There’s a certain charm in Toronto’s pre-war lowrise apartment buildings, usually consisting of three to five stories with characteristics of the era like high ceilings, wood floors and crown moldings. Though a trend only recently back in fashion, it was also a time when buildings had names like The Gloucester Mansions, The Manhattan and the LaVerne.
Toronto’s pre-war (World War II) apartment blocks seem almost frozen in time with their solid brick walls and Art Deco accents, which is why what happened last week at 64 Wellesley Street East is so repulsive.
Property management company TransGlobe erected six neon blue signs on the building’s postage-stamp lot, creating a totally neighbourhood-inappropriate and visually offensive assault in front of the old brick walkup.
Now, Toronto is no stranger to ugly lawn signs placed by property management firms, but 64 Wellesley’s take the cake. The main sign overwhelming the front walkway is enormous and reflective. A subtle forest green awning that crowned the entrance has now been replaced by a gaudy blue one, sadly masking a stained glass street number. The most brazen and inexplicable additions are two large steel towers, each flaunting more logos and phone numbers, and three structures are topped with a prominent disk featuring the corporate logo. Though they’re only metres apart, the phone number is prominently and unnecessarily featured on five of the six blue signs.
Even the dentist office located in the building has suitably tasteful billing. A tiny black sign on the lawn simply proclaims “Dentist” and another unassuming placard beside the door shows a cute smiling mouth with only “Dentist Dr. Alan Gans” written on it.
Obviously, TransGlobe’s signs are a standard design, allegedly consistent across their properties. A national management company that rents-out 19,000 apartments and more than 5 million square feet of commercial space doesn’t likely have neighbourhood appropriateness or architectural suitability on its radar — and that’s the problem.
A nicely-landscaped, early 1920s tenement has no place for giant metal sign poles, and bright blue isn’t even the management firm’s corporate colour. There was little consideration for how incongruous an Arial font would look against elaborate concrete moldings and leaded windows, and any sense of pertinent scale is absent.
One can almost hear the boardroom decisions behind this corporate signage, with executives bandying about phrases like “consumer awareness,” and “brand synergy.” According to their website, TransGlobe clearly prides itself as a benevolent manager of well-maintained buildings, and although there’s nothing worse than a neglectful landlord, tenants also don’t want to wade through a forest of billboards to get to their front door. Redfern Court’s new billboards would look more at home in a north Toronto business park.
The only positive we can see is for giving directions to visiting family or delivery trucks. “It’s the old brick building with all the bright blue metal signs — you can’t miss it!”
The Ugly Stick is a series about Toronto’s urban design crimes. Suggestions for future Ugly Sticks can be sent to email@example.com. Read the previous column on how not to market a condo here.