What happened with the Trend
House at 48 Rathburn--a property of national architectural
and historical significance--is, in its way, a bigger catastrophe
than the Inn On The Park. Or (pending) the Bata Building.
Maybe even than anything else, heritage-loss-wise, in post-amalgamation.
It is more than a tragedy--it is a scandal. One has
to reach for the depths of "preventable" personal tragedy--dead
welfare babies, spousal abuse, tainted water supplies etc--for
the proper metaphor. And like many such scandals, it may
be just the straw to break the camel's back; that is, something
to lead to the reform of Toronto's existing historical and
heritage infrastructure. Even something as regrettable as
the Inn On The Park demolition seems a potboiler red herring
by comparison. This could be "the one".
A little background--first,
on the house: http://www.mkurtz.com/trendhouse/history/globemail2004.html
It was important--but it was not "recognized". It's safe
to say that pre-amalgamation Etobicoke totally lacked the
heritage infrastructure capable of even acknowledging the
house and its significance, or with the avenues by which
such acknowledgment could ultimately "trickle up", so to
speak. Not to over-implicate Etobicoke--after all, the concept
of "modern heritage" was even more of a novelty at large
pre-Y2K than today. But from experience, it's safe to say
that, by and large, the usual historical-boardish cast of
history buffs and community stalwarts that "represented"
history and heritage in Etobicoke would have been, in and
of itself, completely out of its depth and oblivious re
the "historical" significance of the Trend House. Or if
there would have been any inkling of its significance "from
within", it would have been trapped within a Catch-22 of
typical Etobicoke caution, don't upset the apple cart, best
to stick with "century buildings" or owner-approval/solicitation,
etc. And those who might have informed them otherwise
would have been viewed with suspicion--as interlopers, not
"of Etobicoke", so to speak. (Which might not always reflect
well on the interlopers' persuasion techniques, either.)
So, in this Potemkin-front heritage authority circumstance,
the ethos ranged from well-meaning but neglected easy-mark
amateurism, to a devil-may-care Etobicoke-knows-best "McMichael"
reactionism (best expressed in the destructive kitschification
of the Old Mill, which reflected an out-of-depthness re
current acceptable heritage practice as well). Oh, it tried--but
it never lived up to its competent potential; and whatever
"positive" happened came almost in spite of the modus operandi.
But that was then. After Y2K, and after a halting start
(which saw nobody from the old Etobicoke Historical Board
carry on into the newly-amalgamated Toronto Preservation
Board, which is telling you something), things changed for
the better--or at least, the "more promising". Trouble was,
the "then" kept getting in the way, i.e. poorly-conceived
existing building listings and empty files, an existing
political and planning and bureaucratic structure still
fatally overconditioned by the "old system", etc. Perhaps
with a smattering of "now" in the form of post-amalgamation
Toronto Preservation Board travails; but Etobicoke is definitely
a case where heritage-body amalgamation was--or should have
been--for the better, rather than for the worse.
in this "more promising" atmosphere that the 48 Rathburn
Trend House "came out of the closet", so to speak--and not
just as an inside talking point. Indeed, buoyed by a 1995
SSAC Bulletin article, I made the initial approach to the
owner in 2003--and what I found out, interestingly enough,
is that, nobody had approached him about the house before
I did. No architectural buffs. No heritage buffs. Nobody.
It's like nobody knew...or if they did know (largely by
being "of a certain age"), it was too wrapped up in one's
personal anecdotes, or an overwrought "respect for the community",
or the usual entrenched notions, to convey itself as of
"historical importance". And 1952 wasn't 1852 (or 1752,
or 1652...), y'know.
It was a house of genuine, national
significance. And from all apparent evidence, Etobicoke
did not know. But miraculously, within a year, people knew--first
through the Dave LeBlanc article linked above, and thence
to its becoming a star attraction of Doors Open Toronto
2004. At long last, it was "recognized"--it seemed.
with a glitch. The owner loved the house and wanted it kept,
but did not desire listing or designation. Recognizing the
difficulty of tilting against Etobicoke's history of political
heritage-unfriendliness (especially when it meant crossing
the wishes of a property owner), and perhaps as a bow to
the owner's advanced age, the Toronto Preservation Board
aquiesced--but with an asterisk; that is, come the time
when ownership's passed along, the TPB would be notified.
It didn't happen. To everybody's surprise, the property
was quietly sold in the spring of 2005--apparently for redevelopment.
And it was almost as if Doors Open was a mirage--it had
no effect whatsoever. Even the whereabouts of the owner
and his family, the furniture, the documents, etc was unknown
(as it turned out, he died this past February, subsequent
to the move). It's like nobody in any authority made the
effort to pick up and pursue the threads left by Doors Open--and
even after all of that, "the community", or even the owner's
family and offspring, had failed to grasp the gravity of
it all. It might as well have been any old open house or
"garden tour" type of event, for all anybody cared--it was
over, life goes on.
And then a shuddering silence--in the
middle of which the Etobicoke-York Community Preservation
Panel pursued the property in earnest, requesting that the
TPB put it on the agenda ASAP due to the critical situation,
or at least that Preservation staff monitor the property's
status relative to current ownership, severance/demolition
permits, etc, esp. given the property's evident importance
and promises made with the previous owner.
It never happened.
Part of it may have been the TPB's current generalized reluctance
(due to reasons of avoiding litigation and political quagmires)
to list or designate for-sale or slated-for-redevelopment
properties. But mainly, it was a consequence of the depleted/overworked
state of the TPB, a victim of Toronto's continuing post-amalgamation
financial crisis as well as the sheer scale of "heritage
issues" at hand within the amalgamated city. Despite repeated
demands, *no* work was done, 48 Rathburn got completely
squeezed off all successive TPB agendas--and in the end,
it was too late.
It was found out that the demolition permit
was issued at the end of January; and legally, the TPB was
hogtied. And after a whole series of eleventh-hour false-start
negotiations, including a designation request to be tabled
at the current Etobicoke-York Community Council meeting--it
A decade ago, this would have been a "catastrophe"
born out of infrastructural naivety (and it would have been
the proverbial tree falling in the forest which nobody hears).
Now that the naivety no longer exists, it's a catastrophe
born out of infrastructural depletion. Abject depletion.
The threadbare neglect and inadequate structure of the City's
municipal heritage body. It's like a patient dying, under
the most apallingly stupid circumstances, as a result of
an overworked health care system.
But the Trend House's
brief turn in the spotlight in 2004 has had one beneficial
(albeit Pyrrhic) effect--it has elevated its loss into something
much, much, more resonant, even iconic in its sheer and
utter avoidable tragedy and stupidity, than it might otherwise
That's why I feel it's even "bigger" than the
Inn On The Park--especially for what it could mean for the
future, the positive future, of Toronto's municipal heritage
infrastructure. It's the truest, most poignant martyr to
Toronto Architectural Conservancy