Here’s the sad, sad story of Toronto’s forlornest and most magnificent white elephant
R. E. KNOWLESAugust151935
Here’s the sad, sad story of Toronto’s forlornest and most magnificent white elephant
R. E. KNOWLES
AMAZEMENT, bewilderment--those are the expressions of the visitor to Toronto who gazes upon Casa Loma. And no wonder. Here is a mansion so magnificent, so colossal, so costly that its equal can scarcely be found in the whole of North America—and yet it stands untenanted, a prey to wind, snow and rain; a monumental white elephant taken over by the city for taxes, for which no use can be found.
Why, the sightseer wonders, did anyone want such a gargantuan dwelling? Why such lavish grandeur? Why vhe bizarre, exotic architecture? What did it all cost? What T>ecame of the man who built it? Why has it fallen into lenantless decay? Above all, what is to become of it?
Some of these questions can be answered explicitly; to others there can be only vague replies; still others remain enigmas.
Splendor Going to Ruin
GIR HENRY PELLATT, Toronto financier, .soldier and A? philanthropist who has thrice made a fortune and thrice gone through it, built Casa Loma between 1910 and 1913. The cost was $1,175,000—at a time when building prices were less than half what they are today. Sir Henry intended to entertain there with all the lavishness of a mighty medieval baron. He hoped that members of the Royal Family visiting Canada would be his guests, and he set about providing accommodation for them that would be unequalled anywhere.
That was over twenty years ago. Today Sir Henry Pellatt lives on a modest pension in an unpretentious country home some miles from Toronto.
Financial reverses seemed to dog him from the time his dream castle was nearing completion. He lived in it for a few years, but not nearly on the scale he had expected to maintain. In 1923 he moved out and began trying to sell it. How slim were his chances became apparent when not a single bid was made for it during the $37,000 tax sale in 1933, at which time it became the property of the city.
No one, it seems, is disposed to part with even a fraction of its cost for the privilege of paying $12,000 a year in property taxes, $8,000 a year in coal bills, and anything over $20,000 a year for servants, food, repairs, etc.
Meanwhile, Casa Loma is deteriorating. Rain comes through broken window panes; wind takes away eavestroughs and tiles. In one room half the plaster has fallen from the ceiling, while in others floors and panels are warped. The place presents a picture of desolation.
There has been no dearth of suggestions of uses to which Casa Loma should be put.
For a few months in 1928 and 1929 it was an exclusive private hotel. But the patronage was inadequate to pay even current expenses, to say nothing of the taxes and interest on the huge investment. So that scheme had to be abandoned.
Then a group of New York millionaires, any one of whom could and would have put $500,000 on the line in order to get what he wanted, thought Casa Loma would offer them an ideal retreat from the cares of business and provide facilities for legally filling the flowing bowl not then available in their own land. They began to dicker with A. E. LePage, Sir Henry Pellatt’s real estate agent. But just as it seemed that a deal would be concluded, the market crash of late 1929 took place and they wired Mr. LePage that the deal was off.
A short time later negotiations were begun with a large United States company that contemplated starting business in Canada on a large scale and realized the publicity value of Casa Loma. Their plan was to have the Canadian head office in the second and third floors, while the ground floor was to be appropriately furnished and opened to public inspection in the daytime and donated gratis for charity functions on certain evenings. This plan fell through,too.
At various times it has been suggested that Casa Loma would make a wonderful hospital, museum, rest home, educational institution, or hostel for the unemployed. All of these ideas are quite impracticable. The building’s location and plan, to say nothing of maintenance expense, definitely rule out any of them.
Finally, it has been suggested that Casa Loma should be wrecked and the material sold. This, however, has hardly been taken seriously.
CASA LOMA stands on the lip of Toronto’s “Hill” in grounds of nearly six acres, laid out in lawns and gardens with successive terraces sloping down from the main entrance. It is surrounded by a wall of huge boulders, selected with great care and set in place by stonemasons
Maclean's Magazine, August 15, 1935
brought from Scotland especially for the purpose. This wall alone is said to have cost $50,000.
