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Can we preserve a whole street?

Parkhurst Boulevard

The architects of Parkhurst showed how well they knew their clients when they crafted a street of small, old-fashioned homes redolent with memories of happier times. ~ John Bentley Mays

“We’re at Ground Zero” was this column’s headline in June. Ground zero referred to 68 Parkhurst Blvd.’s role in the effort to protect Leaside’s residential-built heritage.

This house is still threatened with demolition and replacement. A new application for minor variances required for a replacement house will come forward to the Committee of Adjustment Dec. 13.

Neighbours can only hope that the new house’s style, massing, height and materials are appropriate for the area.

Back in April the Committee of Adjustment deferred indefinitely the application, to allow time for the neighbours to hear from the applicant with more acceptable plans. At the same time a heritage nomination for listing and designation was submitted to the city.

Since then, the planning and heritage processes have continued along independently. One of them, planning, may be ending soon.  The other, heritage is still in process.

A heritage evaluation report on the property has not yet been presented to the Toronto Preservation Board. However, based on recent experiences in Lawrence Park with comparable houses, it appears unlikely that the house will be evaluated by Heritage Preservation Services as worthy of listing and designation.

In those cases the houses were deemed not to meet any of the criteria in the Ontario Heritage Act, not even the contextual value.

In fact, context is a big part of what this is about – the street context. 68 Parkhurst is a representative example of “Leaside character”.

It is part of an uninterrupted block of houses similar (but no two being exactly the same) in scale, massing, height, design and materials. There is rhythm and beauty in the streetscape context of the properties, not just in the individuality of well-proportioned homes.

So it appears that barring a miracle we will lose 68 Parkhurst to demolition, but what of Parkhurst neighbour Renee Jacoby’s concern that “If the demolition occurs this would… likely kick-start an irreversible transition of the street and neighbourhood”?  How can we move forward with protection for the street?

The Leaside Residential Character Preservation Guidelines for House Renovations, Additions and In-Fill Development in the Community of Leaside  were prepared by the City of Toronto and the Leaside Character Preservation Advisory Committee in 2003.

They define objectives under four elements: pedestrian realm/ streetscape; front entrance and parking; mass and scale; and building elements that if conformed with by owners and developers would maintain the “Leaside character”.

Unfortunately there is no legal imperative requiring that this be done. The Leaside Property Owners’ Association regularly requests in its submissions that the Committee of Adjustment enforce the guidelines in its rulings on minor variance applications. But, to no avail.

There is also a provision in the Ontario Heritage Act that can be used to provide protection for streets.

A heritage conservation district is an area comprising more than a single property, that offers protection from demolition and alterations that are unsympathetic to the district character. Heritage conservation districts allow for a holistic approach to managing change.

The same criteria apply as for a single property designation (design or physical value, historical or associative value, and contextual value) plus two additional values: social or community value, and natural or scientific value.

If this is all about the street, does Parkhurst merit consideration as a heritage conservation district?  Consider this except from John Bentley Mays’ The Strangest House on Parkhurst Boulevard, in his book Emerald City – Toronto Visited (1994):

“Shady under its old hardwood trees, East York’s Parkhurst Boulevard is a comfortable modest street of family homes, none grand but none particularly mean, arranged side by side on narrow lots with mid-size aprons of lawns fore and aft…

“Like that of countless other suburban streets in Toronto, the architecture of Parkhurst is an artifact created in response to trauma, As the first houses began to go up, the Great Depression was still a vivid, terrible memory. The last houses were completed in the years immediately following the Second World War. The architects of Parkhurst showed how well they knew their clients when they crafted a street of small, old-fashioned homes redolent with memories of happier times.

“The result was a kind of hospital disguised as a street of homes, instituted for the healing of souls damaged by some fifteen years, first of economic breakdown… and next, mechanized warfare.  In the closely related styles and closely aligned sizes of the houses, the street speaks of a uniform commitment to an idea of family life from the earlier twentieth century – the benign, companionable patriarchy which succeeded the more rigorously hierarchical Victorian one. By offering a continuation of the suburban building styles of twenty years before, the builders proclaim the street’s continuity with the pre-crash, pre-war world of the buyers’ childhood.”

The natural, social, architectural and historical dimensions of Parkhurst Blvd. described by John Bentley Mays suggests it is a “cultural heritage landscape,” under the Ontario Heritage Act.

So should Parkhurst be considered for Leaside’s first heritage conservation district? We say again what we said in June.  “This is still a work in progress.”

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