Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Toronto 1889 Coach House Move Blocked by Committee

Toronto’s committee of adjustment decided Wednesday [June 11 2014] it would not permit a coach house built in 1889 to move uptown. 

A coach house built in 1889 will not be making a historic trip across Toronto, after a city committee rejected an application to move it from downtown to midtown.
The 3,000-square-foot building at 19 Isabella St. is part of Casey House, an HIV/AIDS hospital, and is slated to be demolished this fall to make way for a new facility. It was offered up for free, provided someone could move the building by Labour Day.

Toronto entrepreneur Robert Hiscox offered to spend $1 million to move the coach house to one of his properties, 92 Roxborough St. in Summerhill.
Two dozen area residents turned out to Wednesday night’s committee of adjustment meeting and more than 70 sent letters opposing the move.

Hiscox had asked to sever the property, creating a second lot for the coach house, and had applied for 19 variances from city planning rules. Committee members were not persuaded the proposed two large houses on small lots would fit in with the neighbourhood.

“In terms of the heritage aspects, I would rely on what heritage staff have said. . . . Its heritage value is locational and once you’ve moved it, its heritage value is diminished dramatically,” said committee member Barbara Leonhardt.

Hiscox, who was not at the meeting, did not rule out an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board.
“It’s sad news. We always knew it was a challenging application, but we believe it’s the right thing to do for the city, for the neighbourhood and our shared history,” Hiscox said after learning of the decision.

He said more than 700 people signed his online petition to “Save the Coach House.”
Problems cited by several speakers included the removal of mature trees; loss of privacy, light, views and space; loss of neighbourhood character and setting a precedent for building on Molson St., which has never been an address for houses, only garages.

Many also worried the coach house would prove impossible to move in its entirety and that just a handful of bricks would make it to the new site.

“People are very concerned about the neighbourhood. We love our neighbourhood and we are trying to preserve it the way it is,” said Lianne Miller, who has lived on Macpherson Ave. in a home adjacent to the proposed lot for 22 years.

Eileen Costello, the lawyer representing Hiscox and his real estate company, Constantine Enterprises Inc., said her client’s intention was to leave the house intact but could not guarantee the final design.
Edward S. Rogers, deputy chair of the Rogers Communications board of directors, and Suzanne Rogers are listed as directors of Constantine Enterprises on corporate documents which state its corporate headquarters as the Rogers building on Bloor St. E.

But the coach house project is not affiliated with Rogers Communications, Hiscox said.
Neighbours’ concerns that moving the coach house was motivated by profits on future developments are unfounded, he said. “It’s not a business endeavour we’re going through. We’re trying to do something nice.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who initially floated the idea of moving the coach house, had said it “remained to be seen” whether Roxborough St. was the right place for the building and that others had expressed interest as well.

Toronto Star reader Comment:

What I find comical is the self righteousness of some of these area residents. It was mentioned during the hearing that the 2 houses on MacPherson, north of Mr Hiscox property, complained about the view they would lose if the Coah House is placed at 92 Roxborough. What view? The one they each clearly have looking into Mr. Hiscox backyard from their second floor balconies? This hearing only showed the demeanor of the area and the fact that they feel everybody's business is their business. Don't forget the individual that writes the blog about Yonge and Roxborough. Reporting on who's doing what in the neighbourhood from people walking their dogs, to what they're driving, and even who's fixing their roof. Seriously? I'd hate to live in this area.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Fight to Preserve Toronto Stable Continues

Hiscox was taken aback by the idea that he was “trying to pull a fast one” on neighbours. In response, he bought the web domain to rally supporters.
“(The plan) was to be very straightforward, upfront, and gain support of folks. It’s a little complicated what we’re doing and it’s a great thing for the neighbourhood,” he said.
While James Nadler understands his neighbours’ concerns about congesting Molson St., he says accusations of ugliness are unfounded.
“I think it is attractive,” said Nadler, a Ryerson radio and television arts professor who lives in the area. “Esthetically it would be better to have it there than what is there currently… I’d love to see the building saved.”

