Monday, May 27, 2013
Abandonment Issues: Tower Automotive
The image on the left is from the Toronto City Archives. It is dated 1912?/14 but the building wasn't constructed until 1920. So more likely it would have been taken in the early 1920s. The image on the right was taken by jerm IX in March of 2013.
Northern Aluminum constructed the 10 storey art deco industrial tower and surrounding sheet-casting plant in The Junction, a West Toronto neighbourhood in 1919-20. The building was designed by architect J.W. Schreiber and upon its completion was one of Toronto's tallest structures. It has been speculated that it was equipped with one of the first elevators in Canada.
Northern Aluminum was founded in 1902, and underwent several name changes before becoming Alcan. I have been unable to ascertain how and when the operations transitioned to Tower Automotive, which produced impact discs and heat shields for Daimler Chrysler at this location.
In 2005, as Tower Automotive filed for bankruptcy to sell it's assets through Chapter 11, the government designated the tower at Tower as a heritage building. In 2006 the Tower Automotive plant in Toronto was closed. For a few years thereafter, the Tower tower and plant were an oasis of sorts: a playground for graffiti artists, urban explorers and curious photographers, a drug den for addicts and junkies and a shelter for hobos and squatters.
Development plans to convert the property into a movie studio were discussed and publicized but were never brought to fruition. In 2010, the sprawling sheet-casting machining buildings on the property were demolished and the heritage designated Tower tower was sealed tight. It was at that same time that Ninja and I moved back home from Vancouver. In the following years we stopped by fairly regularly and lapped the building, hoping for a window of opportunity in the form of an unlocked door of opportunity. It had never materialized, but we remained hopeful and persistent. Plans to rezone the property and convert the tower into residential condominiums had been widely publicized, but still had not materialized into anything tangible as of this spring.
In the image above, which was found online, the former Tower Automotive property is outlined in red.
Screenshot of the former Tower Automotive property from Google Earth in 2013.
This brings us to mid-March of this year. Ninj and I were deep into the 2013 Anniversary Tour weekend, on the road for days exploring abandonments. Highlights of the weekend included a pre-demo $45 million mega mansion and the über dirty Crowe Foundry. We were standing in the Dickson Family Farmhouse reading and photographing aged letters from the 1920s when my phone lit up with news about Tower. Texts, social media and a local forum board were all reporting the same glorious news: Tower was accessible. The report indicated that motion detectors were actively flashing but were not armed. Then and there it was decided, on our way back eastward we would head into Toronto and take yet another run at Tower.
It was indeed accessible, and as advertised the motion detectors were blinking red winks at us. We hoped the alarm was still unarmed, but didn't stop to check.
The first floor was remarkably bare and sterile. The lights were on, casting foreboding shadows of the fluted columns into the dark corners. It was so much cleaner than we expected. Gone were the beautiful wooden floorboards that once made up the floor of this ground level. Also gone was almost everything else, the building had been gutted to its core.
With our best attempt at avoiding the motion detectors where possible, just in case, we found the staircase and began our ascension. In actuality, we immediately rushed up all ten floors and then climbed the ladders to the elevator control room and rooftop, and then another ladder to the tip top of the building, and then slowly descended. We did this in hopes that we would have more time inside the building before being caught if the alarm was indeed activated and anyone were to respond. But for the sake of a good storytelling aesthetic, I will progress upwards one floor at a time until we reach the roof.
Construction equipment lingers and resides like squatters in the muddy vast open space behind the tower where much of the sprawling factory once stood. The plan to rezone and convert the Tower tower into residential condos is still being discussed to this day, but plans remain in limbo, up in the bureaucratic air.
Very very shortly after our visit, news regarding Tower spread yet again through social media. As quickly as the window of opportunity had opened, it slammed shut, or more accurately, as the messages read...
"The entire door frame was bricked up."
click here to check out all of jerm & ninja IX's ABANDONMENT ISSUES