Wednesday, August 12, 2015

off the grid: ghost city 832 bay street

This installment of my "Ghost City" column for The Grid was originally published on October 9, 2012.

Bay Street, looking south from Grosvenor Street, April 24, 1930. Photo by Alfred Pearson. City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 7582. Click on image for larger version.
From a distance, the recently completed Burano condominium tower appears to be the latest high-rise residential space along Bay Street. At street level, its ties to the past are more apparent through a nearly 90-year old fa├žade whose angles parallel the jog along Bay north of Grenville Street. Residents will soon be moving into a site whose base offered sales and service for generations of General Motors customers.


Designed by Hamilton-based firm Hutton and Souter, the building housed General Motors of Canada president Sam McLaughlin’s personal dealership when it opened in 1925. When his brother George retired from GM the previous year, McLaughlin vowed “to ease off” after two decades in the automobile business. While running the dealership suggested a gradual move to retirement, McLaughlin occupied both active and figurehead roles with GM until his death in 1972 at age 100. His philanthropic efforts included the nearby McLaughlin Planetarium, which had a meteoric existence compared to the dealership.

Vintage Ad: You Can Even Choose it for Economy
Globe and Mail, November 29, 1951.
During the 1930s, the lot tinkered with its name as often as new models were placed in the showroom. The McLaughlin nameplate disappeared around 1931, when the dealership became Cadillac’s “direct factory branch.” Pontiac was added to the lineup in the mid-1930s. By 1940, it was operated by Beattie Cadillac Chevrolet Oldsmobile, who touted its three lots around the city as “Canada’s largest General Motors dealer.”

On July 20, 1955, a full-page newspaper ad announced that former City Buick president J. Harry Addison was taking over 832 Bay. To reassure customers, the ad stressed that “an experienced sales staff is always ready to assist you in every way possible, and skilled mechanics, with modern equipment and a complete line of parts, offer speedy, efficient 24-hour service.” Addison had a long relationship with GM, stretching back to selling fridges from its Frigidaire unit during the 1930s. Perhaps the automaker thought Addison’s luck at the racetrack would help sales—his stable of champion horses included Arise, the first Canadian winner of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, New York.

Vintage Ad: Addison Takes Over 832 Bay
Toronto Star, July 20, 1955. Click on image for larger version.
The 1960s were eventful for Addison and his dealership, then known as Addison on Bay. A strike by the Teamsters in 1963 affected both the Bay lot and a separate dealership owned by his son John, who also served as a Liberal MP in suburban Toronto. The strike delayed the pickup of a seven-seat Cadillac limo by Toronto mayor Donald Summerville, who had traded in a 1960 Lincoln. In addition to providing official vehicles, Addison was active in municipal affairs as a member of the Toronto Harbour Commission, where he served two separate terms as chairman.

Recognizing its historical value as one of the few car showrooms to survive from the early 20th century, the site received a heritage designation in 1999. The following year, the dealership’s real-estate arms bought the property from its landlord, the provincial government. The sale raised eyebrows when Addison Properties received exclusive buying rights for 832 Bay and a site across the street; a government spokesperson attributed the terms to Addison’s long-term tenancy. The sale price was reportedly a third of the site’s market value.

In March 2007, Addison on Bay announced its closure. In a letter to customers, president Clarke Addison indicated that “this decision was a difficult one and one that was ultimately based on economic factors, including the increasing cost of maintaining a central downtown location.” The site became Burano, a condominium to be built by Lanterra Developments and designed by architect Peter Clewes, the same team behind the rhyming Murano tower erected on the land Addison had purchased across the street. We’ll have to wait for the parking spots to be occupied to see what percentage of Burano residents own GM vehicles.

Additional material from the July 20, 1955, May 27, 1963, August 4, 1985, and March 2, 2007 editions of the Toronto Star.

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