|Front cover of special number of The Eaton News showing Eaton’s College Street. City of Toronto Archives, Series 682, Subseries 1, File 34.|
Eaton’s began assembling land at Yonge and College prior to World War I. When construction began in 1928, Eaton’s envisioned a seven-storey base housing a store topped by an office tower rising 670 feet into the sky. While all of Eaton’s merchandise and offices were intended to move from its collection of buildings off Queen Street, company officials later admitted they lacked the resources to pull off the full transfer. Thanks to a combination of worsening economic conditions, problems with building over Taddle Creek and the vagueness of the tower plans (apparently the sketches made no provision for elevators or stairs), only the base was built.
|Advertisement, the Telegram, October 28, 1930. Click on image for larger version.|
Most of the store was initially devoted to home furnishings displayed in elegant surroundings. Shoppers on the second floor enjoyed decorative touches, like a replica of Rodin’s Thinker and a Rembrandt painting whose authenticity was later questioned (it was determined to be the work of one of his students). The bedroom galleries on the fifth floor included a reproduction of Marie Antoinette’s boudoir at Versailles, décor whose extravagance was at odds with the deepening economic crisis.
The real showplaces of the store were unveiled to the public in March 1931, when a suite of public rooms opened on the seventh floor. Designed by MIT professor Jacques Carlu in the Art Moderne style, the Round Room dining area and the Eaton Auditorium hosted balls, concerts, and high society events. Carlu’s attention to detail extended to his supervision of the floor’s china, table linens, and usher uniforms. The Eaton Auditorium developed a reputation as one of the city’s finest concert halls, hosting acts ranging from Glenn Gould to Billie Holliday. Fancy was the word of the day at the Round Room, where women who lunched amid murals painted by Carlu’s wife Natacha were required to wear gloves.
The building was sold and reopened two years later as College Park. Though initial plans called for the seventh floor to be renovated and continued to be used as auditorium and dining space, they remained shuttered until the Carlu event venue opened in 2003.
Additional material from The Eatons by Rod McQueen (Toronto: Stoddart, 1999), the February 7, 1977 edition of the Globe and Mail, and the October 30, 1930 edition of the Toronto Star.