The city of Toronto has the 3rd best skyline in North America, according to the building website Emporis. There are more than 60 buildings at least 500′ high.
We had the opportunity to take an architectural tour with Daniel, from the Toronto Society of Architects. If there was someone you wanted to wander downtown Toronto with to learn about the history of the city, and the buildings, it is Daniel, as he has over 40 years of experience designing many of them.
Not all the buildings on this posting were seen on Daniel’s tour, but with the knowledge from him we were able to seek out more than what he had time to cover.
Included in these is (to me) the Mecca of Hockey – Maple Leaf Gardens. The Gardens were closed to NHL hockey more than 20 years ago, but the good folks of Toronto had the sense to retain the building and re-purpose it.
Most of the 1st level is a large grocery store, while Ryerson University uses the remainder of the building for athletics.
The highlight is on the current 3rd level – the ‘original ice’, as well as the exposed original ceiling!
Since the 1970s Toronto has had a near continual skyscraper building boom.
There are pockets of historic buildings scattered throughout downtown. In the distance is the clock tower of the ‘old’ city hall.
Completed in 1899 it was used as city hall until 1966 when the new city hall (feature photo for this posting) was completed.
E J Lennox was the primary architect for the old city hall in the 1890s. As was custom at the time he expected to have his name engraved on the building. When city council told him no – he got his revenge – by doing a ‘grotesque’ of himself. He is in the center with the mustache.
Even better was his revenge on his bosses in the city council – he included them as goofy looking people in grotesques, which means 120 years later he is still getting his revenge.
If you look enough you find many art deco touches, including these nice skylights in the Toronto Coach Lines building. Not bad for a bus station.
Another art deco entrance along Yonge Street.
All around you get glimpses of old and new.
The Bank of Nova Scotia building is one of the better art deco examples.
As is the Canadian Bank of Commerce.
A portion of the Hockey Hall of Fame is in the ornate lobby of an old bank.
Union Station is another example, and will shine even more when the renovations are completed in a few years.
Not downtown, and not a skyscraper the ‘Palace of Purification’ is the R C Harris Water Treatment Facility in Scarborough. It is an art deco masterpiece with a great setting along Lake Ontario.
Toronto is a city on the move, and their architecture shows it.
Rockefeller Center hosted the Frieze Sculpture Exhibit, featuring art from 14 international artists. While the sculptures were interesting, they have a hard time taking attention from the amazing artwork that is omnipresent at Rockefeller Center.
As a historic city San Antonio had a decent amount of older homes and buildings in the center of the city.
The King William Historic District is just south of downtown. It has a great collection of restaurants and shops, but the highlights are the beautiful old houses.
As we reached downtown we passed by a couple great old buildings.
A classic clock, which we appear to have caught at high noon.
Nix Hospital s housed in a very fine example of an Art Deco building.
There are still a couple vintage theaters in town.
The Post Office and Court House is located across the plaza from the Alamo.
The Tower Life Building was completed in 1927. This eight sided classic Art Deco skyscraper also housed San Antonio’s first Sears store when first opened.
The Drury Hotel occupies the former Alamo National Bank building. Located along the famed Riverwalk the 24 floor building has many impressive details in the lobby.
We chose instead to stay at the Gunter Hotel, another great old hotel.
The Gunter Hotel is famous for being the location that blues legend Robert Johnson recorded most of the 29 songs he ever recorded. The bar celebrates the fact that he recorded in room 414, by calling themselves the Bar 414.
Despite the fact that Robert was from Mississippi, he was brought to San Antonio by a talent scout for Vocalion Record, Ernie Oertle. A producer from the label, Don Law, set up a recording studio in room 414 and 413 of the Gunter Hotel.
The drawing below is from an album cover of Robert’s music that was re-released in the 1960s depicting this recording session.
This is the room today, with the small white chair in the corner where Robert was sitting, facing the wall for the acoustics. How do I know this? This was our room for the night!!!
