Irving Grossman’s sculptural Betel residence

The Betel residence at 33 York Downs Drive, completed in 1957, is one of the best-preserved of the relatively few houses by Toronto architect Irving Grossman. Set back from the road on a broad expanse of lawn, the Betel house resembles a piece of sculpture: the narrow, wedge-shaped second storey thrusts forward and upward over its broad rectangular base, seeming to defy gravity in a daring cantilever. The house’s sculptural appearance is further emphasized by its stark glazed-brick whiteness, relieved only by the flash of yellow between the upper bedroom windows. An extension to the master bedroom wing at the left of the photograph, added in 1980 by longtime Grossman associate Bernard Gillespie, successfully rebalanced the composition into its current configuration.

The Betel residence’s dramatic exterior appearance is matched by its interior environment. Visitors cross a walled courtyard to the front door, passing through the low entrance hall before emerging into a soaring multi-level living and dining area overlooked by a second-floor gallery. The 16-foot ceiling, lined in dark tropical wood, gently slopes downward to a wall of glass that frames views over a ravine at the rear of the property. Natural light on three sides allows a soft, even illumination; inset courtyards balance close-up views of nature with those of the distant ravine.

After graduating in 1950 from the University of Toronto’s school of architecture, Irving Grossman traveled abroad on a prestigious Pilkington Scholarship, practicing with the MARS Group in London and R.M. Schindler in Los Angeles before returning to Toronto and establishing his own firm. His jazz-filled studio, located in a Victorian house at 7 Sultan Street, was for many years a gathering place for the city’s artists, architects and musicians. Architecturally, Grossman is best remembered for his inventive multi-unit housing developments, such as the internationally-acclaimed Flemingdon Park neighbourhood, the Somerset Apartments at 605 Finch Avenue West and the Edgeley in the Village complex at 4645 Jane Street. Other key projects are the Berman residence at 58 Plymbridge Road, the Fogel residence, a 1961 Massey Medals finalist, at 100 Sandringham Drive (demolished), B’nai Israel Beth David Synagogue at 55 Yeomans Road, Temple Emanu-El at 120 Old Colony Road, Shaarei Tefillah at 3600 Bathurst Street, Cedarbrae Library at 545 Markham Road (altered), a series of park pavilions on the Toronto Islands and the Expo 67 News and Administration Building, winner of a 1967 Massey Medal, at 2100 Avenue Pierre Dupuy, Montreal.

3 Responses to “Irving Grossman’s sculptural Betel residence”

  1. 1 giovanna petriglia February 23, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    I often drive into this neighbourhood to look at this amazing home. I have become so intrigued by the architecture of the 50’s. I never knew this neighbourhood existed until I took a drive around and happened to stumble on this neighbourhood. This home, in my opinion, is absolutely breathtaking. It looks like a group of rectangular blocks put together in such a fascinating way. Bravo Grossman!!! Your vision was and is so amazing!

  2. 3 lloydalter December 19, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    I knew Irving Grossman well; I went for his advice about applying to architecture at the U of T when I was still in high school. A wonderful man, a great mentor, and a talented architect who died too young from pancreatic cancer.

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