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Spadina and Casa Loma

Posted by admin On August - 7 - 2008

Toronto has few old houses. Two of them I visited today. Both were used as museums and are decorated with mostly original furniture. One is Spadina, the older one. Spadina is native american for mountain. Its situated on a mountain, or better hill. The other is the famous Casa Loma. This house is build like a medieval castle because that was one dream of his previous owner Sir Henry Mill Pellat.

Spadina (nat. american for mountain):

“The first house constructed on the site was built in 1818 by Dr. William Warren Baldwin. He named his 200-acre (0.81 km²) property and estate Spadina, which derived from the native word espadinong, which translates as “hill” or “sudden rise of land”. Baldwin himself designed the two storey wood frame house. The house burnt down in 1835, and owing to the three mile (5 km) trek from the estate into York, he moved to a house on Front Street. He built a smaller country estate on the property in 1836.

The property was acquired by James Austin in 1866, founder of The Dominion Bank and Consumers Gas. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century the area was the wealthiest in Toronto, with a number of Toronto’s leading families having large estates. Austin subdivided and sold off the land west of Spadina Road in 1889, which amounted to 40 acres. In 1892, James Austin turned over the house, and 20 acres of the property to his son, Albert William Austin. Albert Austin expanded the house in several renovations, including the addition of a third floor in 1912. He sold much of the property to the City of Toronto in 1913 for the construction of the St. Clair Reservoir. Albert Austin died in 1933. By this time, parts of the property had been sold off, and what Austin purchased covered 80 acres.

The last member of the family to live in the house was Anna Kathleen Thompson, a daughter of Albert Austrin, who lived there from 1942 until 1982.The aged house had outdated wiring and needed a thorough overhaul, that would have been far more expensive than rebuilding it. While the house could have been sold to private interests such as the Keg Restaurant, the family decided instead to donate the house and all of its furnishings to the city. In 1984 it opened as a museum, jointly operated by the city and the Ontario Heritage Foundation. The museum is especially known for its gardens. The family still keeps some links with the house and celebrations such as weddings are held there.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spadina_House)

There was even a exhibition of “Anne of Green Gables” at the Spadina museum.

Casa Loma:

“Sir Henry commissioned Canadian architect E.J. Lennox to design Casa Loma with construction beginning in 1911, starting with the massive stables a few hundred feet north of the main building. The stables were used as a construction site for the castle, with some of the machinery still remaining in the rooms under the stables. The house cost approximately $3.5 million and took a team of 300 workers three years to build from start to finish. Upon completion in 1914, at 98 rooms, it was the largest private residence in North America. Notable amenities included an elevator, an oven large enough to cook a steer, two vertical passages for pipe organs, central vacuum, two secret passages in Sir Henry’s ground-floor office and three bowling alleys (never completed).

Many of the rooms were left unfinished, and today serve as the Regimental Museum for The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. Pellatt joined the Regiment as a Rifleman and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the Commanding Officer. He was knighted for his dedication to the Regiment. Later, Pellatt served as the Honorary Colonel and was promoted to Major-General upon retirement.

During the Depression, Toronto increased Casa Loma’s annual property taxes from $600 to $12,000 (this approximately translates to an increase from $6000 to $111,000 in today’s currency), and Pellatt—already experiencing financial difficulties—was forced to auction off $1.5-million in art and furnishings for $250,000 during bankruptcy hearings. Sir Henry was able to enjoy life in the castle for ten years, leaving in 1923.

Vacant while proposals were considered for its future use, architect William Sparling put forward a proposal to convert the house to a luxury hotel in 1925. A long term lease was granted to Sparling to open a hotel within Casa Loma. He began completing the Great Hall and the Billiard Room, areas that Sir Henry had never finished. Sparling planned to add two large wings to the main building, one to the east and to the west, each wing containing 96 full suites and 56 rooms. At an estimated cost of $1 million for each wing, they were never built. The hotel failed in 1929.

During the late 1920s Casa Loma was also a popular nightspot. The Orange Blossoms, later known as Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, played there for eight months in 1927–1928. Shortly thereafter, they went on tour of North America and became a major Swing Era dance band.

In 1933 the city seized Casa Loma for back taxes owed, which totaled approximately $3000. Rather than file for bankruptcy and lose his knight hood, which Pellatt cherished, he was forced to sell Casa Loma for well below market value at $27,303.

Contrary to popular belief, Casa Loma has never been an official residence of either the city or the Province of Ontario. In 1937 it was opened to the public for the first time as a tourist attraction operated by the Kiwanis Club of Toronto. Coincidentally, this is the same year that Chorley Park, the Government House of Ontario was closed by the provincial government.

During World War II, Casa Loma was used to conceal research on sonar, and for construction of sonar devices for U-boat detection. The chateau is still operated by the Kiwanis Club. Today it is one of Toronto’s most popular tourist attractions.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casa_Loma)

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