It is no secret that the redevelopment of Scarboro Beach Amusement Park in the 1920s was a major turning point in the Beaches’ history. The park closed for good in the fall of 1925 and its owner, the local street railway company, sold its entire site to Provident Investments, a property developer already active north of Queen Street. Provident promptly demolished and cleared away all the park’s facilities, subdivided the property into building lots, and began selling the lots to builders who, over the next two years, blanketed the entire site – the last major tract of unbuilt land in the neighbourhood – with the sort of dense residential fabric already in place either side of it.
The most distinctive, and probably most commented upon, buildings in the new development were the fourplexes – originally called “double-duplexes” – built by the established local builder Price Brothers on lots it purchased from Provident. These novel structures, conceived and designed by the firm’s building superintendent, Harry Stevens, consisted of four single-floor, multi-bedroom flats, two up and two down, running front to back, each with its own small front porch. Price Brothers put up dozens of these, some with Spanish colonial details, along Glen Manor, Hammersmith, and Scarborough Beach, and a few on Queen Street as well.
But another important, if less widely recognized, feature of the redevelopment was apartment buildings around the site’s perimeter. Several were built on Queen Street, the northern limit of the property, and some were built along the southern boundary too, on Hubbard Boulevard. They seem to have been generally accepted, and in fact apartment buildings and rental flats became an essential part of the neighbourhood in these years, something contemporary opponents of such buildings often do not realize.
The first to be built on Hubbard was the Ramona, with ten units, completed and occupied in 1928; then came the adjacent Somersby with twelve units (fronting on Glen Manor, now substantially rebuilt). Hubbard Court Apartments, backing on Hubbard and facing the beach (See Sight #5) appeared in 1929, though its fifteen units took several years to be completed and occupied. Hubbard Park Apartments, the largest, with twenty-nine units, was built in 1929 and fully occupied by the end of that year. All these buildings still stand, reminding us of the diversity of housing in the early Beaches neighbourhood.
The largest and by far the most conspicuous, Hubbard Park Apartments (42 Hubbard), is public housing, a fact that many find surprising considering its elegant entrance and prime location. It has been in public hands for only about half its life. Like everything else in the neighbourhood, it was built as a private venture, and it remained privately owned until purchased by the City in 1975. What is especially interesting about Hubbard Park Apartments is not that it is unique, or old – it is the same age as the buildings around it – but how the stages of its long life so clearly reflect those of the neighbourhood overall.
An apartment building was first envisioned for this site in 1928, by Price Brothers. They had owned land on the north side of Hubbard east of here since 1927, and built fourplexes on it, but as of early 1928 this stretch between Hammersmith and Scarborough Beach remained in the hands of Provident Investments. In September 1927, however, the City had expropriated the south side of Hubbard for park purposes (see Sight #5), transforming the north side into a street that fronted on a park and the lake, considerably enhancing its appeal. By the summer of 1928 Price Brothers had arranged to purchase a block-long portion of the north side from Provident.
Such a special site called for a special plan, and Price Brothers concocted a real humdinger. They would build a luxury apartment building here – a large, complex structure with 86 suites, and “all the perquisites of high-class apartments”: a roof garden, a swimming tank, private heated automobile garages, floors of “the finest hardwood,” and walls of “the best plaster and lath available.” Waterfront suites like these “would bring four figures a month in some of the apartment houses in the bigger centres in the States,” they declared.
It was not to be. The reporter who related all this in July 1928 noted that the building had not yet gone beyond “the architectural plan stage,” and one suspects it had not even reached that stage, let alone gone beyond it. For reasons we will likely never know but probably have something to do with Price Brothers’ common sense, and perhaps with their financial circumstances, they abandoned this fanciful plan soon after announcing it and sold, or perhaps just withdrew their offer to purchase, the Hubbard lots and retreated to what they knew – building and renting fourplexes. Toronto in the late 1920s did have a smattering of affluent cosmopolitans who might have enjoyed American-style cocktails on a waterfront roof garden, but such people did not live in the Beaches, and a clear view of Lake Ontario was not going to draw them out.
