Oculus in South Humber Park may be on its way to the city’s cultural heritage registry

Designed in the mid-50s, swinging into the 60s, a time of boundary hope and space age boundaries, the South Humber Park Pavilion first sat proudly in a landscape open to all sides, like a foreign vessel, landing in a Mark.

It was intended to attract visitors to Toronto’s new South Humber Park.

It was also created to serve them.

It included a floating concrete canopy on the legs, with an off-center opening called an oculus, to allow sunshine through, and a curved toilet building.

Sixty years later, it sat, sadly abandoned, covered in graffiti, suffocated by scrub, and the toilets closed.

It was being partially torn down.

Public protests forced the city to withdraw.

This week, it gained some protection after the Toronto Preservation Board unanimously voted to have Oculus, as it has become known, added to the City of Toronto’s Heritage Register, and to take steps to have it designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. .

“It was unanimous. It’s a no-brainer,” said Toronto Preservation Board Chairman Sandra Shaul.

“It’s wonderfully unusual and out of place for a city as conservative as this.

“It’s just nice.”

If approved by the city council, as expected on October 1, the designation will help protect Oculus from the wrecker’s ball.

The pavilion narrowly avoided this fate in 2016.

It got a boost in 2019 when the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario (ACO), a charitable non-profit organization, and Giaimo, a Toronto-based architectural firm, proposed a rehabilitation project using a $ 36,000 grant from the Park People’s Public Space Incubator. The incubator is funded by the Balsam Foundation and Ken and Eti Greenberg. The project also had several sponsors. https://parkpeople.ca/opportunity/public-space-incubator-2019/

The budget for rehabilitation was $ 90,000, including a $ 33,000 cultural heritage grant from the City of Toronto, subject to the structure being designated a cultural heritage building.

The work was originally scheduled to be completed in 2020, but was delayed by the pandemic.

This year, the outside of the pavilion was cleaned and repainted, the tiling was repaired, and new benches were placed on the site. The bathrooms were not part of the project and remain closed.

To encourage visitors and keep the site in the public eye, Stephanie Mah, Vice President of ACO Toronto, is working on developing programming for it.

“Just cleaning it does not ensure that it will not be left again,” Mah said.

An exhibition offers self-guided tours and serves as public art.

Hiking is planned for the fall.

Musicians, attracted by the impressive acoustics of the place, have started rehearsing there.

David Lieberman, architect and professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, has high praise for the restoration.

“Humber River Park (pavilion) is a modest project as a building; its most important contribution is to mark a place and a space as common areas to be shared by all, ”he told Star.

“Undoubtedly, the structure, in its origin, its history and in its respectful and creative restoration and reinvention, has value and should be taken into account in the Cultural Heritage Register.”

There are not many examples left in Toronto of 50’s and early 60’s architecture, says critic Hans Ibelings, assistant professor, University of Toronto John H. Daniel’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.

It makes the structure even more exceptional.

“I consider Oculus an everyday masterpiece, a beautiful and elegant piece of architecture,” Ibelings said.

“It is the little sibling to the most monumental and magnificent building in Toronto of this era, Viljo Revell’s Town Hall.”

An assessment of the site of the city described Oculus as an “asymmetrical, yet balanced composition, emblematic of the modernist movement.

“More specifically, the upturned roof design, the flying saucer shape, rounded angles and exaggerated geometric shapes are characteristic of the ultra-modern or futuristic ‘Googie’ architectural style,” according to the report.

Inspired by car culture and the space age, the Googie style emerged in the United States after World War II. The term was invented by architectural critic Douglas Haskell and named after a swooping-style West Hollywood Coffee Shop that spread throughout southern California, Arizona and Florida from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. .

“Googie made the future accessible to all…. One of the most important things about (it) was that it was meant to appeal to the average middle-class American…. It was to coffee shops, gas stations, car washes… the average buildings in everyday life, ”Reads the city report.

Other examples of Googie architecture in Toronto include the Canadian tire gas bar at 1212 Southdown Road in Mississauga, designated by the City of Mississauga in 2011; Yonge-Finch Plaza; and Don Mills Curling Rink, which had a saucer-like roof that looked like a coffee filter on its head, but which has since been torn down.

Correction – September 3, 2021: While Toronto’s Preservation Board voted unanimously to have the South Humber Park Pavilion added to the City of Toronto’s Heritage Register, it must be approved by the city council. The web headline for this article erroneously indicated that the pavilion is already on the register. A subheading used in Star’s print edition on September 3 also indicated that the pavilion was under restoration. The restoration has already been completed.

Francine Kopun is a Toronto-based reporter covering City Hall and municipal politics for Star. Follow her on Twitter: @KopunF

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