Special Report: Heritage

Plenty of Reasons to Protect 1 St. James Place from Demolition

Designed by William Russel Souter, built by Pigott Construction and representing the Art Moderne style, 1 St. James more than deserves its Heritage designation.

By Geoff Roche
Published November 26, 2015

We know that 1 St. James Place is Heritage Designated under the Ontario Heritage Act, and therefore demolition is against the law. To allow demolition would require an argument that the building was not worthy of its designation.

1 St James Place in 2012 (Image Credit: Google Street View)
1 St James Place in 2012 (Image Credit: Google Street View)

Failing this, demolition could only be warranted if the building was structurally failing and endangering the public. We know with certainty this is not the case.

The DNA would therefore like to stress the architectural and historical significance of 1 St. James and why we think it is worthy of its designation.

To do this, we need speak about the home's architect and contractor, and follow with some history on its 'Art Moderne' stylistic and construction rarity. Please forgive us if this sounds like a history lesson, after all, it is the building's history that is in question here.

The Architect

The acclaimed architect of 1 St. James was William Russell Souter. He grew up in Hamilton and studied architecture in Pennsylvania. He then served in the Royal Naval Air Service and Air Force and was discharged in 1919. The following year he became junior partner in the firm of Hutton & Souter Architects, becoming a full partner later.

In 1933 he was awarded the Benemerenti Medal, by none other than the Pope Piux XI, for his design of the Cathedral Basilica of Christ the King in Hamilton. Needless to say, Architect William Souter was a tour de force in this City's history. Besides designing the Cathedral of Christ the King, Souter is noted for work on many major Hamilton buildings and structures such as the John Sopinka Court House, the Skyway Bridge, and numerous schools and churches.

The Builder

The acclaimed contractor of 1 St. James was the prominent Joseph Pigott of Pigott Construction. Together with his brothers, Joseph Pigott grew Pigott construction to become Canada's largest privately owned construction company.

In 1930, Pigott Construction built Hamilton's first and only pre-modern skyscraper, the 18 storey Pigott building. Pigott also built some of the country's finest buildings including the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Bank of Canada in Ottawa.

Many designated Hamilton landmarks such as the Lister block and John Sopinka Courthouse were built by Pigott. He was also recognized by Pope Pius XI for his role in constructing the Cathedral of Christ the King.

The Style

Not only was the house at 1 St. James built by a famous contractor and famous architect, but additionally it is a complete, rare surviving classic example of the beginnings of the international Art Moderne movement in our country.

1 St. James Place in 1936 (Image Credit: Canadian Homes and Gardens, Januray/February 1936)
1 St. James Place in 1936 (Image Credit: Canadian Homes and Gardens, Januray/February 1936)

To understand the importance and rarity of Art Moderne, one needs to understand that it was a style variant that stemmed from Art Deco. The more recognizable Art Deco was a fashion in design that grew rapidly across the world from roots in Paris in 1925. Art Moderne then followed Art Deco with origins in the Bauhaus school in Germany.

The emergence of Art Moderne in the 1930s can be attributed to the more austere times after the market crash in 1929. At that time, society - including Architects - reacted to the times and looked to a more simplified design, with more usefulness in structure without ornamentation or excess.

The style can also be linked to the avant-garde influences of cubism, futurism, rationalism, and functionalism, which spread worldwide and ultimately led to what we now call the "International Style".

A stunning example of Art Moderne architecture in this City is the heritage-designated 1933 TH&B railway station on Hunter Street, now known as the Hamilton Go Centre, which was built three years prior to 1 St. James.

Art Moderne

Art Moderne art, architecture, and fashion became popular in the 1930s just as the more decorative Art Deco fell out of favor. Many products in the '30s, from jewelry to kitchen appliances, expressed the new Art Moderne ideals; ideals that reflected the spirit of the early and mid-twentieth century, expressing excitement over technological advancements, such as high speed transportation, and innovative new construction techniques.

Art Moderne design was highlighted at the 1933 World Fair in Chicago.

Not only is the house at 1 St. James a rare, and perfect example of early Art Moderne constructed home in Hamilton, but it was also well published in 1936 upon completion. The home's construction was cited as "the first important experiment in modern Canadian housing" and the "first steel built house", which is most appropriate considering the history of steel in Hamilton.

The home was described at the time as belonging to a "movement toward better housing in Canada". All of its structural members, including the roof, were built of structural steel. The internal systems including insulation were a radical modern departure for the time.

Stylistically, the house was a beautiful simple cubist composition in white stucco, highlighted by internalized eaves and a zinc roof. It was a remarkable modern and contemporary home for 1936.

The home at 1 St. James is therefore most important, being a rare and early example of 'Art Moderne' and being designed by our City's most famous contractor and equally renowned architect.

Rare Sister Home

To add to this, however, is the fact that 1 St. James is linked to a rare sister home, one street to the south, specifically the Hale house at 16 Inglewood; it was constructed the same year in 1936 by the same contractor and architect and is a similar Art Moderne styled home.

