Standing on the corner of Pape and Danforth Streets, in what is known as Toronto’s Greektown, Carl and I gaze at the building looming before us. Nestled among turn-of-the- century Victorian houses sits what was once a centre of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. Built in 1912, the Riverdale Presbyterian Church accommodated over one thousand people and was the regional headquarters for the Presbyterian community. Carl tells me that, just days after moving in to what it is now, the Glebe Lofts, he met an old member of the church on the front steps. ‘he stood there weeping’, Carl said. Concerned, Carl consoled the man and discovered that he was one time, long ago, the church organist. ‘As he sat out there crying in the street ... he told me how the building just brought back so many memories’, Carl recounts. Knowing all of this, it is hard to look beyond the structure’s distinct architecture and religious features to see a loft building; ‘isn’t that the point?’, Carl asks. The 20-foot ceilings, historic character, community feel and the fact that it ‘isn’t a claustrophobic box in the sky’ are all part of the allure, ‘part of the package’, he explains.
The Glebe Lofts is part of a wider trend of loft construction that began in the early 1970s when new domestic spaces emerged in the abandoned shells of manufacturing and ware- housing properties in places like Manhattan. Artists were among the first to make these spaces into ‘living lofts’, a practice that eventually helped to remake the gritty blue-collar image of the inner city. Close on their heels were the new middle class, a group whose growing affluence was matched only by their developing tastes for alternative urban lifestyles and aesthetics rooted, partly, in the counter-culture ambience of the loft lifestyle. The appropriation of these spaces eventually resulted in the wider transformation of the culture and economy of local neighbourhoods and the housing markets on which they depended. From what seemed like a Manhattan oddity, loft conversions quickly spread to other deindustrializing and gentrifying cities in North America, Europe and Australia.
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