THE ELEGANT HARBOUR COMMMISSION BUILDING WAS ONCE PERCHED ON THE EDGE OF A PIER

Erected in 1917 between two waterfront warehouses, the Harbour Commission Building has survived radical changes on the shores of Lake Ontario. Infill has left the 6-storey structure on dry land, surrounded fore and aft by numerous skyscrapers, the Harbourfront Centre, three theatres, Queens Quay, the Power Plant contemporary art gallery, shops, a streetcar line and a cycling/walking trail.

<PHOTO ABOVE – Harbour Commission Building, lower right, on its pier; City of Toronto Archives>

THOSE CLEVER SAN FRANCISCANS ARE CONVERTING AUTO-BODY SHOPS INTO SPAS AND PUBS

It takes an imaginative soul to see potential in an axle-grease-laden body shop in SAN FRANCISCO’s grubby Tenderloin at 466 Eddy Street <PHOTO ABOVE>, and turn it into a 3,200-square-foot Japanese spa & restaurant. The husband-and-wife owners told SF Weekly that in the beginning “the building was an open canvas. It was four brick walls and a hole in the ground, which meant we could make our own decisions in designing the interior space.”

The rebuild took about three years – and involved earthquake proofing, complying with the city’s fire code, police department permits, setting up a restaurant and obtaining a massage license.

Could something like this happen in TORONTO’s overheated real estate market? We certainly have a good supply of empty auto-body shops. The one above is on Gerrard Street East at Sherbourne.  Two other San Francisco auto-body shop conversions. The Standard Deviant Brewery is on 14th Street, a neighbourhood devoted to old auto-body shops <PHOTO BELOW – jubilant Standard Deviant Brewery owners after securing their lease>.

And the Volvo Centrum Shop, at 16th and Sanchez, which sold for $4.6-million in 2016 is about to become a frontispiece for a luxury apartment building with glass walls. <PHOTO BELOW>

‘TORONTO THE GOOD’ WAS VERY, VERY GOOD, BUT THERE’S ANOTHER SIDE TO THAT FAIRY TALE

TORONTO was once known as a city of multiple churches and relentless conservatism. But like all cities it was oftentimes naughty, and you can experience some of that in the Police Museum and Discovery Centre, the Old Don Jail and, until April 30 ‘Vice and Virtue‘, a stellar exhibit at the Toronto Reference Library. All are free.You’ll find the Toronto Police Museum and Discovery Centre on the ground floor of Police Headquarters, 40 College Street, open Monday to Friday from 8:30am – 4pm.  Elmer the Safety Elephant, the Boyd Gang, an old fashioned police station, traffic signals, handcuffs, finger printing, a motorcycle and police car, photographs, models – they’re all here.  Kids love it, and the exhibits are adult-friendly as well.

Self-guiding yourself through the Old Don Jail is something completely different. THE DON is a heritage building with a very shady past, our city’s Alcatraz, site of 70 executions and numerous escape attempts, home-from-home in the 1950’s for the notorious Boyd Gang, minuscule cells, segregation cells, punishment cells, the Polka Dot Gang’s temporary residence – and now it’s been given one of Canada’s finest restorations and is open to the public for self-guided walk about tours.

It’s a kinder, gentler place now, and you’re welcome to visit from Monday to Friday, excluding holidays, from 9am to 5pm. Groups of 15 or more must arrange their visit in advance. Call 416-461-8252 and ask for the Communications Department.  Streetcar #506 travels along Gerrard Street East to the Don. It’s near the corner of Broadview & Gerrard.