Special Report: Heritage

A Plea to Save the Buildings at Gore Park

It is City Council's responsibility to safeguard these architectural treasures, both as a record of the artistic achievement of this city and as an investment in the city's image that will help propel tourism.

By Taylor Sutherland
Published January 25, 2017

A version of this article was sent to City Council. If you care about heritage in Hamilton, please consider writing to Council to express your support for preserving these designated buildings.

My name is Taylor Sutherland and I'm writing to implore Hamilton City Council to preserve the historic buildings at Gore Park.

18-28 King Street East (RTH file photo)
18-28 King Street East (RTH file photo)

I fell in love with the beauty of the old architecture in Hamilton and moved here in 2015, the stunning architecture being key in my decision to move. My heart breaks each time I bear witness to another demolition of period architecture in this city and this has happened more times than I'd care to admit in my short time here.

I've read the excellent arguments in support of the preservation of Gore Park, cogent, passionate arguments made by people entrenched in the fight to preserve Hamilton's history. I must add my voice to this discussion, hoping to remind us all of the irresistible draw that old architecture has on tourism.

Tourists are attracted to both the activities on offer and the visual appeal of a city. And tourists bring money. North Americans are drawn to visit European cities because of jaw-dropping architecture those cities provide. Most North American cities pale in comparison.

Some cities, however, are fortunate in that they were founded early enough on the eastern part of our continent and, as such, have a certain concentration of elegant period architecture.

We all know that Quebec City has a massive amount of tourism, and I would credit the romantic architecture there as a key component of its tourism.

Since I moved to Hamilton, I've been amazed at how many people I see wandering the streets, gawking and taking photos. I've chatted with the odd person when I've been out front gardening; many were local but some had come from as far afield as Germany, France and the UK.

They had read about the architecture of this city and had come to see it for themselves. I was surprised by this and yet, as I take in the stunning architecture this city has to offer, I too would travel to see it.

Tourism can be a massive source of revenue for any city and Hamilton, nestled as it is amongst the Escarpment, should be a prominent destination. There is already lots to do here and I can only imagine that the cultural and culinary experiences on offer will only continue to expand.

But we must remember that, when it comes to tourism, the aesthetic of the city is just as important.

I imagine that Jackson Square was quite a draw in its heyday and I can see that lots of work is being done to revive it. Beautiful public spaces are essential to make that civic pulse pound.

I can imagine this central square with loads of green space surrounded by stunning period architecture, the storefronts bustling with cafes, galleries and stores of all kinds. This is the Hamilton I want to see.

As I understand it, this stretch of Gore Park will have a portion of the facade retained and everything else demolished. I find this shameful.

Please do not make the same mistakes that Toronto continues to make time and time again. In Toronto, so much Victorian architecture has been obliterated or the facades of a three-storey walkup have been retained only to be dwarfed by an incongruous glass tower that looms above it, neither happy to be linked to the other.

We will never again build like they did in the Victorian era and the first part of the 1900s, with the same materials, with the same pride of craftsmanship, with the same flair for whimsy and uniqueness.

And artistry is found throughout the interiors of all these buildings, not just on the outside. Fa├žadism is no solution.

When I look at what has become of the Cotton Factory, the Lister Block, the Inglewood, Ballinahinch, that stretch of King William Street, the Stinson condos and countless others... These are brilliant examples of how to repurpose a building that at once remains faithful to the original architecture and repurposes the structure to become economically viable.

We need such inspired leadership on every development project where heritage buildings are concerned.

From what I've read, the property owners of Gore Park had no such ambitions. The Spectator reported that the owner began amassing these buildings back in the 1990s and made attempts at renovation but had trouble securing tenants.

We can't blame tenant retention problems on the building itself. The whole of Jackson Square is quite down and out and problematic for businesses. I see rejuvenation in process, but this takes time.

If the current owner had no intentions of successfully repurposing Gore Park, perhaps it was an ill-conceived venture to purchase a strip of Victorian buildings?

In the comments section of one of the Spectator articles, someone wrote that the owner of the Gore buildings did have tenants but evicted them. A quick search on Google Maps shows all the storefronts with businesses - I'm guessing this is a shot taken in the last five years?

I understand that owners of commercial property and developers want to make money. We all want to make money. I also understand that it's always more expensive to refurbish a heritage building than to raze it to the ground and start anew.

Owners and developers who have zero interest in preserving heritage properties should buy empty lots and build there. There are countless opportunities for this in Hamilton.

Leave the historical architecture to those interested in it and inspired enough to envision a fresh use for a tired hull. There are always creative solutions for refurbishing and repurposing old buildings; they just aren't the most profitable.

I have an old house and spend far more on it than I would on a new structure. While I'd prefer to spend less, the truth is, I'm honoured to be investing in a work of art that's over a century old.

It is City Council's responsibility to safeguard these architectural treasures, both as a record of the artistic achievement of this city and as an investment in the city's image that will help propel tourism.

I am horrified that so many councillors voted in support of demolition and I applaud those who didn't.

Didn't I read that these buildings had been designated heritage? Does that mean nothing? The citizens who rallied against this decision have my full respect and I only wish the outcome had been different.

As Hamilton becomes more and more popular, developers will lay siege to this city, wanting to tear down the old and put up the cheap, quick and new, all with the goal of making the largest possible profit.

A city becomes sanitized as its history is bulldozed for quick and cheap towers and I don't think Toronto's model is one to emulate: whole 'neighbourhoods' of endless glass towers with shadowed storefronts comprised of ubiquitous chains like Quiznos and Pizza Pizza.

And many of these developments are beset by class action lawsuits due to their cheap construction that has proved unsatisfactory to the new condo owners.

I fear that it is already too late as I know Councillors have already voted in favour of destroying this piece of Hamilton's history. And yet - I felt compelled to add my voice to the tumult before your Jan. 25 meeting, condemning this proposed demolition.

I can't stress enough that I believe that this is the wrong decision.

While I appreciate that city councillors must weigh in on a whole array of topics, and I greatly appreciate the hard work that you all do, the preservation of historical architecture is of paramount importance to me and many others, and when I next go to the voting booth, only the most vociferous champions of the preservation of historical architecture will have my vote.

I believe in capitalism and that investors should be able to buy property and develop it to make a profit - but only if that development does not annihilate our architectural history.

Taylor Sutherland is a resident of Ward 2.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 25, 2017 at 14:05:26

What other city besides Hamilton would allow demolition of a block of built heritage so significant it is the banner of the governments 'places to grow' website??

Good ol' Hamilton....

https://www.placestogrow.ca/index.php?la...

Comment edited by JasonL on 2017-01-25 14:05:33

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted January 25, 2017 at 14:22:05

Thank you, Taylor. You are an eloquent writer and I appreciate your efforts on behalf of heritage buildings.

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted January 25, 2017 at 17:56:18

Has the option of allowing for a demolition but mandating the the precise replication of the current design been explored? I feel like that satisfies both sides. Stone and brickwork is all temporary and restorations replace or cover a lot of the original stone and brick anyway.

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