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Post modern: Toronto’s Postal Station K preserved

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Mid-town Toronto’s Postal Station K was built with simple steel-reinforced concrete in 1936, however, the building and its forecourt have become the heart of the community located just north of Yonge and Eglinton.

While preservationists had almost lost hope that the post office could be saved, the new Montgomery Square development by The Rockport Group is doing just that with a retail and condominium plan designed to maximize the historic presence of the building.

The history of the site goes back to the Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern, part of the 1837 Upper Canada rebellion. The tavern burned down in the battle and various commercial enterprises used the site for almost a century. Public Works Canada announced plans for a new post office as part of a public building blitz in 1935.

The post office was designed by architect Murray Brown and built by the Carter-Halls-Aldinger Co. Ltd. at a cost of $150,000. Built using steel-reinforced concrete typical of the period, the building’s limestone exterior features statuary and art deco ornamentation. Of particular interest to monarchy buffs is the insignia of King Edward VIII who abdicated the throne before the building was completed — it’s one of the few public buildings in Canada to bear his name.

Canada Post decided in 2012 that it valued utility over history and heritage and sold the property to developer the Rockport Group, with no guarantees that the building would be preserved.

Toronto city council stepped in to pass a resolution designating the limestone clad portion of Postal Station K and its forecourt as a heritage property. The Rockport Group worked with the city to develop a site plan that offered something to both the community and history lovers.

Instead of the typical approach of preserving just the building’s facade, the developer took pains to repurpose the historical portion of the building as a restaurant or retail space. A 27-storey concrete luxury rental apartment building will be built to the rear, cantilevered forward over the post office.

The project is being designed by RAW Design and the heritage portion of the development is being overseen by ERA Architects Inc.

ERA principal Michael McClelland notes that historical research uncovered little documentation and no original photographs of the interior of the building, which had been repeatedly reconfigured.

"The primary feature is the snazzy original staircases inside the building," he says. "The main room itself is not highly decorated, but offers beautiful volume."

The back of the building was removed where it was formerly attached to a utilitarian work space in which mail was sorted. Steel was used to temporarily brace the back wall, which is now perched over a garage excavation five storeys deep.

Max Berg, an architect with ERA, notes that the original steel-and-concrete structure is solid enough to require no additional steel bracing during construction.

Revitalizing the post office building will include the creation of a new public space on the rooftop, offering unobstructed Yonge Street views.

"Steel beams will be used to reinforce the roof structure at existing beam locations within the portion of the postal station that will remain in the final project," he says.

Construction on the project began in 2015 and is scheduled for completion in 2017.

McClelland says that a reworked public space in front of the building will be truer to an earlier vision of Postal Station K, offering seating and a public park. Work will include replacement of an over-engineered concrete wheelchair ramp that obscured part of the building.

"We’ve maintained what people really like about the building," he says. "It’s a project that’s been thoughtfully worked on to enhance the community."

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