Has David Feldman run out of ideas?
The man has made many impressive contributions to Toronto’s skyline while building about 50 condominium projects over the past 35 years.
“One of the things I am most proud of is that none of our buildings look the same. We’ve built 50 condo projects and they each have their own distinctive look,” Feldman says.
And his firm, Camrost-Felcorp, has just unveiled two new highrise residential projects that’ll certainly become icons for our city. But they are already very familiar to most Toronto residents and even to people around the world.
Feldman is converting the 32-storey Four Seasons Hotel on Avenue Rd. at Yorkville Ave. into a mixture of luxury and affordable condos, calling it Yorkville Plaza.
He’s doing the same thing to the 21-storey former headquarters of Imperial Oil — Imperial Plaza — on St. Clair Ave. west of Yonge St. It was built to withstand a nuclear explosion in downtown Toronto, so Feldman won’t try making any changes to its exterior.
Converting these two Toronto landmarks into homes isn’t Feldman’s first venture into the renovation world.
In 1997, a 40-year-old concrete liquor warehouse occupied one of the best residential sites near the Etobicoke waterfront. Feldman bought the McGuinness Distillery Warehouse, known today as Mystic Point, which has become one of Toronto’s most popular communities for young people trying to break into the challenging home-ownership ranks.
Attempting to dismantle the huge concrete structure would have bankrupt Feldman, plus he saw those thick concrete floors separated by thick concrete pillars as a unique asset.
“There is 18 feet between the thick floor plates and that’s an ideal height to create New York-style lofts,” Feldman says. He knew the warehouse was too wide to place condo lofts in its core, so the interior became a ready-made parking garage five stories above ground instead of five levels below ground. The lofts, with their 18-foot-high windows, wrap around the exterior of the old warehouse.
Again, because of its thick concrete structure, Feldman opted to add four floors of penthouse suites on the roof of the warehouse. He said there was nothing like it in North America.
Today, the 16-acre site on the south side of the Gardiner Expressway at Parklawn Rd. is a gated mixed community with both newly built midrise condo towers and Victorian-style townhomes.
The Etobicoke waterfront has been a fun place for Feldman.
It was a fun place for a lot of people when Feldman first started touting the potential of the area’s notorious motel strip, which at the time was the city’s busiest red-light district.
The 50-acre site of scrubland running along the edge of the lake between the Humber River and Mimico Creek was home to coyotes and hardy hobos living in makeshift shacks. In 1988, Feldman proposed a $3 billion community of highrise condos, upscale retail shops, waterfront recreational boating facilities and public parklands. His company owned or had options on half the 50 acres.
His proposal certainly got the ball rolling on a waterfront strip that local politicians and planning boards had been endlessly debating for decades.
The strip stands today as the principal welcoming sight for people entering the city from the west side and is considered one of the most attractive waterfront communities in North America.
In its early planning stages, the Bob Rae provincial government stepped forward with its own development plan. It involved plenty of land expropriations, but was roundly rejected by Etobicoke council, motel strip landowners and most Etobicoke residents.
“The province can make all the plans it wants on my lands, but they can’t make me build on them,” Feldman said at the time. “With the plan they’ve brought forward I won’t be building there and I doubt anyone else will either.”
At about the same time, Marina Del Rey, a three-phase condo project Feldman had created on the west bank of Mimico Creek, was designated “the best planned, conceptualized and integrated condominium community in Ontario,” by the Urban Development Institute.
In 1990, Feldman and Rae did agree on one matter: they both said Toronto needed more highrise condo communities to help preserve food lands and put municipal infrastructure and public transit to much more efficient use. They together predicted that some day condominiums would account for up to 40 per cent of Toronto’s new home market.
Today, nearly 80 per cent of new homes built in Toronto are condominiums.
Imperial Plaza was built in 1957 as the headquarters for Imperial Oil, Canada’s largest corporation at the time, and its board of directors wanted their HQ to reflect that status. There was no expense spared in its interior finishes, particularly in the lobby and public access areas, and Feldman plans to retain those features.
Architect Alvan Mathers designed the building in 1955 to be Toronto’s New City Hall, but it didn’t win over Mayor Nathan Phillips, who rejected the look and called for an international design competition. Finish architect Viljo Revell came up with the clamshell design that overlooks Nathan Phillips Square today.
Imperial Oil liked the broad-shoulders look of Mathers design and adopted it to create its new headquarters on the highest piece of land in the old city of Toronto at 111 St. Clair Ave.
St. Clair runs along the sandy northern shore of what used to be Lake Iroquois, the prehistoric lake that formed 13,000 years at the end of the last ice age and eventually shrank down to Lake Ontario.
That means the condo suites Feldman will carve into the office tower, plus the two-storey multi-million dollar townhome penthouses he’ll add to the roof, will have some of the most panoramic views in the city.
The Imperial Oil HQ was being built in one of the city’s most prestigious — and therefore influential — residential neighbourhoods and the construction noise was not going to be appreciated.
To reduce much of that noise, Imperial chose to weld its metal framework rather than use hot rivets driven by jackhammers. Today, Imperial Plaza is the largest welded-frame building in the world.
Civic leaders in the paranoid Cold War days liked Imperial’s small windows, thick walls and its location outside the city’s financial core and designated it as ideal for a survivors’ hospital if and when Toronto was hit by the big one — an atomic bomb.
The guest list at the Four Seasons Hotel reads like an international Who’s Who. It was so prestigious that this writer was surprised that the Calgary Stampeders would stay there on a visit to Toronto to play the Argos. Eight big guys dressed in sweat clothes came thundering past me in the lobby one day. I thought it was some visiting Stamps out for a pre-game jog, but on a closer look it was Madonna going out for a jog with her security detail.
When Isadore Sharp bought the 7-year-old hotel from Bramalea Ltd. in 1979 and rebranded it to his Four Seasons chain from the original Hyatt Regency, he reduced its room numbers to 338 from 620.
Feldman has hired the architectural firm of WZMH (then known as Webb, Zerafa, Menkes, Housden Partnership), that created the original design, to rework the building into a condominium residence. You’ll see most of the changes in he first two floors, which will be occupied by high-end retail shops.
The condo suites above that will be designed by The Design Agency, headed up by Allan Chan, Matthew Davis and Anwar Mekhayech. Their team is also designing the residences going into the Imperial Plaza.
And of course there’ll be some impressive public art included in the new exterior look: Feldman is big on installing art that inspire conversation.
The huge egg beater sculpture was one of the interesting additions to his World Trade condo at the foot of Yonge St.
At Marina Del Rey, stainless steel sailboats appear to be sailing along the public boardwalk.
But only a handful of friends got to see Feldman’s favourite piece of public art.
He commissioned actor Anthony Quinn to sculpt a lovely mermaid for a water fountain he was placing in the middle of a circle driveway at his Hollywood Plaza condo project in downtown North York.
The beautiful mermaid arrived in Toronto looking very authentic. She was topless and Quinn had been very generous to her.
Some said she looked a lot like the 18-year-old girlfriend Quinn brought to the condo’s opening party.
However the mermaid’s public unveiling was delayed several months while another metal sculpture draped her with a shawl.