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Photo: James Bombales

Toronto’s skyline is filled with modern office towers and glass-walled condos that have replaced some of the city’s century-old historic buildings. We’ve seen this first-hand in many of our then-and-now photo tours of major streets and neighbourhoods like Yonge Street, Bathurst Street and Liberty Village.

But there are also sites of architectural preservation to be found throughout the city, whether it be in the form of a heritage facade incorporated into a new build or a full restoration and conversion project like the Tip Top Tailors residences on Lake Shore Boulevard.

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One of the latest example is The Symes, a historic Art Deco building located at 150 Symes Road in the Junction. The structure was one of the few buildings spared when the industrial area was redeveloped in the 1990s and was officially designated as a heritage building by the City in July 2013.

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Photo: City of Toronto Archives

Built in 1933 and designed by City of Toronto chief architect John James Woolnough, The Symes is a classic example of early 20th century industrial architecture. It was originally used as an incinerator following the population boom in the 1900s which led to the demand for increased municipal services.

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Photo: City of Toronto Archives

By the late-1960s most of the city’s garbage was transported to landfills outside the city leading to The Symes to be converted into a waste transfer facility in the 1970s. It was eventually closed in 1996, and while it was sometimes used as a location for television and film productions, the historic building had largely fallen into disrepair. In 2009, the building was listed as surplus by the City and subsequently sold to developer Symesbridge Inc.

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Today, the Art Deco treasure has been re-envisioned for the 21st century and restored to its original glory by business partners Viviana Kohon, Namita Tandon-Walsh and Caitie Yue. With backgrounds in project management and event planning, the three women signed a 10-year lease and have transformed the derelict structure into a new venue and event space.

“We’re thrilled with this Art Deco masterpiece with such a historical significance to the city and we look forward to showcasing it through our client’s events,” says Viviana Kohon. “We want to keep the site’s original beauty intact, while keeping with our own philosophy and vision.”

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Working with Jones Architect Ltd. and Barbara Nelson Interior Design, the team has thoughtfully restored the space, carefully pairing the raw beauty of its industrial past with modern amenities.

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On the ground floor is the Grand Symes, a 5,600-square foot ballroom with vaulted ceilings and three skylights. The 4,100-square-foot Scarlett Room occupies the second floor and can accommodate up to 250 guests. The space includes access to a south-facing terrace with unobstructed 180-degree views of the city.

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All the original brickwork, metal strappings, steel beams and concrete columns remain intact, while Art Deco features like the striped brick exterior, linear banding and stone decorations have been cleaned up, removing year’s worth of grime and decay. New glass and trim work also fill the circular porthole windows that line the second storey.

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As a nod to its most recent past, Nelson also commissioned a street artist to create a graffiti mural in the men’s bathroom.

“It’s old, it’s young and it’s romantic,” says Namita Tandon-Walsh. “We want people to just walk in and fall in love with the space like we did when we first saw it. We look forward to welcoming the community to the space this fall.”

For more information, visit thesymes.ca.

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