Prominently located opposite Old City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square at 401 Bay Street, the 32-storey Simpson Tower, completed in 1969 for the Robert Simpson department store chain, punctuates the northern gateway of the Bay Street skyscraper canyon.
The Simpson Tower was designed by John B. Parkin Associates and Bregman & Hamann in joint venture. One could be forgiven for assuming the building’s bottom third was designed by one firm and the top two-thirds by the other, and that they didn’t compare notes during the process. Lower storeys are glassy and transparent, while the tower section, separated by an inset mechanical floor, appears paradoxically heavy and opaque, largely clad in precast concrete and emphatically terminated by a deep penthouse cap. These disparate elements are barely held together in an oddly compelling visual tension by the prominently extended structural columns. The first three floors are angled back several feet from the Bay/Queen corner, a thoughtful urban gesture that eases pedestrian flow and enhances views of Old City Hall.
Construction of the Simpson Tower completed the Simpson’s complex, begun in 1895 with a six-storey department store at Queen and Yonge and gradually expanded to fill the entire block. As planned, the next phase of development would have enveloped the adjoining store in horizontal bands of bronze-toned metal cladding. Uncertainty about connections to the proposed Eaton Centre delayed construction, however, and as preservationist sentiment grew, Simpson’s instead opted to restore the store’s historic Chicago School and Art Deco facades. In 1978 the Simpson Tower was acquired by the Hudson’s Bay Company as part of its purchase of Simpson’s, and the building has since housed the executive offices of HBC and its subsidiaries.