Posts Tagged 'Earle C. Morgan'

Pease Foundry showroom marks Leaside’s industrial past

Although built a decade or two too late to be considered avant-garde, the former showroom, offices and warehouse of the Pease Foundry Company, completed in 1950 at 211 Laird Drive, is a stylish and increasingly rare remnant of Leaside’s once-thriving industrial era.

For the Pease Foundry Company, a manufacturer of heating and plumbing equipment, architect Earle C. Morgan blended Art Moderne with elements of the International Style. Morgan established a striking visual presence on the busy thoroughfare by wrapping a broad, curving showroom around the two principal elevations, showcasing the firm’s products behind floor-to-ceiling glass. A cantilevered concrete canopy provides sun screening and draws the eye around the corner, the cornice above further emphasizing the horizontal lines and forming a background for the freestanding metal letters. The fluid, transparent sweep of the showroom is in turn anchored by the more solid, rectilinear volumes of the office and warehouse blocks. Traditional brick and limestone exterior materials reflect the lingering conservatism of Toronto architecture at the time. Original interiors were similarly cautious, with smooth, rounded surfaces and minimal detailing rendered in pale blonde woods. The building was added to the City of Toronto’s list of heritage properties last year as part of its adaptive reuse as office and retail space.

Earle C. Morgan (1903-1972) was a quintessential gentleman architect. Educated according to a traditional curriculum at the University of Toronto, he worked with leading New York City firms for several years before returning to Toronto and opening his own office in 1934. Morgan’s early commissions were largely residences in historical styles, but following World War Two he began to tentatively explore the International Style in industrial buildings for Bromo-Selzer Ltd. (1266 Queen Street West, 1946, demolished) and Standard Chemical Co. (99 Vanderhoof Avenue, 1947, demolished). His relationship with business tycoon E.P. Taylor (Morgan was married to his sister) and their shared love of horses and horse racing led to Morgan designing numerous horse-racing tracks, stables, clubhouses and grandstands during the 1950s and 60s, including Greenwood (Old Woodbine) Racetrack, Toronto (demolished); New Woodbine Racetrack, Toronto; Fort Erie Racetrack, Fort Erie; Mohawk Racetrack, Campbellville; and Garden City Racetrack, St. Catharines. Additionally, Morgan designed buildings for Taylor’s Windfield stud farm in Toronto, his farm and stables in Maryland, USA and the National Stud Farm in Oshawa. From O’Keefe Brewing Company, one of Taylor’s many business holdings, Morgan received commissions for the firm’s offices and main retail store (250-260 Dundas Street West, 1952, demolished) and a retail store at Dundas Square (1952, demolished). He was also named the architect of record (but not of fact) for the landmark O’Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts (1 Front Street East, 1960). Morgan’s own modest residence, built in 1954, still stands at 9 Dale Avenue, Rosedale.

The Seven Lively Arts of Peter Dickinson’s O’Keefe Centre

The O’Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts opened to great fanfare on the evening of October 1, 1960, with Richard Burton starring in the debut performance of the musical Camelot. Designed by Peter Dickinson of Page and Steele with Earle C. Morgan, the 3200-seat multi-purpose theatre at 1 Front Street East introduced Toronto audiences to an an unprecedented level of elegance and luxury.

Benefactor and Canadian Breweries Limited owner E.P. Taylor spared little expense on the O’Keefe Centre’s state-of-the-art design and lavish materials. Exteriors are Alabama limestone and black granite, accented by custom bronze fittings and fixtures; the striking cantilevered entrance canopy, lined with rows of mirrored globe lights, provides a suitably glamorous entrance. Inside the expansive double-height entrance foyer, walls of white Carrara marble and deeply-veined Laredo Chiaro marble frame cantilevered staircases of granite and bronze. Cherrywood acoustic paneling lines the velvety red interior of the theatre itself.

Art was a significant element of the O’Keefe Centre interiors, and the focal point is The Seven Lively Arts, a monumental 100’x15’ mural by Toronto artist York Wilson. Dominating the entry foyer, the densely-layered, richly-toned mix of realism and abstraction celebrates artistic expression through painting, sculpture, architecture, music, literature, dance and drama.

Toronto-born York Wilson (1907-1984) was an internationally-acclaimed painter and muralist. As well as The Seven Lively Arts, Wilson’s other murals in Toronto include The History of Oil at the Imperial Oil Building (111 St. Clair Avenue West, 1957); Communication at the Bell Telephone Building (76 Adelaide Street West, 1965); and Ontario at the Macdonald Block in Queen’s Park (900 Bay Street, 1968). He lived for many years in a John B. Layng-designed Modernist studio residence at 41 Alcina Avenue, just outside the historic arts colony of Wychwood Park.

The O’Keefe Centre (renamed the Hummingbird Centre in 1996 and the Sony Centre in 2007) served as Toronto’s premier performing arts venue for over forty years. In 2006 the National Ballet of Canada and the Canadian Opera Company decamped to the new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, calling the building’s future into question, but after two years of renovations the O’Keefe Centre reopened on October 1, 2010, exactly fifty years to the day of its original opening night. Designated a heritage building by the City of Toronto, the O’Keefe Centre will nevertheless soon be ornamented by starchitect Daniel Libeskind’s L Tower condominium, a 57-storey exclamation point of glass and steel scheduled for completion in 2012.

More about the O’Keefe Centre can be found in the recent books Peter Dickinson and Mean City, both written by John Martins-Manteiga and available through Dominion Modern.

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