Until June of 2017, I had the privilege to work in one of Toronto’s last intact Art Deco buildings, the Canada Permanent Trust Building at 320 Bay St. The building was gorgeous, but it certainly did have a few quirks–somewhat cranky elevators, floors that seemed to have their own climate zones, and loud HVAC being some of them–that came with working in a building completed in 1930. I wondered what would become of the building once its primary tenant moved out. I hoped that it would not meet the same fate as the nearby Concourse Building, fated to be reduced to a façade and a handful of decorative features stuck to a new skyscraper. Now we know. The building is owned by TD Greystone Asset Management, and developer Menkes (ironically, the same developer who manages our current office) has acquired an interest with plans to renovate the property.
Given this news, I thought it would be appropriate to spend a little time with this very special building, whose main floor and exterior holds its own with the Art Deco buildings I have seen in Chicago and Los Angeles. I learned the history of the building when I gave tours of the first-floor areas during Toronto’s annual Doors Open event.
The Canada Permanent Trust Building, located on the southwest corner of Bay and Adelaide Streets in downtown Toronto, was designed by architect Henry Sproat and constructed by F. Hilton Wilkes between 1928 and 1930 for the Canada Permanent Mortgage Corporation. Founded in 1854, this company originally had its headquarters on Toronto St., but lost that building in a fire in the early part of the 20th century. The company moved into a nearby building that had previously housed a Masonic Temple, where it remained until its new home was complete. Both the old location in the Masonic Temple and the new building are depicted in the building’s five identical brass doors. A figure of a woman holds a small model of the old building, along with a large roll of plans and an owl, symbol of wisdom. Facing her, a man holds a model of the new building along with a cornucopia, symbolizing prosperity. Much of the reset of the ornamentation has both classical and Egyptian influences, which are repeated elsewhere, as we shall see. Egyptian-influenced ornamentation became very popular in the 1920s, especially in Art Deco styles, after the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen.
Classical and Art Deco features are found together throughout the building. The main banking hall was constructed in a Romanesque coffered vault style with fluted marble pillars. Decorative motifs include symbols of Canada, such as wheat sheaves. The ceiling is plaster with the details in limestone and marble, including coloured marble. Decorative brass screens featuring a papyrus blossom motif are found at both ends of the hall as well as in the entranceway.
One of the most beautiful features of the building are the chandeliers. After the Canada Permanent was purchased by Canada Trust, the banking hall served as a branch well into the 1980s, and a drop ceiling was added. The original chandeliers were lost. However, when the building was renovated in 2002, the chandeliers were meticulously recreated from old photos. During this renovation, the original railings on the mezzanine were brought up to code by cleverly copying the look of the building’s marble and limestone with metal bars covered in plaster.
Other decorative features of the building include a set of revolving doors and a brass mailbox, each fairly typical of contemporary Art Deco buildings.
The exterior of the building is described in Art Deco Architecture Across Canada as a combination of the Zigzag style of Art Deco for the upper floors and Stripped Classical for the base. The Zigzag elements include “recessed and vertically aligned windows, fluted spandrel panels, and lower-height side wings.” The building material is Indiana Limestone.
What’s in the future? Per the article linked above, “Menkes says the renovations will improve the quality and service of the space, while preserving its history and architectural elements. The revitalization of the 270,000-square-foot space will include significant electrical and mechanical upgrades as well as an “exciting reimagination” of the building at street level.” What that latter statement means is yet to be seen, but apparently the banking hall has seen some use as an event space since CIBC Mellon left. The newer part of the building has a rather dull lobby area, and if that can be brought into line with the rest of the property with an Art Deco feel, that will be a net gain.