The final decision will come June 11, when the committee of adjustment gathers to address the case. If the application is denied, Hiscox insists that won’t spell the demise of the coach house.

“We’re not in the business of backing away meekly. We’ll evaluate our options,” he said. “We can look at storing the coach house if we have to.”

But there are complications. For one thing, the move would require the city to make all sorts of complicated exceptions to its by-laws; for another, neighbours say the introduction of the historic building would utterly decimate their way of life. “It’s just plain ugly,” Peter Rehak, one of several participants in a recent community meeting about the proposal, told the Star. “It would destroy how the neighbourhood is set up.” The site is currently occupied by a three-car garage, as God apparently intended. 

So here's the question. 

Why are efforts to preserve architectural history so difficult and almost always seem to bring out the worst in people? 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Preserving NY Stables and Liam Neeson

(from the NY Daily News)
Liam Neeson probably hit it right on the head when he posited that the fight to eliminate horse drawn carriages in NYC is really all about developers lusting after valuable real estate where the NY stables are currently located. It's not about the horses. It's about the stables.

Liam Neeson Film

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Clues or clueless?

In the author's opinion old buildings with character should somehow "speak to us" about their past lives. 

Pargeting "the bondo of buildings" usually hides many imperfections.
The five upper windows are additions to the original structure. 

Massive weight-bearing hinge plates carried huge doors. The plates were as large as 18" in depth and 12" in width, embedded within the brick layers. Some stable walls were three bricks thick.

The original 100 year old wood frame peeks out from under the plaster. The marginally protective bars have trapped a screen that has probably not been used for the last 50 years. This "window" has been created in part of the space that was originally occupied by a stable door. The infill space is likely composed of an odd collection of various bricks or blocks - now hidden from view.

Clearly the flimsy nut and bolt in the right hinge plate served a less demanding function than the original pivot point hardware. 

Human-scale doors on the side almost always accompanied the large horse and carriage entrances. The "free-floating" lintel may have been the based of a hayloft door at one point, although the location is a little odd. 

So here's the question ...

How far should one go (or be compelled) to respectfully acknowledge a building's past lives when it is being adapted to yet another life?

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Alley and Thally

1316 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
(202) 733-3849

Tally-Ho was a British fox hunting riders' "cry to hounds". It was also the name of the type of coach that was available for hire from the massive 1883 Tally-Ho Livery Stable (1300 Naylor Court) immediately behind Thally Restaurant. This building is now part of the DC Archives. You can still see the horse-head-height windows on the second floor levels of the building. 

The author of preservingDCstables recently chatted with Sherman, the owner of Thally, to explore his reflections on the past 8 months since opening his restaurant in the Naylor Court Block of Shaw. 

He is pleased that he opened Thally in Shaw when he did and is enjoying being part of the "boom on 9th Street". We discussed several of the basic principles of success in any business - especially restaurant businesses. We also discussed his personal philosophy and how Thally reflects the history of the Naylor Court alley and the neighborhood. 

Know and understand your neighborhood

Soft spoken and unassuming yet always thinking, Sherman has many layers. One alter ego is hinted at with his 1976 straight-pipe shovel head Harley Davidson that once served in the Secret Service. Before committing to the space for Thally, he spent hours observing the neighborhood by just watching people from his parked car across the street like a stakeout. He came at all times of the day and stayed for hours. He visited Azis' Coffee shop, talked to people and took the temperature of the neighborhood in terms of readiness for his new venture. I suppose one could make an analogy to cooking where the right timing, the right ingredients and the right temperature are critical. Danny Meyer the successful NYC restauranteur describes a similar strategy whenever he contemplated opening a new restaurant. (see the wonderful interview with Charlie Rose)

Have a sense of timing
Many businesses in the Shaw neighborhood have quietly come and gone in the last five years for many reasons. However one reason really stands out and that's timing. It's extremely important to "catch the wave of change" at just the right time otherwise you and your dreams can drown. Many seem to have been launched far too early. Sherman recognizes the value of timing and feels comfortable with how his business is positioned in relation to all of the new growth and vibrancy in the community.

