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On Temperance Street, a 19th-Century Building’s Renaissance

It took a heritage-minded Toronto developer to see the Dineen Building's potential.

The Dineen Building's Yonge Street facade.

Sometimes you find a diamond in the rough in the heart of the city.

Take, for example, the Dineen Building, located in the Financial District, at the corner of Yonge and Temperance streets. It’s a heritage building that has recently been restored by a developer called Commercial Realty Group.

In Toronto, full of brand-spanking-new eyesores like the Trump Tower, Commercial Realty Group president, Clayton Smith, is preserving pieces of our past. His company bought Toronto’s Gooderham Building (also known as the Flatiron building), a restored 19th-century office building, in 2011. The wedge-shaped structure has been a fixture at the corner of Church and Wellington streets since 1892.

But why did Smith purchase the Dineen Building—which, unlike the Flatiron, was an eyesore? He recognized the beauty underneath the dirt and soot-stains.

The Dineen Building was built in 1897 by William Dineen, a Toronto fur producer and hat maker. The W. And D. Dineen Company had offices, workshops, and a showroom in the building—which goes to show how far hat purveyors have fallen.

In 1917, the no-doubt-beautiful showroom full of furs and chapeaus was destroyed by a fire that did an estimated $10,000 in damage.

Commercial Realty Group president, Clayton Smith, on the roof of the Dineen Building.

The Dineen Building was restored after the fire. In 1973, it was listed in the City of Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties, and in 2008 it was given a heritage designation. Even so, it languished in the hands of its owners. Smith purchased the the rundown structure in 2011 for a song.

According to Smith, the space was in need of major work. The ceiling in the Yonge and Temperance storefront had been lowered by 11 feet. The original iron balconies were so rusted that some pieces dangled precariously above pedestrian walkways. Squatters had to be evicted.

The Dineen Building prior to its restoration. Photo courtesy of Clayton Smith.

This didn’t deter Smith. That’s because he, unlike some other property owners, is willing to pay for excellent restoration work.

During a tour of the Dineen Building—still under renovation but already partially occupied by iQ Office Suites—Smith pointed out some of the finer points of the restoration work. In the lobby stands a safe from J&J Taylor Safeworks, (otherwise known as Toronto Safe Works), a mid-19th-century foundry that held a near-monopoly in the local safe-making business thanks to their products’ reputation for being fire and theft proof. Two more J&Js reside on the third floor, built into the wall of the building.

A J&J Taylor Safeworks safe, preserved in one of the Dineen Building's walls.

In a street-level retail space, set to open as a café in the spring, two iron columns with fleur de lis capitals support the centre of the room. The space is empty and dusty, but ready for the new tenant. Smith’s team restored the building’s original boiler-room door and mounted it to the wall of the retail area. From the looks of it, the local coffee chain Balzacs would do wonders with the space, but Mr. Smith woudn’t say specifically who is expected to move in.

It’s hard to picture what the building’s patio will look like right now, because it’s cold, dreary, and ridiculously grey outside. But the wrought-iron patio railing gives the space a decidedly Parisian feel. It’s in the middle of a very busy downtown corner, and yet, at the same time, it’s quiet. The entrance to the building lobby is located on Temperance Street, past the future patio.

The building's street-level retail space.

The sophisticated will appreciate the work Mr. Smith’s team has put into the Dineen. An additional floor to for the building is also in the works—a glass-roofed restaurant with a patio that will give diners a chance to see the stars—or a glimpse of who’s still toiling in their office late on a Friday night.

For what it is and what it will be, the Dineen restoration is indeed a jewel.

And what is Smith doing after the work is done? “I’ll go surfing in Costa Rica,” he said ruefully, playing with his fedora. “This is exhausting work.”


  • jo

    wow!! this is what it used to look like:
    amazing job. there should be more like-minded developers with ideas like these around. please step up! excited to see what’s coming.

    • Anonymous

      Quite a difference, isn’t it? I’ve added a “before” photo to the article, so others can see.

  • ente1888

    I wondered who was behind this beautiful and unexpected restoration. I always thought this building was destined to be knocked down as part of the building of the new office tower beside it. A wonderful thing to see!

  • Anonymous

    Is it too early to be talking about 2013 Hero nominees?

  • Don Rhodes

    Amazing work! If only more heritage buildings in the downtown core had similar restorations performed.

    • Anonymous

      If you want an inkling of what wasn’t preserved, except for fragments thereof, check out Guildwood Park in Scarborough.

      • Anonymous

        Seeing those fragments is poignant because it becomes apparent how impressive those lost buildings were. You can see just how finely carved the stone was for the ornate facades. When I visited Guildwood for the first time, I thought to myself that never again can we allow our finest buildings to be destroyed like those ones were.

  • Anonymous

    It’s great to see heritage buildings treated the way they should be treated: restored and used as the profitable real estate that they can be. Mere facades tacked onto massive glass towers with indifference don’t compare to actual restored buildings. Preserving whole buildings allows people to better understand what actually happened in those buildings in previous eras. Aesthetically, a preserved building gives a streetscape a more convincing historical character and atmosphere than a preserved facade. Mere facades suggest manipulation as they sometimes have altered proportions or are even moved to different locations.

  • WhiteBox

    Congratulations to Mr. Smith and his team! I’ve walked past that building before its restoration and admired its structure. I’m glad he’s willing to invest in make it beautiful again.

  • Ken Burton

    A family member of mine was renovating their house near Mount Forest and found A Dineen top hat in the attic. The hat itself is black and in relatively good condition except for a tip in one side. Wondering if anyone knows anything about this type of hat.