When you think of a loft, this is what you see in your head. The picture-perfect units of the Broadview Lofts are the exact right blend of brick and wood and concrete. The Broadview Lofts were converted from a former Rexall Drugs warehouse located on Broadview Avenue, just south of Queen Street East. Having grown up just north of here, I can tell you that this former industrial area used to be a nasty no-man’s land of ugly factories, rundown houses and empty lots. But not any longer, now that Riverside is hot and is seeing an influx of development and a number of new condominium projects.
Beginning in 2003 the Sorbara Group started selling the lofts – and I could not convince my wife to buy one! The big 1,600sf corner units were only $189,900 if memory serves… The conversion added two extra penthouse levels, set back from the rest of the building and composed mostly of glass to minimize its impact. Another addition was added to the main building, extending the eastern side of the portion to the south. Thankfully, Sorbara’s redesign conserved many historic elements of the building, such as the staircases and water tower on the roof.
If you are ever there, be sure to hang a hard left turn as you enter and go check out the completely original main stairwell. That is easily my favourite set of stairs in all of Toronto. Go, look, you will understand. The original concrete warehouse floors were also preserved, giving each unit 10-foot ceilings. Oddly enough, the ceilings are not as high in the Broadview Lofts as in many other hard loft buildings. I think it is mainly due to the fact that the warehouse was built to store lots of small pill bottles – not larger items or machinery.
The development was finally completed in 2006 and consists of 152 lofts. The conversion, designed by Turner Fleischer Architects Inc., has been endlessly praised, and in 2008 finished second in the Pug Award voting for best residential building. The actual loft units range in size from around 800 to 1,600 square feet. Only the penthouse units have multiple levels. Some have balconies, but they are small and rare. Penthouse units have larger terraces with mind-blowing city views.
The Broadview Lofts are exactly what you want in a loft – history and function. That’s why the developer worked hard to strike just the right balance between the old and the new. Expect tongue & groove wood ceilings and exposed brick walls, a landscaped central square, underground parking and great building amenities like a party room and rooftop patio.
Many people think of it as the old Rexall warehouse, but the truth is, it started out as the United Drug Company. And before there was a United Drug Company, there was baseball. But, before we start, it is worth noting that Broadview Avenue was originally called Scadding Street. Not sure why, or even when exactly, but the name was changed sometime between 1884 and 1890.
Now, for the first inning… The Broadview Lofts sit on the grounds of old Sunlight Park. Sunlight Park was the first baseball stadium in Toronto. The park was initially known as the Toronto Baseball Grounds, located south of Queen Street East, to the west of Broadview Avenue and north of Eastern Avenue. Right beside the Don River, The all wood structure was built in 1886 at a cost of $7,000 and the grandstands had seating for 2,200 spectators, including a 550-seat reserved section. The stadium’s grand opening was held on May 22, 1886 for an afternoon game against the Rochesters New York. The name changed from the Toronto Baseball Grounds to Sunlight Park after the Lever Brothers’ Sunlight Soap Works was built south of Eastern Avenue. That site grew and evolved over the years and still remains as the vacant Unilever factory.
The stadium hosted the city’s first professional baseball championship in 1887, but fortunes faded soon after, with the team and league folding in 1890. The Torontos (called the Canucks of the Eastern League) moved in and played in the park until 1896 when new owners moved the team to their new Hanlan’s Point Stadium. The Torontos were a good team, a force to be reckoned with in their time. In their second year in Sunlight Park, they were stacked with star players. Outfielder Mike Slattery stole 112 bases, which is still the International League record. The ace of the pitching staff was a beast of a man known as Cannonball Crane. He won 33 games that year — more than any other pitcher has ever won on any Toronto team — and he was also the league’s best hitter. His .428 batting average is still considered to be the best by a pitcher in professional baseball history. On the final weekend of the season, Crane pitched three times in two days and hit a game-winning home run. The stuff of legends.
By the end of the 1800s, the Torontos had a new name: they now called themselves the Toronto Maple Leafs. Under the new moniker, they quickly grew into one of the most successful teams in all of Minor League Baseball history. Five of their squads are included on the official MLB list of the top 100 greatest Minor League teams ever. And at least a dozen of their players would eventually end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The park was used for local baseball, football, and lacrosse leagues until around 1913, when encroaching industrial uses predominated. Today the site is a block of condo lofts, a car dealership car-park and the DVP/Eastern Avenue on-ramp. The street Sunlight Park Road bears witness to the past, as does the remnant of the Eastern Avenue bridge that used to connect to the park before the DVP cut off that approach.
Not long after baseball left, a drug warehouse was built… Built in 1914 by United, the former pharmaceutical warehouse included a soda fountain and pharmacy on the ground floor from 1920 to 1943. It became a mainly internal facility in the years following.
