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802 Eastern

Exactly at the corner of Leslie and Eastern, a seriously dangerous intersection. Eastern Ave. has an eastbound blind S-curve that ends suddenly at a traffic light at Leslie St. that you cannot see while driving along that curve. I’ve seen cars whiz right through a red light on several occasions, in one of which, had I not wisely decided not to run to catch a yellow light, I would have been run down and killed. I am not kidding. (Word to the wise: The only time it’s safe to cross that intersection is the moment the light turns green. If you’re even a second and a half late, wait till the next light.) And the foregoing is an account of only some of the dangers of this intersection; speeding and turning transport trucks are another leading risk factor, already resulting in a fatality.

Despite the dangers of the intersection, any building that sits right on a corner and faces that corner with its entrance has a lot of possibilities architects can use. The question is: Did they?

802 Eastern

Where, exactly?
Northwest corner of Leslie and Eastern
Who owns it?
Affordable Housing East (apparently their only building)
How many units and residents?
16 units
Architectural and building history?
Three-storey building has angles, inset corner entrance up a flight of stairs, with cream-coloured siding, red-brick entrance walls, and balconies on the top floors

Front view

JOE: Strangely, I really want to like this building, since it sits so proudly on the corner there. I get the impression you could sit out on the balconies there and be queen of all you survey or whatever.

IAN: It looks so much better on there! It’s huge, for one thing. Oh, no – are you writing that? Could we just quickly look through all the photos and then go through –

— Go ahead. It’s your computer. That entrance is terrible. It looks like it was carved out of foam.

— OK. Um. Which... What was I on before? I think it’s noble of you to romanticize people standing out on their balconies. Nonetheless, I think it’s one of the ugliest buildings in Toronto. Just hideous. And, you know, maybe that’s not intelligent constructive criticism, but sometimes visceral reactions are important. So we can pull it apart.

— Well, before you do that, I eventually figured out that those balconies are sitting there in the blazing sun and pouring rain without awnings, and the surveying you’ll be queen of is the Loblaws and a used-car lot.

— Although you may be able to see beyond into whatever industrial land is beyond that. Nothing wrong with the view. It’s just that, inside these units, they don’t have a view over these balconies.

— What do you mean?

— Well, they have a half-light door with a window shoved right up beside it, so it’s not like you’re going tot be sitting in your room and have this commanding view. You’re not.

— Mm-hmm.

— In fact, the windows are one of the problems with this building.

— I’m sure they got them at Home Depot or wherever.

— No, I think they got them from ten different locations and ten different tenders and ten different specs. There’s no continuity. And then there’s these very disturbing lowered windows beside the bays. Are they windows? And then these tiny little windows bracketing the entrance. Second floor is completely the same. Whatever the word is.

Two-storey corner entryway is inset at sharp angles from the adjoining walls

Corner entrance

JOE: And if you actually walk into that entrance it’s like entering a cave.

IAN: Really?

— Yeah, I went in there in broad daylight and it already started getting dark before I touched the door.

— And this is facing south and east. It looks from the outside like it’s a two-storey lobby, because there’s a large window above the building, inconsistent with the rest of the building. Is it at two-storey lobby? It can’t have been, because it wouldn’t have been that dark.

— I don’t remember that. I didn’t “go in”; I just counted the number of apartments. It looked really closed-in and institutional past the door. Way-too-close walls.

— It’s possible that the “designer” may have been trying to individualize units with the little bays with the horrible little roofs over them, third-floor balconies – but actually it looks like it wasn’t designed at all. It looks like it was build-as-you-go, as cheap as you can go. This is a building that faces a lot of challenges. It’s right on a very busy – and now, we know, very dangerous – intersection, and it doesn’t meet any of those challenges. It looks like a very large, quickly built, cheaply built suburban house.

— And they’re on an elevated plot of land there.

— Yes, I wasn’t sure whether there was any landscaped separation between the sidewalk and the building.

— Just an angle of lawn there or whatever.

— Mm-hmm, and a little bit of a retaining wall, which is something, and keeps foot traffic onto the complex’s elevated walkway, which again is something, but when you’re walking along there you’re inhaling bus exhaust and listening to roaring trucks and watching car accidents. It doesn’t mean this is a location where you shouldn’t build a building. You just have to consider things. Like giving the tenants a sense of shelter in a place where they really need that feeling instead of this horribly exposed skinned look it has.

— Yeah, and I can’t get over the cream-coloured vinyl siding.

[Ian shudders]

JOE: And why did they even bother with the little red-brick insets? Who are they trying to kid?

IAN: Yes, but at least they did that much. Look at how filthy the siding is, especially under the balconies. Filthy. And do we really think that the owners of the building are going to go in and power-wash that siding? Because it looks like it would probably need it every season, right? Every spring. There’s actually a lot you can do with vinyl and aluminum siding. It’s much more appropriate for smaller-scale buildings, but the variety of colours and sizes and styles available is incredible, and these guys have just – looks like they took their truck over to an aluminum-supply store and loaded it up with whatever was inexpensive.

— I get the mental image of a really poor, poor-for-generations type middle-aged man in a shirt that’s too old and a size or two too tight, with the top buttons undone, walking along the balcony there trying not to feel overexposed.

— I get the the impression, for the first-floor occupants, that they would have to hide as deep into their units as possible to avoid, you know, the glaring sun, the horrible noise, the horrible smell. Second floor actually looks like kind of rooming-house deal.

