Old is the new new. Or at least what’s old is about to become new again …
You’ve likely seen the curved structure on the northwest corner of Yonge Street and Queen Street West in downtown Toronto. Some may remember it as either a Woolworth’s, a Royal Bank, a Towers Record, or most recently, an Atmosphere store. But the building originally opened its doors in 1895 as the Philip Jamieson Clothing Company. By 1910, the S.H. Knox & Company toy store moved in. It wasn’t until 1913 that the American retail giant, Woolworth’s, took over the space.
Once Woolworth’s took occupation, it covered the Philip Jamieson Clothing Company name, which was etched into the brick, with its own signage. Today, the building is in the midst of what will be a dramatic makeover that finally uncovers its original brick façade, so what better time to uncover the story of its rich history.
When it first opened, Canada’s Woolworth was under the control of Ralph Connable Jr., who lived in an enormous estate on Lyndhurst Drive, just north of Casa Loma. Of note, an enormous name in the world of literature has strong ties to our city and that address …
In 1919, a 20-year-old left his home in Oak Park, Illinois to mentor Connable’s son, Ralph III, in Toronto. Connable and his wife Harriet wanted their boy to toughen up, and felt he would benefit from the companionship and influence of this man. Not only did the American influence young Ralph, but he also went on to secure a job at the Toronto Star, and later would become one of the most influential writers of the 20th century: Ernest Hemmingway.
Then, in the 1920s, while Hemmingway was working on his writing, there was talk in Toronto of building a second Woolworth store that would match the colossal Woolworth building in New York City — at one time, the tallest in the world.
However, with the Great Depression and WWII, plans were scaled back. It wouldn’t be until 1949 that downtown Toronto got its second Woolworth store, albeit less grand, on the southeast corner of Adelaide and Bay.
The city now had two Woolworth stores, only a few blocks apart from each other.
Sadly, the second store, a wonderful, post-modern structure on Bay Street, was torn down in the 1990s. Eventually the Trump Tower — now the Adelaide Hotel, soon to be the St. Regis Hotel — would rise.
By the 1960s, back at the original Queen and Yonge location, the entire façade was covered in white metal cladding, concealing its stunning brickwork. After Woolworth’s moved out in the ‘90s, most of the cladding was replaced with greenish grey metal panels that left half of the original brick exposed.
Then a Royal Bank branch moved in, to be followed by Tower Records which remained until 2001, and most recently it was home to Atmosphere.
Now, once again, the building’s entire 19th-century façade is about to be revealed. Bit by bit, the greenish grey panels are being removed, exposing the original lettering of the Philip Jamieson Clothing Company.
Soon, expect to see the whole building transformed by Zeidler Partnership Architects into a yet unnamed flagship store.