16 Inglewood Drive in 1936 (Image Credit: Canadian Homes and Gardens, Januray/February 1936)
16 Inglewood Drive in 1936 (Image Credit: Canadian Homes and Gardens, Januray/February 1936)

It was constructed with the innovative use of steel, concrete, and glass block. It was similarly published upon completion as being "modern in style and construction".

These two homes reinforce the heritage significance of both and are a remarkable and rare historical part of the Durand record, a neighbourhood that includes some of the finest of architecture built over the last 200 years and by some of the continent's most celebrated architects.

Both 1 St. James and 16 Inglewood abut the Markland Heritage District and are within the district's 50 meter cultural impact assessment zone under the Ontario Heritage Act.

Both were built and published prior to the T. Eaton Company Ltd architectural house competition call for entries that stylistically cemented the Art Moderne movement in schools of architecture across Canada.

These two homes in their complete unaltered condition are most rare, and together form something very special.

Souter, Pigott Homes

It is also worth noting that both Joseph Pigott and William Souter lived in the Durand just blocks away from where they built these two modernist homes. Some six years earlier, in 1930, Joseph Pigott had built his own home at 358 Bay Street South, with design by William Souter.

Not to be outdone, the architect William Souter designed his own home in 1932 at 108 Aberdeen, with contracting by Pigott construction.

Both homes are landmarks within the Durand and both are heritage designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. What is most striking, however, is how modern and contemporary 1 St. James is when compared to these two residences built only a couple years prior.

Conclusion

The DNA would therefore like to express how culturally and historically important 1 St. James is to the Durand neighbourhood. Its architecture is a snapshot of the changing times in the Durand in the 1930s and was most likely the talk of the Town when built by its most important of Durand residents.

1 St. James Place  after the owner chopped down all the mature trees (RTH file photo)
1 St. James Place after the owner chopped down all the mature trees (RTH file photo)

It meets all criteria set out by the Ontario Heritage Act, as was recognized by the City of Hamilton in granting the building its historically designated status.

There has yet to be a plausible argument made as why this designated building should be demolished.

Geoff Roche is the vice president of the Durand Neighbourhood Association.

21 Comments

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 26, 2015 at 15:15:16

The developer wants to demolish it for a parking lot.

Heritage shouldn't even be a needed part of the argument. It could be a hovel made out of sheet-metal and concrete blocks, and it still shouldn't be allowed to be knocked over to build a parking lot in a residential neighborhood. I wouldn't want my neighbor's house knocked down for a parking lot, and neither would the people around St. Joe's hospital.

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By Don't Forget the Trees (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 16:40:38

Doesn't look like the needed permissions for tree removal. Wish they did.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 26, 2015 at 17:48:10

It's sad to see the tree go, but I'm glad the demolition was prevented.

Here's a great streetview (June 2009) for all to enjoy:

Imgur

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By Concerned Citizen (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 18:16:09

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By Nom de Plum (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 18:21:31

Concerned citizen? Quite the misnomer.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 20:38:46 in reply to Comment 115136

So, the surrounding neighbourhood should be leveled for the benefit of patients and their families at St. Joe's? Mr. Veri et. al. are trying to demolish a perfectly good home for parking out of the goodness of their hearts? Please!

Tell us more about how you (ummm, I mean Mr. Veri and his partners) are heroes attempting to help the poor and downtrodden.

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By unconcerned developer (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 20:42:38 in reply to Comment 115136

Concerned citizen my ass. You money grubbing "developers" represent everything that's wrong with this crooked city. Go away, at least to another city but preferably to hell.

The nerve.

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By Trees (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 22:09:46 in reply to Comment 115135

This and many other examples of tree removal terrify me. It takes months to remove and replace a built structure. It takes decades (sometimes centuries) to replace a viable old growth tree.
Why on earth do we debate saving the former more vociferously than the latter? Why am I informed that a neighbour needs a variance to build a porch that fits a street, but not informed if they want to remove centuries worth of organic growth from "their" yard?
I know I am bit OT here --- sorry --- but trees make a neighbourhood as much as buildings do, and, from what I can see, in Hamilton at least, they're forgotten collateral damage in too many of these fights.
If we're going to fight to protect heritage, perhaps what's grown over time should be as ferociously fought for as what's been built. That's my thought.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 26, 2015 at 22:48:03 in reply to Comment 115136

Mr. Veri, even if your details are correct, it's still inappropriate because there can be an eventual A-Line LRT extension to St. Joseph hospital.

A-Line LRT extension

And yes, action is happening on this front -- Jason Farr actually already has a pending motion on asking for these A-Line extension funds.

This can be extended immediately right after B-Line completion. Look at more similar sized cities to ours than Toronto: Kitchener-Waterloo is planning Phase 2 while under their LRT is under construction, and Ottawa is also working on Stage 2 while their LRT is under construction. An incremental A-Line extension can begin construction immediately after the initial B-Line. The Toronto defeatist "build-once-and-forget" attitude should not permeate Hamilton LRT, but the "can-do" incremental extensions of other cities. Even Calgary LRT has successfully been having incremental extensions for the last 30 years.

