Description of Historic Place
The building located at 49 Front Street East, is part of an urban composition made up of 45, 47 and 49 Front Street East, and is commonly known as the Dixon Building. It is situated on the south side of Front Street East just west of Church Street. The three-and-a-half-storey Second Empire building was constructed in 1872-3 according to the designs of Walter Strickland and is well known for its cast iron front elevation.
The facade of the building is protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust conservation easement. The property is also designated by the City of Toronto under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law 430-78).
49 Front Street East is located within the Berczy Park district of the 'St. Lawrence Neighbourhood', also referred to as the 'Old Town', an area of Toronto that contains a number of significant heritage buildings.
49 Front Street East is significant for its associations with the development of Toronto's warehouse district, the local production of prefabricated cast iron and as a work of noted Toronto architect Walter Strickland. The present structure was built during a period of revitalization in the waterfront district. This occurred due to the filling in of the harbour in 1856, the installation of east-west rail lines on the landfill and the location of the new harbour two blocks south of the original. The increase in land area resulting from the harbour landfill permitted the construction of new warehouses such as 45-49 Front Street East, with rear lane access. Although earlier plans for the waterfront precinct had included an idyllic residential area with waterfront views and a pedestrian boardwalk, the proximity of the railroads, the harbour wharves and the increased industrial and commercial activity created a busy trade and warehouse district by 1871. Benjamin Homer Dixon commissioned architect Walter Strickland to design 45-49 Front Street East. Strickland would later go on to plan the second addition to Toronto's Union Station. Dixon was also able to commission the neighbouring St. Lawrence Foundry owned by W. Hamilton and Son, to prefabricate and install the cast iron facade that Strickland specified for the warehouse.
The three-and-a-half-storey building is thought to be one of the few remaining structures in Ontario with a cast iron facade. The use of cast iron in building became popular in the 1850s and 1860s in American cities such as New York and Chicago and soon spread to Canada. It provided an economic alternative to carved stone, could be erected quickly and could support larger windows. Originally it was also thought to have been fireproof, although this was discounted after the Chicago fire of 1871. The cast iron facade in this example hides a basic warehouse of timber-frame construction with brick load-bearing walls. The Second Empire features include a slate mansard roof with an upper level dormer window that is aligned with the central pilaster elements on the storeys below. The facade is comprised of four bays that contain pairs of arched windows alternating with pilasters on the second and third levels and single, arched window and door openings at the street level.
The building sits on the site of an 1853 storehouse that was located on the original Town of York (Toronto) waterfront at Browne's Wharf. The earlier foundations are largely intact beneath the basement of the present structure and artifacts representative of stored cargoes have been uncovered at the floor level of the Dixon Building. The proximity of the rail lines and the harbour ensured the continued need for storehouse facilities in the area until the early 1940s. The original design of the building, with its street level retail space, ensured that it would adapt well to the needs of the modern commercial district.
The Dixon Building and its neighbours to the west, the Perkins and Company Warehouse of 1873 and the Beardmore Block of 1871, share similar Second Empire features and horizontal levels that create a picturesque row of aesthetically similar, heritage buildings.
Source: Conservation Easement Files, Ontario Heritage Trust
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of 49 Front Street East include its:
- cast iron façade that is thought to be one of the few remaining examples in Ontario (together with 45 and 47 Front Street East)
- lavish though economical facade decoration that emulates carved stone through the use of cast iron
- decorative aspects of the Second Empire or French Renaissance style
- fashionable facade that conceals basic interior timber construction with brick load-bearing walls at the sides and rear, common to warehouses of the period
- facade that consists of four bays, with the street level containing identical single-arched openings for windows and doors
- pairs of double, round-arched windows that are three lights high alternating with pilasters on the second and third storeys
- slate mansard roof
- pressed metal cornice
- fourth level dormer window that is centrally placed to align with the middle set of pilasters on the levels below
- round-headed dormer with a Gothic-inspired double-arched, single-hung window and oculus, that is topped by a squat finial
- location on a site that was originally a waterfront location at Browne's Wharf in the Town of York
- location upon the site of an earlier warehouse of 1853, the foundation walls of which are located beneath the basement of the present building
- location immediately to the east of the Perkins and Company warehouse and the Beardmore or Griffiths Block and the resulting row of aesthetically and structurally similar buildings
- position as the end unit of a triple commercial block
- location in what was once a trade and warehousing district situated close to the railway and harbour and that has developed into a modern commercial area
- location within the Berczy Park area that joins with the Esplanade and Market areas to form the larger 'St. Lawrence Neighbourhood', a district also referred to as the 'Old Town', that contains many heritage structures, one of which is the Gooderham Building