The Eaton Mansion, 35 Walmer Road, date unknown. Courtesy of the Archives of Ontario.
The Vincennes Apartments, 35 Walmer Road. Image by Vik Pahwa.
Advertisement for the Vincennes Apartments, Toronto Daily Star, August 4, 1966. pg 36.
85 Spadina Road, Toronto, 1976. Courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives/TTC.
The coming of the subway
Modern transportation forever changed the Annex. To accommodate suburbanites living north of the Annex, who commuted downtown by car, trees that once lined residential streets were uprooted to make room for extra lanes along Spadina and Avenue Roads. These roads began to attract commercial real estate developers, rather than the earlier residential property owners.
Before the construction of the Bloor-Danforth subway in the 1960s, there were a few scattered apartment houses in the Annex. This included the buildings at 375 Brunswick and 485 Huron. Between 1963 and 1978, the subway went through several phases of expansion to accommodate the growing number of people living downtown. One outcome was that people living in the Annex did not need a car to get around. It also meant that more apartment buildings would come, changing the skyline of the Annex with their arrival.
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A new look for the Annex
Known as the Vincennes, 35 Walmer Road was built in 1966 and signified a new type of apartment building in the Annex. Uno Prii’s designs were a new take on apartment buildings and added a fresh style to the neighbourhood. In contrast to the big and boxy-like buildings that came before it, the Vincennes was flowy, sculptural, and made of poured concrete.
Rising 15 stories, the building represented the aspirations of city living. Zoning laws in the city required tall buildings to be set well back on landscaped lots, inspiring Prii to create the Vincennes’ large sculptural flare we see today. The futurist sense of Prii’s designs have been described as a symbol of hope and optimism for the future.
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Reaching for the sky
Between the 1950s and 1970s, new high-rises were built in clusters along Spadina Road, lower Walmer Road, and along St. George Street. Many of the Annex’s grand old mansions were demolished to make room for these new high-rises, changing the look of the Annex from that of an elite neighbourhood to a denser urban centre.
However, residents pushed back against the increased density the high-rise buildings brought to their neighbourhood, resulting in several low-rise housing developments. As opposed to Prii’s futuristic designs, these developments looked back to the nineteenth-century architecture of the Annex: adapting what were once single-family homes into multi-unit complexes.
In 1981, the Huron-Madison Project at 25 Madison Avenue was completed. Operated by City Housing, the original house at 27 Madison, built in 1893, was incorporated into a four-story development, masking the dozen separate units behind it.