The property was acquired, in 1929, by Arthur E. and Elizabeth J. Furniss, in partnership with Erell C. Ironside, their solicitor, who owned other lots in the development as well as a summer house of his own on the lakefront further east. The Furnisses were well known to municipal authorities. It was they who had “outfoxed” the City (see Sight #5) and built on the beach – the Hubbard Court Apartments was their undertaking – and between them Mrs. Furniss and Mr. Ironside had owned some of the property on the south side of Hubbard that the City had expropriated in 1927 and had just agreed, earlier this year, to compensate them $39,390 – a sum that probably helped finance the new endeavour.
The new owners wasted no time building what they called Hubbard Park Apartments. Who designed or built it, we do not know, but we know it had 27 not 86 suites, no roof garden, no swimming tank, no heated garages, and a foundation later revealed to be inadequate for the wet ground – the latter perhaps reflecting over-hasty construction. But it suited the neighbourhood, and its suites were immediately rented by the sort of people who lived in the homes around it: clerks, mid-level managers, and, especially, salesmen (11 of the 27 units in 1930).
The Furnisses held the property until 1940, when they sold it to a corporate entity named Hubbard Apts. Ltd.; it changed hands again a time or two over the decades and by the early 1970s was – rather curiously – owned by a couple who lived across the street on Hammersmith. By then the building was over forty years old, and like many aging buildings with non-resident owners and powerless tenants it had fallen into disrepair. No photographs or written descriptions have come to light, but directories reveal that several of its tenants were either retired or unemployed and that most of the those who were employed had low-wage jobs. There were exceptions, of course, but one gets the impression that a good number of its residents simply could not afford to live anywhere else.
Into all this, in the 1970s, came Toronto’s new reform council and the housing department it created to build and own more affordable housing. One way the new department sought to accomplish its goal was by purchasing, with funds from Central Mortgage and Housing, some older housing and making it available, at low rent, to eligible tenants. 42 Hubbard was among the first properties the City purchased, in October 1975, and it has been public housing ever since.
The City struggled to meet the cost of maintaining its properties, and over the years some of the older buildings it purchased under this program deteriorated, 42 Hubbard one of them. In 2009, after years of problems, the building was effectively condemned, and its tenants all relocated. But Toronto Community Housing, as its owner was then named, felt that both its location and its appearance made it worth retaining, so rather than sell it back into private hands – which it was doing with some of its other needy properties – it undertook a comprehensive reconstruction that involved, essentially, putting a new building inside the old brick shell. The fine, heritage-award-winning building we now see has no swimming tank or heated garages, but it does have a roof garden. It also, quite likely, has a long waiting list.
From the dreams of the 1920s to the reality of the 1930s and 40s to the decline of the 1950s and 60s to the government interventions of the 1970s, Hubbard Park Apartments reflected the neighbourhood of which it was a part. And it still does. The Beaches of the twenty-first century is currently in the midst of what might be called an Age of Rebuilding; so many of its old houses, if not demolished, have had their foundations strengthened and their interiors completely rebuilt – necessitating heavy financial investment by owners, and essentially creating functionally modern buildings that still look old. Hubbard Park Apartments and its owner, Toronto Community Housing, are right in tune with the times.
SOURCES: (in addition to those cited under the images): CTA, Assessment Rolls, various years; Toronto City Directories, various years, accessed at website of TPL, digital city directories; CT Bylaw 11340, 26 Sept. 1927; Toronto Board of Control Report #1, CTCMs 1929, Appendix A, pp. 37-8; “Ten Unit Apartment for Scarboro’ Beach” and “Big Roof Garden a Feature of Scarboro’ Apartment,” The Globe, 2 July 1928, pp. 10-12; “City Non-profit Acquisition and Renovation Program”, Report #4 of Committee on Urban Renewal, Housing …, 3 Feb. 1975; CT Non-profit Housing Corporation, “Summary of Rental Projects,” 1976-1979; “A Homecoming for Dozens at 42 Hubbard Blvd.”, East York Mirror, 16 Jan 2012;personal correspondence with Terence Van Elslander, Van Elslander and Associates Architects; contemporary photographs by author.