Posts Tagged 'James A. Murray'

A medley of motor hotels

Constellation Hotel postcard, c. 1963

A creation of postwar mobility and affluence, the upscale motor hotel swept across North America during the 1950s and 60s. Motor hotels combined the auto-oriented convenience and informal ease of the suburban motel with the luxury amenities, attentive service and fine dining found in the better downtown hotels, all wrapped in a high-style architectural package that captured pure midcentury swank.

In Toronto, the model was epitomized by the sleek and glamourous Four Seasons Motor Hotel and the Inn on the Park, both designed by Peter Dickinson, and the Scandinavian-influenced Valhalla Inn by George Robb. Joining the trend in the early 1960s were three other notable architect-designed motor hotels: the Constellation Hotel, the Ascot 27 Hotel and the Canadiana Motor Hotel.

Constellation postcard 2 LR

With air travel rapidly expanding and the new Toronto International Airport under construction, formerly rural Dixon Road became a magnet for hotel development. The Constellation Hotel (above and top) was among the first to open in 1963 at Dixon and Carlingview Drive. Architects Bregman + Hamann designed the Constellation as a two-part composition, fronting the block of guest rooms with a low-pitched A-frame pavilion for the entrance lobby and dining lounges. Rugged fieldstone walls helped to visually tie the pavilion to the site and contrasted its transparent glassiness. The Constellation’s backers further upped the ante by commissioning murals from Jack Reppen and Harold Town as well as Galaxy, an enormous welded-aluminum sculpture by Gerald Gladstone that now resides in front of the Etobicoke Civic Centre.

Ascot 27 postcard LR

Ascot 27 Hotel crop

The Ascot 27 Hotel opened in 1960 near the intersection of Rexdale Boulevard and Highway 27, also convenient to the Toronto airport and the new Woodbine horse-racing track. Architect George Robb stretched the hotel 700 feet along a curving ravine escarpment, giving guests and restaurant diners a birds-eye view into the trees of the Humber River valley below. A swoopy Swiss chalet-style roof, inset with coloured glass, established an immediate visual identity and created dramatic interior spaces for the entrance lobby and dining lounge.

Canadiana postcard LR

Overlooking Highway 401 at Kennedy Road was the Canadiana Motor Hotel, designed by James Murray and Henry Fliess and opened in 1962. Here, the signature element was the circular dining pavilion, a space-age flying saucer that had alighted on the lawn next to the amoeba-shaped swimming pool. The crisply rectilinear main building provided an inset sundeck for each of the 95 rooms as well as lounge and conference facilities.

Like most of their contemporaries, much has changed for these roadside icons in the intervening fifty years. The Constellation Hotel was repeatedly expanded, enveloping the original building and enlarging from 150 rooms to 800 rooms (including numerous disco-era clubs, restaurants, health spas and palm-tree atriums) before going bankrupt in the early 2000s. The abandoned complex was finally demolished in 2012. The Ascot 27 Hotel is also long gone, replaced by high-rise residential towers, while the Canadiana’s guestroom block lives on within the current Delta Toronto East. The economics of the hospitality industry have shifted to blandly generic chain accommodations, but the remaining preserved or restored examples of classic motor hotels still bring a sense of style to the open roads.

James Murray’s model for modern living

James Murray house 1A LR

Modernism had a very slow start in Toronto’s residential neighbourhoods. In contrast to the rapid acceptance of new design in many North American centres after World War II, by the early 1950s Toronto could claim only a handful of truly Modernist houses.

One brave pioneer was architect James A. Murray, designer of his own residence at 6 Heathbridge Park in the Bennington Heights neighbourhood. Built in 1947 and still in largely original condition, the Murray house paralleled the leading design currents of the time and foreshadowed what would emerge several years later in Toronto-area developments such as Don Mills and Thorncrest Village.