When we arrived every cushion was turned on end, every drawer was open. I immediately assumed it was Robert welcoming us! We spent the night hanging out listening to Robert’s music, either his original or the hundreds of covers from the Stones, Clapton and others.
As noted on the previous post the vast majority of the buildings in Houston are new, built in the last couple of decades, much as a result of an area that has grown from a metro population of 2 million in 1970 to 6 million + today.
But in downtown Houston there are a few architectural gems from the early to mid 1900s that are worth checking out.
An interesting block is on Main Street. For this one block it looks like you are in small town America (if small town America had 60 floor buildings in the background).
The Great Southwest Building was for many years home of the Texas Company, better known as Texaco. Built in the Art Deco style in the late 1920s, today it is high end apartments.
The Rice Lofts was formerly a hotel. This location is famous as it once was the home of a national capital – the Republic of Texas! The current building was completed in 1913.
Completed in 1929 as the Gulf Building, the current JPMorgan Building, with a Chase Bank branch in the lobby is the finest architectural building in the city.
The Julia Idelson Library is part of the Houston Library system. Dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers, it provides an oasis in the sea of glass.
Dating from 1926, the Spanish Renaissance style building houses Texas an local history archives.
Houston City Hall is one of the city’s few Art Deco style buildings.
The ceiling of the lobby has a relief of the world, with Texas standing out in gold and an X marking the spot (for Houston).
The murals add to the majesty of the room.
Even the water fountain has style, and a well state quote – build it to last forever. With the unchecked growth for the last 60 years or so I am not certain how much of Houston is built to last forever, but it is an impressive city nonetheless.
For more than 100 years Birmingham was the center of manufacturing for the southern United States. It was often referred to as Pittsburgh of the South in reference to all of the steel mills. As with Pittsburgh, the industry has for the most part left town.
As with the northern industrial cities there was significant investment in civic culture, and in Birmingham there is none better than the main library.
While the primary entrance is a modern building, across the street is the Linn-Henley Research Library. Built in 1927 it reflects the art deco style of the period.
The building is most known for the Ezra Winter murals. Most depict historic events such as below left – Dante and Virgil. On the right is Don Quixote.
In addition to the murals, the main reading room has a fantastic ceiling.
The west side of the room shows the interesting mix of the murals with the art deco balcony railings.
Ezra Winter was raised in Michigan, but spent his early adult years in Europe where he was classically trained in painting. Interestingly they were completed in New York City and applied to the Birmingham Library walls with white lead.
The Children’s Library has a mural depicting fairy tales.
A seemingly out of place modern art piece is also present.
The library, county courthouse and city hall all frame a public park. As they were all built about the same time all reflect the art deco style.
The courthouse was designed by the famed Chicago firm of Holabird & Root.
Reliefs high up on the building reflect local history.
Outside is the Statue of Liberty – well a small replica of the Statue of Liberty.
Murals depicting the history of the region are in the lobby of the courthouse. This mural, entitled Old South, has caused great controversy as it depicts slaves picking cotton. A multi racial committee of 16 reached a consensus that they would create a retractable cover that would obscure them except during educational tours.
They apparently haven’t yet decided to cover up their history as it was available for us to see.
The accompanying mural entitled ‘New South’ depicts the industrial work. As previously noted, the industry is gone, so I suppose they will have to come up with a ‘New New South’, depicting Birmingham’s current major employers including Education, Finance and Engineering firms.
As part of the agreement on the Old South mural, a new mural entitled Justice Is Blind was added with a modern collection of symbols that show, among others, a black lady justice along with a white lady justice.
Less controversial is the scales of justice relief as well as the art deco clock.
The final building in the area is Birmingham City Hall.
City Hall has a gallery of noteworthy city residents over the years.
While not a Birmingham resident, Martin Luther King was instrumental in bringing social justice to the city, and is honored with a portrait in the gallery.
Birmingham turned out to be far nicer than I was expecting. It is a city that is recognizing it’s past (good and bad), and moving forward into the future.