Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lawrence Park

The Heritage of Lawrence Park

“Lawrence Park” was named after John Lawrence and his family, who were one of the original landowners in the North Toronto region. John Lawrence and his wife, Sarah, were one of the few families living there in 1865. They owned Lot 5, which was a 190 acre property.

Aerial view of Lawrence Park in the 1930's. Photo credits: Toronto Archives

With its prime location along Yonge Street and the proximity to the expanding and prosperous Toronto, speculators became interested in buying the farmlands. Just a bit south, on Eglinton, farms where already being subdivided for urban development. Lawrence Park met the same faith in 1907 when the Dovercourt Land Building and Saving Company began the assembly of what will become the neighbourhood we know today. Under the supervision of Wilfred Servington Dinnick, the company acquired most farm lots and started to develop a suburb for the “well to do”. Dinnick’s vision was to create a “garden suburb”, similar to what was being done in England at the time.

A wood bridge crossing the ravine in 1920. Photo credits: Toronto Archives

Buyers would have to purchase a lot and have their building plans approved by a committee that was making sure all houses where following Dinnick’s vision. The company even built six homes, designed by the firm Chadwick and Beckett, to show the style that would serve as a model. But these residences where not model homes: they were to be sold or rented as soon as completed to create a wave of good people moving in the area.

The nascent district had some challenges in its early days. Because of two wars, a recession and a depression, the building of houses was interrupted. It’s only in the 1950s that Lawrence Park was completely built up.

The construction of the Fire Hall took 2 years, from 1930 to 1932. Photo credits: Toronto Archives

Navigating the area

The limits of Lawrence Park could vary depending on the map you look at. Some call portions of Bedford Park “Lawrence Park North”, while a good chunk of Lytton Park is added to the actual Lawrence Park to create “Lawrence Park South”. No matter the sources, the original neighbourhood is bound by Yonge Street to the west, Bayview Avenue to the east, Blythwood Ravine on the south and Lawrence Avenue on the north.

The area grew around Mount Pleasant Road, and is composed of tortuous streets and deep but narrow lots. Up until the 1970’s, a streetcar was running in the neighbourhood, but that changed when the Lawrence subway station opened.

Home and front garden of M. Irwin in the 1930's. Photo credits: Toronto archives

If you are a resident and you do not own a car, there are bus routes within walking distance on Yonge Street, Mount Pleasant Road, Lawrence Avenue and Bayview Avenue. For the motorists, it’s good to know that the 401 Highway is connected to both Yonge and Bayview.

Attractions

On top of being a very exclusive residential area with numerous hills, mature trees and sidewalk-free roads, Lawrence Park is a very different place to live. In the urban planning process, it was decided to keep all retail and public services on the periphery of the district. The positive result behind this thinking is an almost traffic free garden suburb. To fully experience this “quietness”, discovering the Alexander Muir Park on a romantic scenic walk would be a good starting point.

Architecture

Dinnick’s vision is still palpable nowadays, even though there is a greater variety of architectural styles. On the same street, you can see an English cottage next to a Tudor Revival. The majority of the residences where build before the 1940’s, which explain the historic feeling you get when you walk the streets.

This house at 57 Glengowan is still standing intact nowadays. Photo credits: Toronto archives

What happened after the 1950s is subject to the different points of view. Some would say the newer houses are a disgrace to the area, while others would think that they are magnificent homes. Experts and real estate agents call these constructions “Monster houses”. They are big, borrow from many architectural movements, and most have a garage incorporated in their façade.

Some homeowners prefer to rebuilt new residences in place of the original houses they purchased. Photo credits: Eric Pellerin

This house will either be restored or destroyed by the next owners. Photo credits: Eric Pellerin

However, it’s not all new homeowners who decide to destroy older houses to put a monster in its place. In fact, there are a great deal of renovators out there who work with what they have and are more sensitive to preserve the old world charm of the early 20th century residences.

Many well known Torontonians lived in Lawrence Park. This house was first occupied in 1923 by a Thomas F. Young, of the Sterling Bond Corporation. The new owners preserved many of the original features of the house. Photo credits: Eric Pellerin

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