Particularly innovative was Murray’s use of a split-level plan, a new hybrid that combined the convenience and low-slung profile of a single-storey house with the space efficiencies and spatial separation of a two-storey design. The main entrance to the Murray house is at ground level, as are the open-plan living and dining areas; all open onto the surrounding garden. A short flight of stairs leads to the bedrooms on the upper level. On the lower level, a half-storey below grade, are the utility areas and the former garage. Also originally on the lower level was Murray’s studio, which visitors could access directly from the street through a small sunken court with a reflective pool, flagstone steps and a wood sunscreen trellis.

James Murray house 2 LR

New thinking continued throughout the home. The flat roofs could be flooded with up to an inch-and-a-half of water to reflect sunlight and cool the house in summer, aided by the roof overhang shielding the south-facing living room windows. At the rear terrace a planting bed extended under floor-to-ceiling glass into the dining area, bringing nature indoors and blurring the distinction between inside and outside. Built-in seating and storage units promoted orderliness and maximized space efficiency. Radiant heating pipes under the short, steep driveway, now filled in, prevented accumulations of ice and snow. These and other ideas were continued in the numerous other residences Murray designed in Bennington Heights, including the neighbouring Lang house at 21 Evergreen Gardens, now demolished, the much-altered Markon house at 17 Evergreen Gardens and the Daly house at 1 Brendan Road.

James A. Murray (1919-2008) was a significant figure in Canada’s postwar architectural scene. He influenced architectural design, practice and education across Canada for decades as the founding editor of Canadian Architect magazine, a frequent juror of awards and competitions and a professor of architecture at the University of Toronto. In addition to his writing, teaching and public advocacy, Murray also maintained an accomplished architectural and planning practice. Notable projects include the Anglo Canadian Insurance Building at 76 St. Clair Avenue West (demolished), the Spaulding house at 111 Park Road, Rosedale (demolished), the Shoichet house at 21 Park Lane Circle and The Donway United Church at 230 The Donway West. Murray also collaborated with architect Henry Fliess on the innovative rowhouse developments South Hills Village and The Cloisters of the Don, both in Don Mills, and The Towne mixed-use complex at 77-79 St. Clair Avenue East.

Longer, lower and wider on the Bridle Path, Part 2

An early-1960s contemporary of the Dellio house in the previous post, the Shoichet residence at 21 Park Lane Circle is a warmer and more relaxed interpretation of the period’s cooly formal architectural directions.

To increase the house’s presence on its wide, flat site, architect James A. Murray elongated the horizontal lines by orienting the garage sideways, toward the north side of the property, and by extending a screening wall to the south. The front elevation was then broken up into an animated series of advancing and retreating planes. Buff-coloured brick with accents of bright white and muted aqua-green soften the angular geometry.

Inside, walls and fireplaces of the same buff brick help to unify the interior and exterior, and counterpoint the deep-toned walnut paneling and millwork. The original furniture was also primarily of walnut, with pale yellow and beige upholstery on cream-coloured carpeting. Natural light flooding through floor-to-ceiling windows completed the warm, welcoming ambience. The clipped putting-green landscaping has mellowed with time; today, it resembles a forest clearing surrounded by mature birches, maples and evergreens.

James A. Murray (1919-2008) was a significant force in Canada’s postwar architectural scene. He influenced architectural design, practice and education across Canada for decades as the founding editor of Canadian Architect magazine, as a frequent juror of awards and competitions, and as a professor of architecture at the University of Toronto. In addition to his writing and teaching, Murray also maintained an active architectural and planning practice, designing numerous private homes, apartment buildings, schools, churches, industrial buildings and innovative housing developments. Key projects include the Anglo Canadian Insurance Building at 76 St. Clair Avenue West (demolished), the Spaulding house at 111 Park Road, Rosedale (also demolished), the Donway United Church at 230 The Donway West and his own pioneering 1947 house at 6 Heathbridge Park. Murray also collaborated with architect Henry Fliess on many larger projects, including the South Hills Village rowhouses (Massey Silver Medal, 1958), the original Sherway Gardens shopping centre and The Towne mixed-use complex at 77-79 St. Clair Avenue East (Canadian Housing Design Council award, 1969).


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