Monday, December 14, 2009

Irreplaceable Buildings. Can't be made today.

 It's a heartwarming story.
"The Capitol Theatre and Bowles building, once thought to be too derelict to restore, have made majestic comebacks on London's Dundas Street, breathing new life into a block of core buildings between Clarence and Richmond streets that badly need a new draw." - The London Free Press
The story is made all the more powerful when one recalls the words of developer Shmuel Farhi: "We purchased the building (Capitol Theatre) solely to provide parking . . . "

Actually, he got his parking. After acquiring the property, Farhi razed the theatre. The auditorium is gone.

Oh well, no loss. What use could a city find for a 1400 seat auditorium? There are some who think it would have made a fine performing arts centre. A 1400 seat PAC needs parking, and the closer the better. Well, PAC got its parking, lots of it, and it couldn't be closer. PAC got the parking it needed, but lost the auditorium. You can't win 'em all.
"Two side-by-side downtown London historic gems that came close to a date with the wrecker's ball have returned to their former glory." - The London Free Press
To be completely honest, the remaining Capitol Building, mostly an ornate foyer, was the victim of "demolition light." The shell was left intact but the interior detailing was removed and donated to renovation projects at the Palace Theatre and the Aeolian Hall.

O.K., we lost the theatre and we lost the foyer but at least we kept the two facades.
" . . . these buildings were originally written off, considered too expensive to restore." - Paul Berton, The London Free Press
Well, the naysayers were proven wrong, right? Well, not completely.
"The Bowles used to have a terracotta front, but 80% of the 400 tiles were damaged. The decision was made to change all of it to stone that was meticulously carved. " - The London Free Press
O.K. The naysayers were right. It was too expensive to restore; they rebuilt it. It is now brand new. It was cheaper.

We lost the theatre, the foyer, and the Bowles Building facade is essentially new. It is a new facing in limestone and not antique terracotta. It could be erected anywhere - downtown, uptown, White Oaks Mall.
As The London Free Press tells us, there is "potential in heritage buildings, not simply because they're old (in fact, in spite of it) but because they are unique and interesting . . . "
And they just don't make buildings like the Capitol and the Bowles anymore. Right? No craftsmen left, dying art, lost skills, and all that... Right? You just have to love these old, unique, irreplaceable buildings. Hey, when they're gone they're gone. Impossible to replace.

Now, about that Capitol Theatre front and the missing marquee . . .
Obviously, the truth is if you want the look of your downtown back, go for it. The skills needed to build old-looking stuff, especially facades, are still around; It is just expensive. Shmuel Farhi will tell you that.

Let's stop all the silly irreplaceable jewels stuff. I've heard of art deco, and art nouveau, and Victorian but I have never heard of jewel. You want it? Design it and build it. Have a style, an approach, and adhere to it.

All the fawning talk over heritage buildings that are often the newest construction on the block is silly. You know, if there is one word I would never use for Shmuel Farhi it is fawning. He's pragmatic. And oddly enough, parking lots and all, the city may be better off because of it.

The Palace and the Aeolian Hall owners may agree as they benefited from his pragmatism.

1 comment:

  1. The truth is ,the Capitol was so close to being bought and restored!I was part of this project.
    In the end we could not compete with Farhi's money and need for a parking lot!He outbid us and then City Hall let him tear it down!
    We had the money and others were in line behind us but Farhi had the big money!
    Oh...Farhi has been quoted saying the Capitol was of no historical signifigance! Broke my heart!