Description of Historic Place
The building at 49 Wellington Street East, commonly known the Gooderham Building or the Flatiron Building, is situated on a triangular parcel of land in Toronto's St. Lawrence Market District. The five-storey building assumes a wedge-like shape and was constructed in 1891 to the designs of architect David Roberts Jr.
The exterior of the building, excluding the western façade, 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 534-75) in 1975.
Located in the St. Lawrence Market District, the building is situated amid a number of commercial and retail establishments, in one of Toronto's most vibrant and historically significant neighbourhoods. The building, which is arguably Toronto's most photographed historic structure, is also located only a few blocks away from other celebrated heritage sites such as the St. Lawrence Market and the St. James Cathedral.
The Gooderham Building is associated with the Gooderham family, particularly George Gooderham, the eldest son of William, who founded Toronto's Gooderham and Worts Distillery in 1837. In the 1880s, after taking over his father's continuously expanding distillery, George commissioned architect David Roberts Jr. to construct a building slightly west of the industrial complex to house the offices for the business. At a cost of $18,000, the resulting building, known as the Gooderham Building, was the most expensive office building to be erected within all of Toronto at that time. As the president of the distillery, the Bank of Toronto and the Manufacturer's Life Insurance Company, Gooderham possessed the finances to decorate the building with the most lavish of details. At the time of his death in 1905, Gooderham was listed as the wealthiest man in Ontario.
The building's unique triangular shape is due to its situation at the confluence of Wellington Street, which follows the city's traditional traffic grid, and Front Street, which traces the city's original lakeshore. The exterior of the building exhibits styles characteristic of Romanesque and Gothic Revival designs, however, the building's most recognizable feature remains its “flatiron” or wedge-like shape. The building features a number of significant interior architectural attributes, one of which is the original elevator, one of the oldest electric elevators in Toronto. In addition, there is a large trompe l'oeil wall mural erected on the west façade by Canadian artist Derek Besant which dates to 1980. The mural represents a faux façade pinned to the actual building wall and incorporates the existing features of the wall as well as non-existing attributes familiar to other 19th century buildings in the vicinity.
Source: Conservation Easement Files, Ontario Heritage Trust
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Gooderham Building include the:
- use of red brick to clad the exterior walls and Ohio sandstone to compose the battered/exaggerated foundation
- main entrance on the north façade which features an elaborate hood mould with an ogee arch, columnettes with Corinthian capitals, decorative label stops, and two roundels
- vertical segregation of the north and south elevations formed by a stringcourse running between the second and third floors
- decorative frieze featuring carved faces that spans the north and south elevations slightly below the roofline
- Roman arches and hood moulds of the fourth floor windows
- tower at the east end of the building which features pilasters, windows with curved sashes and glass, ogee arches above the fifth floor windows, and a steep conical roof topped with an ornamental finial
- steeply pitched mansard roof which is punctuated on the north and south sides by dormers featuring pediments, plain brick tympanums, and finials
- location in the St. Lawrence Market District
- unique setting at the convergence of two major downtown streets
- close proximity to some of Toronto's most important heritage buildings