(photo credit: me)
199 Queens Avenue here is London, Ontario is a fine building. There's a little hair salon in the back section but the front section has been empty for as long as I can remember, although to be honest that may have only been a few months for all I know. Based on the fact that I know so little about this property you might be inclined to think I don't go by it often. You'd be wrong. At least twice a day weekdays as it lies immediately between my house and work. And has for over a year now. Almost eight actually but before I moved just over a year ago I'd only pass it a few times a week. I've gone by it at least once a week for almost two decades and passed it on occasion for at least 35 years. As the picture above can attest, its an attractive enough building. There is a seven-story building on one side but the rest of its neighbours are parking spaces. More than a few, which means it really should sort of stand out. In real life its actually more unassuming than one might guess, and I until recently I sort of took it for granted.
You see, unless something can be done, and quickly, there are plans to demolish it. I suppose that has made the building more impressive to me. More dear. A sort of "you don't what you have until its gone" sentimentality has somehow taken me in advance. You see, a developer names Fahri, plans to make this building disappear in order to make way for a $50-million development which would include a large residential apartment tower (including ground-level commercial space) and LOTS of parking. (I think five levels, with some of them underground.) As someone who loves historic buildings and would like to see them preserved whenever possible, Fahri would appear to be an ideal villain, someone I should love to hate. The truth is far more complicated.
Most Londoners are quite familiar with the Fahri name as it covers what appears to be almost every building of our downtown area. Banners. Signs. Everywhere. To refer to him previously as a developer earlier was unfair as to my knowledge he has never actually built anything, only acquired. He owns countless buildings, many of them heritage to be sure and does not have a reputation for tearing them down. Buys and renovates to be sure -- but construction is a new thing for him, once again -- to my knowledge. Fahri himself recently said that he is not planning to destroy heritage buildings downtown, he’s actually trying to save them. In his own words, "“Sometimes we have to sacrifice a building to save other heritage buildings. Nobody in this city, all the developers together, didn’t put five per cent of the effort, the vision and the money that I have in the past twenty-five years into heritage buildings.” While some of the logic might be a little fuzzy at times, it is hard to imagine him having countless downtown buildings, some sitting vacant for years in order to raze this one as being part of some master plan. THe fact that he owns so many I'm certain has saved many of them from being destroyed before now. The argument here seems to be that you must sometimes sacrifice the weakest member to save the herd. Of properties - alright, it's an awkward metaphor to be sure. Let's carry on ...
Somewhat ironically, the house itself was owned by Thomas Hiscox, who in the late 1880s was himself a developer. It was also, less ironically, the location of an infamous 1879 murder. The house has history to be sure, albeit not a wholly pleasant one. I think the natural reactions of all Londoners would initially be to try to preserve all the heritage properties we can, but in the end the promise of parking and additional tax revenue may be too attractive to resist. “I am prepared to accept the answer no, but I am not prepared that we didn’t try,” Ward 3 Councillor Joe Swan was quoted as saying. “We should give it a go, give it our best effort, try every avenue to combine these elements. If it isn’t possible, then we tried.” If this seems a little defeatist, well - it likely is. Whether they will admit it, or even are aware yet, I don't think there is little choice in the matter. Sure, we as citizens, as history buffs or even as elected officials could intervene and demand that it remain - but at what cost?
Every once in a blue moon, during my travels, one comes across a small residential house impossibly situated amongst these incredible modern glass skyscrapers. They almost always stand out and I have always wanted to live in one. I am delighted to live in the core and will never move now. That being said, this house with a little yard could be that house for someone of the same mind as me. Of course, there is at least one problem, this house is not for sale. Not now and given what it appears to be its fate, not ever.
This building, or at the very least parts of it are over a century old. It was standing there when Albert Einstein was born. For personal reasons I sincerely hope that this building outlives me. That being said, I'm not sure it will see the end of the year. From a purely logical viewpoint, I'm not even sure I can argue why it should. In the end, now that I've taken the time to notice and appreciate it, I will miss it.
"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving." — Albert Einstein