. Work was begun but never completed on an elevator shaft, which it was planned to sink 100 feet beneath the basement of the castle. A horizontal tunnel big enough for a coach and four to drive through was to have been dug from the street at the foot of the hill, connecting with the bottom of the elevator shaft. Guests were thus to have been spared the time and trouble of driving up the hill. They would simply have driven through the tunnel, dismounted and ascended to Casa Lorna in the elevator.
The foundations measure 250 by 150 feet, and the tip of the tallest turret rises nearly 300 feet from the ground. The architecture is a combination of the old Scottish battlement style and that of the more modern French chateau, with pinnacled towers and minarets. The late E. J. Lennox was the architect.
All floors and walls contain a solid mass of fireproof concrete, while between each floor and ceiling underneath there is a space of four feet to provide for plumbing and wiring. The house contains 100 rooms, 5,000 electric lights, fifty telephones and 1,000,000 feet of wiring.
The Great Hall is eighty feet square by seventy feet high, panelled in quarter-cut oak from floor, to roof. Halfway up on one side are the pipes of a $75,000 electric organ, while opposite it is a balcony connecting with Sir Henry’s bedroom suite. The third side is almost entirely taken up with a huge Elizabethan mullioned window, containing nearly 2,000 square feet of glass. On the fourth side is a massive staircase.
The library, with room for a million volumes, is of solid mahogany. The dining room, with artistic and elaborate carvings decorating its oaken walls, could easily accommodate 200 people at a banquet. Several reception rooms, each panelled in the style of some period, a billiard room, palm room, sun room and den, complete the layout of the lower floor. On the walls of the den are two secret buttons; by pressing them Sir Henry could obtain access to two stairways, one leading upstairs to his bedroom suite, the other downstairs to a tunnel.
Three tremendous bronze doors into the palm room were brought from Italy and are said to have cost $10,000 apiece. The half
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dozen fireplaces on the ground floor were all imported from old European castles at fantastic prices.
Sir Henry’s bedroom is sixty by forty feet, in Louis XIV style. Adjoining it are his dressing room and bathroom, the latter of very fine marble. On the shower bath are no less than six taps, providing for delicate adjustment of spray and temperature. A water filter is attached to each bath in the house, while all faucets are silverplated except the ones in Lady Pellatt’s bathroom, which are said to be gold-plated. There are altogether sixteen bedroom suites, furnished on almost as grand a scale as the suite of Sir Henry.
In the basement there are bowling alleys, swimming pool, Turkish bath, rifle range and laundry, besides enough spare space to drill a regiment. Chutes run from every bedroom suite to the laundry, which is big enough for a hotel.
Can You Use It?
SERVANTS’ quarters, kitchens, pantries, etc., occupy a part of each of the three floors and the "basement. Even the bedroom for the third assistant footman appears as comfortable and commodious as most people would desire. The main kitchen is entirely in white tile, with a huge recessed range capable of roasting an ox whole. The butler’s pantry, cook’s pantry, and every
known kind of pantry and scullery are to be seen galore. The vault in which the plate was stored and the electric refrigerator are both fair-sized chambers.
Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars were spent on the stables. The floors are of teakwood, stalls of solid mahogany, metal fittings plated with silver. They will accommodate forty-one horses and several carriages, besides containing spacious quarters for grooms and coachmen. An underground tunnel a quarter of a mile long, tiled, heated and ventilated, connects the stables with the castle.
In spite of or perhaps because of all this luxury and splendor, nothing can be done with the place. Will some use be found for it, or will it continue to be a burden to the taxpayers, and—what is far more seriousgo on deteriorating until it reaches a state or irreparable decay?
+ + 4*
A CABBAGE without a smell is the reported creation of Prolessor C. H. Myers, Cornell University plant-breeding expert. Though it banishes kitchen odors, its flavor is said to compare with the best of standard varieties. From 10,000 seeds now available, commercial growers are to be asked to co-operate in producing additional seeds of the new strain.—Popular Science.
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