hortons throughout Canada but with some notable touches, like the two-storey glass curtain walls, and iron I-beams projecting horizontally between storeys, paying homage to Hamilton’s industrial past.

The location of the entrance at the corner of Ottawa and Dunsmure is a much better location than before, when you had to make your way through a busy parking lot and risk getting hit just to reach the door. However, the new parking lot located at the rear is very small and bottlenecks at the entrance. Cars have to complete intricate dances in order to get in and out of the postage stamp sized lot.

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The landscaping isn’t very welcoming. Apart from the building being nearer to the street, and a beautiful statue of Tim Horton, there is nothing to keep patrons around. There is no seating, unless you want to sit on planter boxes, or the base of Tim Horton’s statue. Hopefully with summer comes a patio, like the initial renderings show.

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Inside, the counters are within close proximity to the entrance. If there is a lineup of more than six or seven patrons, you will be standing inside the vestibule of the building, or even outside the front doors. Although there is sixty seats in the new store, there is very limited seating on the main floor. Just a slender tabletop facing a window, with a handful of backless padded stools.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Photo: Sarah Dawson

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There are two flights of stairs, as well as elevators that take you to the second floor, where the “Memory Lane” museum and additional seating is located.

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As you make your way to the seated areas, a hallway of Tim Hortons memorabilia and souvenirs welcomes you. This trip down Memory Lane begins at the top of the stairs with a retro Tim Hortons counter, like the original store in 1964, and ends in the future, as you pass the by-gone eras of an iconic Canadian franchise.

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The upstairs seating area is open and includes communal tables, armchairs, and a panoramic view of Ottawa street. The light is there, but the warmth isn’t.

Although the outcome of the new Store #1 is better than expected, it would have been nice to see this project go to a design competition, where local architects could submit their concept designs. After all, they understand the context of an evolving Ottawa Street better than a firm that designs Walmarts.

At least there’s still no drive-thru.

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Architectural Spotlight: The New Royal Connaught Lobby

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With a mixture of both neo-classical and contemporary design, the double-height lobby at The Royal Connaught has been brought back to its former glory and then some.Image
Surrounded by six, two-storey corinthian columns, the sheer size and pure white paint not only makes the columns pop, but also help define the space of the lobby. ImageImage
The ceiling is coffered with an intricate crown molding and three elegant glass raindrop chandeliers, while the floor features a combination of restored original marble and terrazzo tiles.Image ImageImage
A grand staircase leads up to an impressive mezzanine, where the details in the foliage of the column’s capitals, and the lobby’s frieze design can be examined up close. The mezzanine also offers a great view of the space and the four large arched windows that look out onto King Street.Image
The restored lobby will undoubtedly be great to not only host events, but also greet residents and visitors alike into Hamilton’s illustrious past and it’s ambitious future.

For more on the Royal Connaught: https://rebuildhamilton.com/2013/04/02/the-royal-connaught-is-getting-a-second-life/

 

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City Hall: Worth A Second Glance

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Photo Credit: Sarah Janes Photography

Designed by Stanley Roscoe in the International Style, Hamilton’s City Hall has lived an exciting life. Completed in 1960, the building has, over time, become a definitive piece of architecture in the city. With an emphasis on volume, glass, and space, City Hall is a spearhead structure for modernism in Hamilton.

Situated on Main Street, a one-way arterial road, the building has never received the attention it’s deserved. Much of architecture depends on how it is approached, and City Hall has an unfavourable location when it comes to this concept. Most people just drive right by it, usually too focused on trying to make that next green light.

Walk the grounds of this building and it’s easy to see what’s so alluring about it. The glass curtain wall on the northern façade of the eight-storey office building gleams in the sunshine, offering a feeling of assurance. The East and West sides – once clad in Georgian marble – are composed of white pre-cast concrete and adorned with austere clocks.

The podium it sits on includes a wall frieze of Italian glass tiles that not only gives the building a touch of panache, but a motif that runs right into the interior of the building. While the Council Chambers cantilevers over the forecourt, offering the ever-allusive promise of transparency within it’s geometrically domed roof.

Enter the building and see a style that would make most civic buildings green with envy. Terrazzo floors, wood accents, and a brushed aluminum double staircase greet visitors upon entry. The interplay between solid and space is clean and sleek, almost poetic.

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Symmetrical, light, and functional, the building has a worldliness that is vacant amongst most of the city’s building stock. Though City Hall still has its faults (not just in council). The building represents a modern urbanism that is anti-grid, draining Main Street of congestion, with it’s large forecourt, parking lot, and green space. The layout is something right out of Le Corbusier’s manuscript.

In 2005 City Council designated City Hall as a heritage building, with good reason. This underrated, underpublicized piece of civic architecture is a cornerstone building in our ambitious city.

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Heritage Spotlight: Landed Banking and Loan Company Building

At the corner of Main and James sits a bite of The Big Apple. The Landed Banking and Loan Company Building, designed by Charles Mills, is a direct descendent of New York City’s Knickerbocker Trust and Safe Deposit Bank building.

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Finished in 1908, The Landed Banking and Loan Company building is the oldest remaining bank building in Hamilton.  Although it’s inspired by another building, the old bank has it’s own unique features. Between the floors a wall panel makes the pilasters less prominent, but it’s presence is just as commanding. The exterior is composed of Indiana limestone and also consists of large-scale entablature, and a balustrade.

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Located at Fifth Ave and 34th street in New York City, the Knickerbocker Trust and Safe Deposit Bank building was designed in the Beaux-Art tradition by the firm of McKim, Mead and White. Completed in 1903, the three-storey Classic Revival bank consisted of a Vermont marble exterior, colossal Doric columns, pilasters, and traditional Corinthian orders. The transition between the facades demonstrated responsiveness to context, while the entablature and balustrade added a masterful touch.

From left to right: The Knickerbocker Trust Company in 1904; the 1921 addition; and how it looks today

From left to right: The Knickerbocker Trust Company in 1904; the 1921 addition; and how it looks today

When first commissioned, the Knickerbocker Trust and Safe Deposit Bank building was meant to be 13 stories. However, the solution to super-impose an additional 9-storey element didn’t come to fruition until 1921 when ten stories were added. The building was redesigned in 1958 and is now unrecognizable.

In 1986 the Landed Banking and Loan Company Building was granted heritage status. There have been minor repairs to the building, including the removal of a night safe deposit box on the west elevation. With the Canadian flag flying high, the building is one of the city’s most treasured pieces of built heritage.

Hamilton 1, New York 0

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Blast from the Past: January

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Great Falls (also known as Grindstone Falls) is located on the Grindstone Creek just off Mill Street, in Waterdown.

Until 1912, Grindstone Creek was used as a source of power for a sawmill at the base of Great Falls. The waterfall flows year round and a viewing platform has since been built, as well as a parking lot for visitors.

According to the City of Waterfalls website, Great Falls is one of the several Hamilton area waterfalls to be featured regularly in postcards.

Great Falls is also accessible via the Bruce Trail.

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