National Post (Latest Edition)
SHOWING FAITH IN THE FUTURE
The Junction’s old Alhambra United Church is slowly being converted into a condo/ loft development
Acentury ago, Toronto was known as the “city of churches.” Ernest Hemingway, then a reporter at the Toronto Daily Star, came up with the moniker, complaining in letters to friends that almost everyone here chose to stay in sober on Saturday nights so they could be up early to pray on Sunday mornings.
These days, Toronto could easily be described as the city of condos. And a development coming to 260 High Park aptly encapsulates that transformation into a city where, since 2000, over 212,000 units have been built, a 250-per-cent increase from the previous two decades.
The four- storey, 70- unit condo is currently being built in the Junction’s old Alhambra United Church, at the corner of Annette Street and High Park Avenue. The structure was originally erected in 1908, in a neighbourhood that from 1904 until 2000 banned the sale of alcohol. (No wonder Hemingway left Toronto as soon as he could.) By 2015, the church was no longer tenable as a house of worship due to a dwindling congregation and mounting repair bills.
Father- and- son developers Chris and Mike Giamou, who co- run Medallion Capital Group, set out to convert the Alhambra four years ago. They were attracted in part by the building’s neo- gothic architecture and liked the idea of incorporating its pointed arches and stained glass into their suites. They were also attracted by the neighbourhood’s changing dynamic. Post- prohibition, the once- quiet Junction has flourished with lively bars, restaurants and micro-breweries. Home prices have also soared. According to Re/ Max, real estate values there are now growing faster than almost anywhere in the city, with a 7.1- per- cent increase in the past year alone; the average abode in the area costs roughly $1.4 million.
“At 260 High Park, we’re trying to create the missing middle in housing,” says Chris Giamou, noting that while many people want to buy into the Junction, they often can’t because the housing mix is largely limited to high- priced single- family homes and a few low- or mid- rise developments. Although the 15 suites in the old church will be large and luxurious, some with three bedrooms and costing over $ 3 million, Medallion is also building a modern, 55- unit addition adjoining the original structure, with 632- square- foot units starting at $ 750,000. “Hopefully, this enables people to buy into a great neighbourhood, starting at a lower price than the typical house,” says Chris Giamou.
Although 260 High Park has been popular — more than 75 per cent of the building was sold before the project broke ground this November — the process of rezoning a heritage church for a condo wasn’t easy. In total, it took four years of permit applications and community consultations before the Giamou’s had approval from the city.
“We really had to roll up our sleeves to get it done,” says Mike Giamou. “We originally thought we’d be finished the building within three to five years of purchasing the property.” Occupancy is currently expected in 2021.
At one point, the Giamou’s had to redesign their scheme entirely. They originally wanted a bold approach, and planned to shroud the church in a box of glass. But many neighbours didn’t like the idea of such a radical change. Working with a team of three architecture firms, including ERA, Finegold Alexander and Turner Fleischer, they settled on a more subtle approach, leaving the exterior of the church almost untouched (“We had to remove some of the original stained glass to put in clear- glass windows for better day lighting,” says Mike Giamou) and using brick in the addition’s façade that closely matched the church’s.
Despite the complexities of rezoning, the Giamou’s have personal motivations for seeing the project through. Both have bought units in the building, and both plan to move in after the construction is complete. “We love the area,” says Mike Giamou. “We want to live here. I’m moving in with my daughter.”
Fittingly, the amenities are well- geared to family entertaining. A large lounge in the new addition, for example, will have a modern shared kitchen and fireside dining room for big get- togethers, as well as lots of comfy couches to relax post- meal. The lounge has French doors that will open up to a terrace overlooking the area’s forest- like tree canopy.
“All the greenery is one of the reasons we put in a rooftop garden and BBQ,” says Chris Giamou, referring to the al fresco space that spreads across the top of the building. “We imagine a lot of people will want to spend time outdoors.”
They might even sip a cocktail while they’re at it.
Units starting f rom $ 750,000. Suite sizes from 632 square feet to 3,081 square feet.
For more information, visit 260highpark.com.