Sherman also realizes the value of creating a restaurant business that is invested in the long term. He is interested in providing a single high quality restaurant experience and not the least tempted by suggestions of expanding. Geographic over-expansion has proven fatal to a number of restaurants that were comfortable with 70 seats and out of depth with 300. Sherman's idea of expansion is within the business itself through gradually expanding hours and offerings. He is a firm believer in organic growth and consistency. Foot traffic and drop-in customers will grow along the 9th Street Corridor as will Thally. 

Hire and partner with excellent people
Sherman is clearly proud of the people with whom he partners and who work for him. He acknowledges that this has been pivotal to his success. He is delighted with his chef (Ron Tanaka) who has a powerful and impressive resume of past experiences. 

Be responsive to customer feedback and continually learn
Young people seem to eat a little less today than in the past but perhaps drink a little more. So there was an incentive to be able to offer a choice of plate sizes and wide option of beverages. Sherman wanders amongst his customers listening to their stories about what their enjoy. He also hears many tales of what "life used to be like" in this neighborhood when customers lived here decades ago. Recently he made a connection to the classic DC book "Tally's Corner" through a customer. Changes in the menu reflect Thally's dedication to creating an authentic neighborhood restaurant that is competitively priced, where people enjoy the experience and want to come back.

Win recognition 
Thally was deservedly awarded the "Best New Business in Shaw" award this past year. Recognition has also come through a solid 4 star rating on Yelp. Thally has made the conscious decision not to advertise, preferring to grow through word of mouth, one customer at a time. 

Consistent excellence
Consistency was a word that Sherman used several times during our conversation and it plays an important role in the evolution of Thally. Just as word about excellence spreads rapidly through social media and word of mouth so do words about inconsistency. The Thally experience needs to be able to speak for itself. 

Work within your expertise and grow from past successes
Sometimes in business people are tempted to wander outside of their expertise or "comfort zone". In attempting to please many they end up pleasing few. Sherman's restaurant reflects who he is and his philosophy. His many past experiences as well as the counsel of his senior partner have informed his path to owning and developing Thally. He sees a healthy mix of dining options along 9th Street that don't conflict with each other - another organic symbol. 
    Thally is probably the only restaurant in the city that offers cider and mead (7 types) as part of the beverage menu.

The personal touch
Perhaps one of the most important elements of a successful restaurant is the presence of the personal touch of the owner and manager. People care that Sherman cares and is visible. For example, if a customer happens not to finish a dish, Sherman will gently ask if there was a problem with it and try to better understand that customer's expectations. This is an infrequent occurrence. One patron was so happy with her plate that she was observed to be quietly licking it clean! Very few "to go boxes" leave Thally.
     Once a bartender, Sherman understands how to talk to people but even more importantly how to listen. Today he has made the transition "across to the other side of the bar" but still knows how to roll up his sleeves. During our conversation he paused to graciously accept a phone booking and another time to accommodate a walk-in request to cater an evening for a local political candidate and their supporters. 
    Many years ago when DC was in serious decline a Naylor Court artist wrote about The Death of a Dream. Times change and life cycles back again organically like the changes in the rebirth of a burned out forest. Dreams are important and drive all of us. The images of the Tally-Ho Livery Stable and past dreams are hauntingly captured on the restaurant walls. The newly constructed building in which Thally lives was once a Salvation Army Store with a rear 1863 stable (razed) but has arisen to enable Sherman and Thally to create new community memories for the future. 


