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2006 03 31
Secret Toronto
At the moment, my favourite best-kept-urban-secret in Toronto is the shopping concourse at 55 Queen St East. Many of you might know the building in passing; it's one of the two near-identical 1973-vintage office buildings bookending the Parking Authority garage across from St. Michael's Hospital and the Metropolitan United Church grounds.

The architectural vocabulary: a sort of "Have A Nice Day" lite-Brutalism that, back when it was new, in the days of "urban reform" and reverence toward Eric Arthur's "Toronto: No Mean City", would have been commonly decried as emblematic of the contemporary spec-schlock degradation of the urban fabric. Today, it seems wistful rather than offensive; and other than some recent lobby-entrance reconfiguration, its fundamental character hasn't changed in over 30 years.

The lobby, with its coffered glass-globed ceiling and a service core enveloped by embossed-copper artistry, has the same retro-appeal as many an unaltered Austin Powers-era apartment building vestibule...and then you notice the wide-open travertine stair with lam-wood railings leading down to the...shopping concourse?!? Who'd expect an active-in-2006 shopping concourse here, so completely unmoored from anything PATH-related? Well, it exists, anchored by the Lacy & Company jeweller's supplies emporium, plus a barber, a hairdresser, another pair of active-or-dormant jewellry-related enterprises...it would seem that if you weren't in some way associated with the jewellry industry, the nearly-forgotten (and increasingly gentrified-away, as in the once-internally-glorious Ryrie Building at Yonge + Shuter) small artisans who populate this building and other neighbourhood nooks and crannies, you wouldn't know about this concourse, because you'd have no reason or incentive to be here. But once encountered, you can't forget it.

Even though it's...straightforward, really. A lusciously "nondescript" square corridor of glass storefronts around a service core (travertine at the elevators, simple plaster elsewhere), granite and terrazzo underfoot--nothing more, nothing less. Nor is it a dusty artifact; in fact, it's immaculately well kept, to the point where the beholder feels like it's eternally 1973 and Three Dog Night's "Shambala" is reverberating from the eternal 1050 CHUM transistor. Nothing's been dry-walled away; nothing's been fashionably post- or neo-modernized. It's the same now as it must have been at the beginning. And having stayed the same until now, begging (or not) for rediscovery, it'd be a shame if 55 Queen East's landlords feel the need to tamper with a good thing...
[email this story] Posted by Adam Sobolak on 03/31 at 02:51 PM

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