In an opinion letter issued on October 29, 2012, E.R.A recommended that the Neilson home be designated a heritage property.
The house, which was for four decades the home of chocolate and ice cream execute, Charles Neilson, has been slated fro demolition. The prospective new owner, Greg Neinstein, purchased the property from its current owner, Andre Buhot, and plans to demolish the existing home and build a new house and backyard pool on the property, threatening not only a unique piece of Toronto heritage but also putting old growth oak trees as risk of destruction.
The Neilson House is one of the oldest houses in the Casa Loma area
and the first house built on the street. E.R.A. opined that the property meets the stringent criteria of design, associative and contextual value set by legislation for heritage designation, noting that the Arts and Crafts style house built in 1910 by the prominent architects, Wickson & Gregg, shows no substantial exterior modifications since it appeared in a photo spread in the September 1933 issue of Canadian Homes and Garden. Wickson & Gregg were among the most prominent Toronto architects of the time, being responsible for the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church masterpiece on St. Clair, the majestic U of T Toronto Reference Library (now called the Koffler Student Centre) on College Street and many other famous landmark buildings.
A quirk of the City's permitting process allowed the owner to obtain a demolition permit in October 2012, despite the fact that a heritage study by the City's Heritage Preservation Services staff was already underway to determine whether the house has heritage value and that their report is expected to be completed before the end of the year. This may be too late to save the house from demolition. Residents in the neighbourhood have also obtained an independent arborist's report which indicates that five mature oaks on the property (includinga majestic red oak that may be as much as 250 years old in the backyard) and as many as three mature oaks on an adjoining property may be jeopardized if demolition and construction work go ahead.
Ironically, the Casa Loma neighbourhood in which the Neilson house is located has itself been identified by the City as a priority neighbourhood for study as a potential heritage district, and money has already been allocated for that study. The neighbourhood, which was the home of many of Toronto's (and the nation's) most prominent families in the first half of the 20th century, is situated in a mature oak forest and boasts some of the finest and most distinctive homes designed by some of the most prominent architects of the period. The neighbourhood is often used for walking tours showcasing Toronto's unique heritage and architecture.
The Casa Loma neighbourhood also has a strong history of preserving its heritage while adapting its existing architectural assets for re-use. Lyndhurst Lodge and Maclean house are examples of period mansions that have been, or are being, converted into town home dwellings. Maclean house, the home of Maclean's magazine found, John Maclean at 7 Austin Terrace, was itself the subject of a successful heritage protection fight by neighbourhood residents only two years ago after it was targeted for demolition by a developer. "Residents are aghast" says Robert Levy, President of Casa Loma Residents Association, "to find themselves having to fight yet again to preserve one of the neighbourhood's best heritage assets."
"This property needs to be preserved," says Brian Barron of the Casa Loma Residents Association. It meets all the criteria established in legislation for designation. It plays a unique historical role within the Casa Loma neighbourhood - itself identified as a heritage neighbourhood. This demolition must be stopped!
For further information, please contact any of the following members of the Casa Loma Residents Association:
Robert Levy (phone 416-802-3773)
Brian Barron (phone 416-964-0848
Jonah Arnold (416-882-4321)
Further information is also available online at http://clratoronto.ca