A Dream Realized  (from the Thally Website

Thally is the brainchild of two good friends who have been talking about opening up their own casually elegant restaurant in Washington, DC for years. Chef & Co-Owner Ron Tanaka and General Manager & Co-Owner Sherman Outhuok finally found the perfect place, on a burgeoning block of 9th St. NW near the DC Convention Center, and Thally was born. Our name pays tribute to our Shaw neighborhood as well as our families: “Thally” refers to the Tally-Ho Stables (built in 1883) located in Naylor Court directly behind our restaurant, as well as to Thalia, Sherman’s daughter. (Thally is pronounced without saying the “H”, as in Tally-ho.) Thally was conceived to be a comfortable and inviting neighborhood restaurant, as well as a destination worthy of Washingtonians crossing the city to 9th St. NW to discover our mouthwatering cuisine. 

 Start at the 26:48 mark
(start at the 26:48 mark) 

"Causal, foodie heaven! Love, love, love! Simple American fare with a twist :-). Let's start with the simple, rustic decor, nicely spaced tables & booths and interesting abstract art on the walls. The menu is chef-driven, seasonal and fun. 

For a mid-spring tour of the offerings, my group opted for rabbit, duck, pork and fish... Everyone thought their dish was the best and indeed they were all packed with flavor without being too precious or overly done.  A super nice cocktail, beer and wine list compliment the robust dishes. And Thally doesn't disappoint with a small but delish dessert menu and interesting post-dinner drink list including house-made "cellos" as in limoncello.

And the location .. in the uber hot Shaw neighborhood. And lucky for the BF and I, waking distance from home." 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

If you can move this 3,000-square-foot, Victorian Toronto coach house, it’s yours

This "moving coach house" in Toronto was recently reviewed in the National Post 

A 3,000 square-foot Victorian coach house in downtown Toronto can be yours — for free — but only if you can move it somewhere else. “It’s a happy-sad news situation,” said Councillor Kristyn Wong Tam, who first advertised the unusual real estate offer on Twitter Tuesday morning. Ms. Wong-Tam and the property owners are trying to find the two-storey brick structure, built in 1889, a new home so it does not face demolition. “The sad part of course is that we’ll lose the coach house.”

The property, on Isabella Street in the Jarvis and Wellesley area, is owned by Casey House, a palliative care centre for those afflicted with HIV and AIDS, and is being used as medical offices for their facility, which is just across the street. Casey House plans to use the site to construct a new care centre. The Isabella St. coach house, however, does not fit into the plans for the new facility and faces demolition in October. Casey House CEO Stephanie Karapita said that if someone does take the coach house, they can have it in either July or August.

Completion of the Casey House redevelopment is expected to be “towards the end of 2016,” said Ms. Karapita. Toronto real estate agent Arnella Renda says the property was last sold in 1991 for $1.9-million. The property that holds the add-on garage was sold in 1993 for $795,000. The land value of the property is worth more than the house itself. “It will be an expensive proposition up front,” said Ms. Wong-Tam, who would prefer that the coach house be kept intact. “These beautiful character homes are very, very valuable. Whatever the cost it is to relocate the property and to rebuild, it [would probably] increase the value of a neighbourhood.”

The red brick building has large glass windows, with hand carved wooden trim along the edges of the roof. It was styled to match many other Victorian era homes in the neighbourhood.
Of course, the hitch in this proposition is the high cost — and high risk — of jacking up an antique structure in a densely populated part of downtown Toronto and moving it, intact, elsewhere.
There is no average cost of moving houses in Toronto. Not only does it not happen often, but many factors affect each house differently. The existing foundation, strength of the structure and amount of work that needs to be done to stabilize the building are all factors that can increase costs drastically.
According to Rick Picard, sales manager at Nickel Bros House Moving, the L-shape of the building will pose the most trouble because it requires the building to be split and moved in two sections. This doubles the cost. He estimates that if it isn’t moving too far, costs would start around $100,000. “It’s not a simple undertaking,” he said. “All the stuff above ground has to come down. So the wires, trees, you name it.” The move itself would require road closures and special permits to carry the oversized load through the streets. There is also the cost of disconnecting and reconnecting all plumbing and electrical systems, the cost of the land where the building would go, and a new foundation, which can cost upwards of $20,000.

So the coach house is “free,” but the ultimate cost is far from it.