Gehry Fans Become Overnight Preservationists

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In what has to be the ultimate irony, some fans of starchitect Frank Gehry have had a late-in-life conversion to preservation. The issue revolves around a proposed condo development in Toronto--which will require demolition of Frank Gehry’s childhood home.

Normally, the demolition of a few modest row houses for the construction of a 10-story modern condo block would be greeted by Modernist architects with cheers as a sign of “progress.” But one house facing demolition in this case is the small two-story row house at 15 Beverley Street in Toronto where Gehry lived with his grandmother from 1929 until 1947.

The threat to Gehry House comes from plans for a fairly routine 10-story curtain wall condo structure (called “12 Degrees”) consisting of a series of rectangular blocks stacked at varying angles (see photo). This is not a context issue, however. When you look at Beverley Street on Google Maps, you see that many of the row houses that originally lined the street have already either been remuddled or demolished for commercial buildings and multi-story residential buildings.

So if we apply the “Steve Semes Test” and ask “what is the special character of this streetscape?” it seems clear that the “12 Degrees” condo is as much in character with the rest of the street as are the vestigial row houses.

But I can understand why some Gehry fans want to save the place simply on the basis of the historic significance of the man who lived there. (Personally, however, I think Frank Gehry has done more harm than good to the built environment with his blobitecture, so I see a certain cosmic justice in his old house being razed for a jazzy modern building.)

And, indeed, the outlook for saving the Gehry homestead is not good. The building carries a Toronto heritage listing, but that is a relatively weak form of protection. So there is little that can be done legally to preserve the home if the developer wants to go to the mat over the issue. There have been some ongoing discussions between the city and the developer to possibly retain the house, but no conclusions have been reached.

Frank Gehry fans, I understand your passion for wanting to save The Maestro’s childhood home. It’s not a fight I would personally make, but I applaud your efforts and dedication. However, if you lose and the developer’s bulldozer crushes that sweet little row house in the name of “progress,” then you’ll get some inkling of how the rest of us preservationists have felt for the last 50 years!