Then St. Joes is just a simple short LRT hop; freeing up parking and making hospital access easier. With much easier transit access, fewer people would need to drive to the hospital.

Your parking lot is now potentially subject to the new transit-oriented development moratorium, and I'll bring this to Jason Farr's attention, to make sure that this corridor is protected, as well. So even if this house loses heritage status, other bylaws will still be in the way.

There are densification opportunities but razing a near-100-year-old urban neighborhood isn't a priority. In fact, there are parking garage opportunities nearby on the LRT corridor, and you should focus development/densification priorities elsewhere. There is a lot of ways to make a profit as a developer, but this corner plot is not the best move.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-11-26 23:58:03

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted November 26, 2015 at 23:28:23 in reply to Comment 115151

100% agree. Look at Toronto, Oakville and countless other cities. You need to pay a ton of money if you want to take a tree down and you have to replace it with 5 new ones, so frivolous removals don't happen. Here, you can basically do what you want. And the city loves taking trees down themselves - because it costs less to remove it than to maintain it. And Davey Tree Service is more than happy to recommend removal and then turn around and get paid to take down a perfectly healthy tree. It's a nightmare.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 00:26:43

The property is zoned residential which does not allow parking lots. He'd have to apply for re-zoning which he won't get. Wonder why he still wants to demo it?

Few more tidbits about this first class individual - from the Spec: "In 1997, Veri was convicted of digging a large hole in Bronte Creek without a permit. He was also found guilty of dumping fill without a permit."

Sounds like not having permits isn't a big deal to him.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2015-11-27 01:27:06

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By jorvay (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 08:56:51

The most frustrating part is that I remember when this house was up for sale. It was out of my range at the time, but not by a crazy amount. The pricing was actually really reasonable relative to the rest of the street and neighbourhood. I scanned that listing so many times. It's a beautiful house inside and out. I wasn't at all surprised when it sold, but I'm really confused by who it sold to. I would have thought people would be lining up for it as an awesome place to live.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 11:19:02 in reply to Comment 115152

It makes me wonder about this so-called financial smart-guy that he would invest in this property when he had to know the battle would be completely uphill for him to get his parking lot. There has to be easier ways to make money from a $400,000 investment.

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By unvelopers (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 11:42:28 in reply to Comment 115174

he's used to developers getting whatever they want in this town.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2015 at 13:07:53 in reply to Comment 115174

The other theory is this parking lot is "cover" property speculation for a future A-Line extension, ultimately becoming a multidwelling unit that replaces this heritage house.

I'm all for densification, but this is a mis-targetting.

There are multiple reasons why a parking lot could be a big profit here. But this is an underhanded/unethical speculation move, if this is the case.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 13:18:45

Regardless of the architectural features, regardless of the actual construction firm that originally built the house and regardless if it should be given an historic designation or not, its a fine home and you are taking it down to build a parking lot. This is not a fight against what possibly could be new an thriving neighborhood store or business, generating noise and traffic. Its not a fight where a greater number of newer more affordable homes is being proposed, slightly changing the built environment of a community. It will be a flat piece of land with a possibly concrete structure on it, that will house cars.

I don't live in Hamilton however, I have actually been to St. Joseph's before and you are right, it could use more parking. But, there are many other places in the area where a large capacity parking facility could be built. Yes, at very much higher price but also at very much higher vehicle handling capacity. Let's face it, parking lots are not exactly an endangered species in Hamilton. A possible extension to the A Line LRT project is a great start for better access. But wipe out a perfectly good home in a fine looking neighborhood regardless of its relative wealth, for a parking lot, no! You build communities for people not cars.

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By former neighbour (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 16:58:24

I grew up on St. James Place. No. 1 St. James Place was and is a beautiful, architecturally significant home. The street is a residential one and should remain so. This is another reason for better public transit to St. Jos and also for the building of parking lots in non-residential areas. Why ruin a beautiful street and neighbourhood with a parking lot?

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By karenchase (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:29:33

I saw the "summary" this developer submitted to the City yesterday talking about building a residential care facility, but nobody talked about it. I am wondering why?

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By Matt (anonymous) | Posted November 28, 2015 at 10:13:08

Thanks for the piece, Geoff.

Another gorgeous Art Moderne home is on Oakwood Place, the small crescent off King, just before you hit Mac.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted November 29, 2015 at 07:43:23 in reply to Comment 115136

This situation does a disservice to the Hamilton general population who have to suffer expensive and inadequate hospital access so as to protect a select few well heeled elite neighbours with their NIMBY attitudes. I sincerely hope that the full story of this sordid matter is brought to light.

???

Tons of free and cheap parking nearby. Lots of parking lots that are not at capacity, even during the day. One is even attached to the hospital!

The NIMBY attitude is not for more parking lots being put up on former house lots. The NIMBY attitude is for developers who only want money, and to hell with the neighbours. If that is Mr. Veri posting, shame on you.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted November 30, 2015 at 09:33:10 in reply to Comment 115130

Even if they did, Veri has a track record of willfully, if not gleefully, violating rules and regulations.

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