Friday, August 28, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 672 dupont street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on April 1, 2013.

Toronto Star, February 25, 1915.
Employees of the Ford Motor Company likely smiled as 1915 dawned. During a January banquet at the automaker’s recently opened plant at the northwest corner of Dupont and Christie, employees learned they were receiving an across-the-board raise and would soon be joined by a fresh batch of co-workers. There aren’t any reports, however, as to whether workers celebrated by taking extra spins in freshly-built Model Ts on the rooftop test track.
The hazards of early driving in Toronto, as represented by this Model T which met a muddy fate just east of the Ford plant. Crowd looking over fence at wrecked automobile in ditch, south side of Dupont, east of Christie, circa 1910. Photo by William James. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1244, Item 61.
The public was invited to check out the facilities when the plant formally opened during the week of February 22, 1915. Originally bearing the address of 548-558 Dupont St. (it switched to the current street number of 672 later that year), the building’s first floor served as a public vehicle showroom. The second floor contained an unloading area for crates filled with engines, transmissions, and other parts shipped in by train that were required to assemble Model Ts. A repair shop occupied the third floor, an assembly line the fourth. The paint shop on the fifth offered one colour option: black. A freight elevator took finished vehicles to the roof for a test drive, where a four-foot-high wall prevented them from flying off the building. Grand opening celebrations included an open house and the novelty of corporate films.

The Globe, January 19, 1924.
As the auto market grew, Ford quickly found the 110,000-square-foot facility inadequate for its needs. Production shifted during the mid-1920s to a new plant at Danforth and Victoria Park on the site currently occupied by Shoppers World plaza—portions of that plant were uncovered during the recent conversion of Zellers to Target. A real-estate ad published in the Globe in January 1924 offered potential buyers for the Dupont site “immediate possession” of a facility with two high-speed elevators and a railway siding. Over the next two decades, companies lured to the building included textile manufacturers, construction-material suppliers, food companies, and head offices for tool producers.

In the late 1940s, Planters bought 672 Dupont. Mr. Peanut spied the assembly line with his monocle until production moved to Smiths Falls in 1987. The building was placed on the city’s heritage inventory and underwent a year-long renovation backed by Johnson Management and Counsel Realty Investment Corporation. The goal was to restore the site to its appearance circa 1916, and thus required un-bricking many of its windows. Chrysler expressed interest in bringing the showroom back to its roots via a car dealership, but the site ended up being used by a hotel-furniture liquidator.

Evening Telegram plant, Christie Street and Dupont Street, 1940s. 672 Dupont is in the background, in its Planters Peanuts incarnation. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1257, Series 1057, Item 2038.
When Faema bought the building in 1994, it respected the site’s early history. According to a 2010 Sympatico interview with Faema chief financial manager Pasquale Di Donato, the site represented “a special time in history for Toronto for the automobile industry. Ford provided a luxury for a better standard of living.” Plaques placed by the main entrance illustrated its days as a car-manufacturing site. The showroom was transformed into a cafĂ© utilizing Faema’s cappuccino and espresso machines. Freight-elevator access to the test track was bricked off—a measure we imagine prevents anyone too hopped on caffeine from taking an antique vehicle for an illicit rooftop spin.

Additional material from the January 19, 1924 edition of the Globe, the January 9, 1915, February 20, 1915, and December 10, 1988 editions of the Toronto Star, and a November 30, 2010 post on Autos by Sympatico.

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