— Oh, that’s because I read somewhere that the apartments are two storeys. Some of them. Like the ground-floor ones. Can’t prove that, though. But I think the second floor looks like it doesn’t exist.

— OK, now I’m trying to figure out what’s going on with this two-storey business. You know what, it had occurred to me that these lower windows I was talking about earlier could be stairs to a basement, because of the – and if that’s the case and they’re two-level units, that means the other level is in the basement and there’s no windows. But I’m not sure. Wouldn’t surprise, though.

— Well, look at that and tell me how there are 16 units if they’re one storey each.

[Runs finger over picture]

IAN: I could get 16 one-storey units. There are six bays, so we can assume the bay windows indicate one unit each. There are at least four units on the top floor, so that’s 10 there. So it’s not too much to assume that there are another six units on the second floor. But who knows? Because there are no architectural clues of habitation, of what’s going on inside the building, of anything but –

JOE: Siding.

— Siding.

— By the way, I had to count the number of floors on this building several times.

— Hmm. I t’s a little bit deceptive. Is that what you mean?

— I just couldn’t see the second floor.

— Because it was in shadow by the balconies or because it was just such a mishmash?

— Well, both.

— Actually, every time I drive by this place I wonder what the hell is going on inside, because it’s very hard to parcel out.

— And too many chimneys?

— Oh, they’re not chimneys. They’re plumbing and heating vents.

— Well, this isn’t a submarine. They don’t have to be that tall.

— Well, they may have to be according to code; I’m not sure. It’s a very shallow roof, so you may not be able to see them from the sidewalk, although that’s where this photo was taken from. It’s another example of a very poorly or very unconsidered design.

— How long before a transport truck drives right into it?

— Honestly? Probably after somebody jumps off the balcony. Can’t believe I just said that.

— This one’s the worst one yet for making you feel unimportant for being poor. Really. Or shabby.

— How about making you feel punished for being poor? Although there really is not even enough thought in this building to communicate even that intention. What about accessibility? I don’t see any ramps, but did you?

— No, they blew that completely.

— And is this a building for a “special group”?

— Not that I can tell. Although this is the first building whose owners I didn’t try to contact. I suppose it’s a bit pointless now. Though I would like to know who the hell the architect was. Maybe I’ll write them a letter. They’ll probably lose their shit when they read this.

— I dunno.

— Maybe they need to lose their shit.

— I think it’s a local company owned by a Canadian company owned by a foreign company run by a numbered account somewhere. I mean, it’s just so anonymous. I think we owe it to the building to talk about what could be done. It’s a fantasy to think you could tear down something that cost this amount of money and start from scratch, but there are some pretty simple things that they could have done. The biggest one, OK? From across the street? Is that it? First thing I would do is bring that private walkway actually as close to the street and sidewalk as possible. Be nice if the building were set farther back, but I doubt it would be possible for a building this size. Then terrace and plant the hills, the embankments, with, you know, doesn’t have to be lush gardens – evergreens, something that will help soften the transition to the street, and also add some privacy. If you were going to put balconies, in this case they should have been recessed.

— And definitely covered.

— Well, that would have made them covered, right?

— I’ll resist saying I’m not that stupid. I know. At least I didn’t call it postmodern.

— In fact, instead of poking things out of this building, they should have pushed things in. They should have inverted those bays, given them more windows, given them a low fence at the edge of the sidewalk, right?

— Made of wood.

— Yeah. Sure.

— I think they should do something with landscape tile or even some kind of sculptural thing with a boulder or something. Like some combination of built and natural, because the streetcorner is also undesigned. Put some effort into distinguishing from that.

— Yes, I agree. I mean, it’s sort of what I was getting at with the terracing, but yours actually sounds a little more interesting. You know, perhaps a manmade sculpture, rockery – it doesn't have to be all plain dumb cedar hedges. It’s widely known that corner entrances are problematic. It’s one of the lessons they teach you in school. If you can at all avoid it, don’t put the entrance at the corner.

— Well, unless you wanted to do a Zaha Hadid.

— Well, there’s plenty of examples of talented architects who’ve really dealt well with the issue, going right back to the ’30s. So one thing that they could and perhaps should have done is taken the central stair that goes right down to the corner and split it, so that one stair goes down to Leslie and one stair goes down to Eastern, and in between could be one of those fabulous gardens you were talking about, without spending a whole lot of money. Because right now the axis of that entrance, physical and visual, leads you right into the middle of an intersection. If you’re continuing to walk straight or look straight.

— And since it’s a corner lot, it could be asymmetrical.

— Sure. In fact, it could – they could have taken a tack where some of the other buildings have where they try to separate out as though they were two separate blocks. In fact, it’s a small enough scale that that could be really nice. There are no entrances on the main floor to units from the outside, right?

— Yeah, they have doors. Which would worry me more.

— Well, at this location, absolutely.

— I wouldn’t want wiggers pounding on my door.

— That’s the other thing, it’s you get home and you only want to leave your door open for ten seconds and your house gets filled with fumes and filth, which would be a problem there, because I’ve lived at a corner intersection.

— Well, anyway.

— Main-floor windows don’t open. I thought there were some things about this you liked.

— There were until I got some friggin’ sense into my head.

POSTED: 2006.03.14