With David Mirvish unveiling his bold new condo plan this week, we examined the heritage buildings that this block of King Street West stands to lose.
If David Mirvish’s plans for a “sculpture” of condos and museums along King Street West is realized, it may take away with it four of Toronto’s century-old warehouses.
These buildings, which received heritage designations last year after having been listed in the city’s heritage inventory for decades, similarly changed the face of the neighbourhood back when they were built. When Upper Canada College moved north to its present site in 1891, it left behind land along King Street West that proved ideal for manufacturers, including some whose properties to the east burned during the Great Fire of 1904. Out went the scholars, in came the underwear makers.
The Mirvish family entered the picture following their purchase of the Royal Alexandra Theatre in 1963. With few nearby options for hungry patrons, Ed Mirvish turned most of the warehouses into a mini-empire of dining establishments catering to all tastes. At their peak, the Mirvish eateries sat 2,600 diners. The trademark Mirvish playful tackiness was on display via gaudy signs and unique antique décor. As historians William Dendy and William Kilbourn noted in their book Toronto Observed, “Honest Ed’s warehouses are deliciously vulgar without being ridiculous.”
The four affected buildings are:
Location: 266-270 King Street West
Built: three phases between 1904 and 1913
Architect: A. Frank Wickson (1904 section), Sproatt and Rolph (expansions in 1909 and 1913). These architects later left their mark on the University of Toronto campus: Wickson with the Koffler Student Services Centre, Sproatt and Rolph with Hart House.
Current Tenants: Golf Land, King West Club fitness centre
History: Originally designed for ladies’ belt maker Featherstone Novelty Manufacturing Company, the building was named after the firm’s manager, Alexander Reid. An extension to the east in 1913 housed book publisher McClelland and Goodchild, which evolved into McClelland and Stewart. A series of book firms resided in the building over the next 50 years, finding its basement convenient for their presses. Other tenants before Ed Mirvish bought the building in 1965 ranged from yarn dealers to washing machine distributors. Specializing in affordable roast beef dinners amid antiques and bric-a-brac assembled from thrift stores, Ed’s Warehouse packed ‘em in from 1966 to 1998. For years, male diners were required to don a jacket and tie—if you arrived without them, ill-fitting dining wear was forced upon you. Other Mirvish eateries in the building included Ed’s Italian and Ed’s Folly lounge.
E.W. Gillet Building
Location: 276 King Street West
Built: 1901, expanded 1943
Architect: A. Frank Wickson (original), Murray Brown (expansion). One of Brown’s most prominent buildings is also threatened at the moment: Postal Station K near Yonge and Eglinton.
Current Tenants: Shoeless Joe’s, offices
History: The oldest warehouse on the block, 276 King West originally housed baking powder producer Pure Gold Manufacturing Company. The building was sold to fellow baking supply maker the E.W. Gillet Company in 1904, whose previous home was destroyed by the Great Fire earlier that year. During World War I it housed the Russell Motor Car Company, then functioned as a federal customs house. The premises expanded to the west under the James Morrison Brass Manufacturing Company. Ed Mirvish bought the site around 1969 and opened Old Ed’s restaurant a few years later. The eatery’s original schtick was only employing waiters aged 65 or older. It was the last of the Mirvish restaurants, serving its last meal in 2000. Later watering holes in the basement included Peel Pub and Philthy McNasty’s. Before moving next door, Toronto Antiques on King provided a new home for dealers who previously operated out of Harbourfront’s antique market.
Location: 284 King Street West
Architect: William Fraser, who assisted in the design of the Confederation Life Building at Richmond Street East and Yonge Street.
Current Tenants: Dunn’s Famous deli, Mirvish Enterprises, Toronto Antiques on King
History: One of the few surviving Toronto warehouse buildings with terra cotta cladding, 284 King West was originally built for hat manufacturers the Anderson-Macbeth Company. Over the years it housed a number of dress and undergarment producers—a 1916 ad for the H.W. Gossard Company sought out “girls and women to learn corset-making in our bright, cheerful, centrally located workrooms.” By the 1960s, the building housed the flagship store of the Lewiscraft home crafting supply chain. Besides running their theatrical offices out of the building, the Mirvishes once operated the unfortunately named Most Honourable Ed’s Chinese restaurant on the site.
Eclipse Whitewear Building
PHOTO: COURTESY OF CITY OF TORONTO ARCHIVES
Location: 322 King Street West
Architect: Gregg & Gregg, who also built nearby warehouses like 15 Duncan Street.
Current Tenants: From Hockey to Hollywood memorabilia store, Tim Horton’s, offices
History: For over half-a-century, the building was home to Eclipse Whitewear, who specialized in childrens’ and ladies’ underwear. The site was purchased and rehabilitated by architects Jack Diamond and Barton Myers in 1970. Among their tenants was the Toronto Sun, which quickly needed a cheap, sizeable space to launch the paper from in November 1971. Due to renovations to their preferred second floor space, the tabloid initially occupied the dark, dusty, and grimy fourth floor, which was previously used by a bankrupt silk screening firm—columnist Paul Rimstead ironically referred to the space as the “beautiful downtown Eclipse building.” The paper stayed until its King East home opened in 1975. Since then, tenants have included an acclaimed 1970s Italian restaurant (La Cantinetta), 1980s fine dining (Jardin des Artistes), a disco (Downtown), a jazz club (Stage Door Café), theatrical memorabilia (Theatre Q’s), and sports memorabilia (Legends of the Game, now From Hockey to Hollywood).