One King West

July 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

King West

Toronto King Street West Condos


King West Village by Payton Chung
King West Village by Payton Chung

I imagine Spiderman web-swinging along Toronto’s King Street West district where powerful, trend-setting mountains of glistening gold, semi-precious stone, dark steel and tinted glass form an urban canyon in this northern El Dorado. When he finished, the hip Peter Parker – if he had enough money in his pocket – would have plenty to do in this neighborhood.

Billed as the entertainment district, King St. W. is the nucleus for a clustering of major live theatres (Royal Alexandra, Princess of Wales, Elgin & Wintergarden, Second City, Canon), classical concert spaces (Roy Thomson and Massey halls), the city’s premier arenas (Rogers, Air Canada), CN Tower, CBC HQ, lakeside walkways and attractions including ferry boats to Toronto’s offshore islands.

But this strip of the downtown core is also literally towering with gold.

Walking King St. E. towards the city’s east-west divide at Yonge Street, Toronto’s architectural history dangles its naked legs seductively from the multitude of styles that entice me as I walk into the beating, breathing breast of the city.

Doormen at the 1903 King Edward Hotel busy themselves as I walk by. The stateliness of her Romanesque Revival beckons me and I peer inside at her Edwardian styled lobby of exotic woods, marble pillars and fleshy greenery.

Where King St. W. begins, the alluring purr of hundreds of billions of dollars flashing by and wiggling to the sky is audible. Canada’s six major banks have enthroned themselves on this short stretch of King since the early days. Their decorative deco, modernist black and burnished red granite shoulders still hold up the skyline, the billions in gold, currency and bonds, are still locked in enormous steel vaults below. But now, one of their own is a hotel condo.

One King West  by Gary Bem
One King West by Gary Bembridge

In 1914, One King West was the capitol of the Dominion Bank (now part of Toronto Dominion – TD Bank). Crowds gawked as a team of horses hauled its 40-ton vault door to the site.

Today, its original Art Nouveau splendor, gold leaf paintings, horsehair-stuffed leather chairs and even its caged vault – now a private dining room and bar – are part of this refurbished testament to conservative Canadian money management in the new gilded age.

John Panagakos has lived – part-time living as he and others call it – at One King for two years. “I live north of the city with my kids. This is my cottage; my cottage on the Wall Street of Toronto. This building is a jewel for people who work in the financial district.”

The city’s first condo-hotel, John says it’s also the tallest residence at 52-storeys. Because it’s a hotel and condo, John enjoys the “Cheers” of having everyone know his name. The place has “a special vibe” of ownership and rental guests, he says. Indeed, the business types who use One King as an inner city launching pad, front desk staff, chauffeurs, bartenders, waiters and convention delegates all create a chaos theory community on the main floors.

Banks, banks and more banks spring up like exotic mushrooms. There’s the art deco skyscraper of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Mies Van Der Rohe’s Batmobile black, Bauhaus obelisks for the TD bank. Scotiabank blended its 1950s deco tower with a 68-storey, girder-front modernist plaza slick with red Napoleon granite. But the greatest spectacle is the Royal Bank Plaza’s twin triangular towers of 14,000 windows with 2,500 ounces of 24-carat gold baked in – to cut heating bills through insulation. Go green with gold.

On King W, even the street-level entrance to the University Ave. subway line is fashionable enough for Paris.


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