It all started when a man named Louis Liggett decided to do something with the independent pharmacist. In those days, pharmacists were providing medical care to – not the medical care we’re used to today, but a sort of individualized care. Legget thought that if he could pool the strength of those pharmacists together, he could combine individual pharmacists their markets into a national organization. Thus United Drugs was born, uniting the previously-independent local pharmacists. Liggett developed products that the pharmacists could prescribe to their patients, creating what we know today as over-the-counter (OTC) medicine. The original term is familiar to many, in those days they were called patent medicines.
In 1903, Louis K. Liggett persuaded 40 independent drug stores to invest $4,000 in a retailers’ cooperative called United Drug Stores, which sold products under the Rexall name. After World War I, the cooperative established a franchise arrangement whereby independently owned retail outlets adopted the Rexall trade name and sold Rexall products. The “Rex” in the name came from the common Rx abbreviation for medical prescriptions. As the Rexall name gained recognition, the branded items became stronger than the store name, so the stores became Rexall stores.
As with many industries, the Great Depression hit drug stores as well. Ever the promoter, Legget came up with an idea to get his flagging Rexall brand rising again. “The Depression is over!”, declared Louis Liggett. And with that, he put the most fantastic promotional idea ever conceived onto the rails.
The Rexall Train toured the United States and Canada to promote Rexall drug store products, and to provide the equivalent of a national convention for local Rexall druggists without the cost of travel. The blue-and-white train of 12 air-conditioned Pullman cars with displays in 4 cars, convention facilities in 4 cars and a dining car was hauled by a gorgeous streamlined 4-8-2 Mohawk locomotive. It was the million-dollar brainchild of Louis Liggett, who traveled in the rear observation car.
From March to November 1936, the 12-car streamlined, air-conditioned billboard-on-wheels toured the length and breadth of the United States, traveling almost 47,000km in total. When the Rexall Train came to town, people would stop by their local Rexall store to get free tickets before heading down to the station. When the train arrived, a big ‘Rexall Drug’ sign was hoisted on the side of the train and the entrance doors flung open. Some display cities saw over 2,500 people per hour pass through the four exhibit cars!
It was the United Drug Company’s finest hour. Just a few years later, Justin Whitlock Dart (formerly of the Walgreens drugstore chain) took control of the United Drug Company in 1943. The chain operated under the Liggett, Owl, Sonta, and Rexall brands – which Dart combined under the single Rexall name. Dart continued the promotion game, with Rexall gaining national exposure through its sponsorship of two famous classic American radio programs of the 1940s and 1950s: Amos and Andy and The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show. They also sponsored the Jimmy Durante Show.
By the late 1950s, Rexall’s business model of franchised stores owned independently by the local pharmacist, was already coming under attack by the discount chains, such as Thrifty Drug and Eckerd. These well-financed corporate entities were able to reduce costs with block purchasing, and were focused on growth. By the 1970s, however, Rexall was unable to withstand competition from rivals that built modern outlets in high-density shopping areas. In 1977, the chain was sold for $16 million to a group of private investors, which divested itself of the stores, pared its manufacturing capacity, and became primarily a distributor of vitamins, health foods, and plastic products such as toothbrushes. Former franchisees were permitted to keep using the Rexall name. Dart sold his stake in Rexall in 1978.
Since 1985, it has been the name of over-the-counter drugs and drugstores in Canada operated by McKesson Corporation, and of health supplements in the United States, where it is used as a store brand of variety store chain Dollar General. The Canadian Rexall brand is not related to the US operations.
I am not sure when Rexall left the venerable old building Broadview. Old MLS listings from the early 1990s seem to indicate that some portions of it were being used as a garment factory. Could be that it was broken up into multiple units, which were then leased out to different companies. There was an auto-body shop on the main floor, Gateway Auto Collision Inc., from the late 1950s until 1991. Other companies I can dig up were a book bindery in the 1980s, and some sort of food products company.
In the by-law amendment documents from 2002, it is noted that the area where the rental townhouses are now, on the west side of the property, was parking used by a car dealership. There was also a rail spur running through the site at some point. There were 3 buildings, one for the car dealer, one is not described, and the third is the warehouse. The city describes it as “a multi-tenanted mixed use building. Specific uses range from offices for small commercial ventures, artist’s studios, warehousing, some/ small-scale light manufacturing and residential.” There were 58 separate commercial units in the building in 2002, with only 33 being occupied. There were 15 artist studios in the building as well, which the city suspected were being residentially occupied. This may have been the spur to create new rental housing on the site.
The actual sale of the property is not in the MLS records, but Sorbara came along around 2003 and brought the big old warehouse back to life. Speaking of coming back to life, Riverside has certainly seen a resurgence over the past decade or two. Riverdale – the great neighbourhood containing Riverside – was a small rural community until the Grand Trunk Railway brought industry and employment opportunities in the 1850s. It also attracted a pool of labourers who built the first homes in Riverdale, south of the railway tracks.
North of Queen Street, Riverdale remained largely undeveloped until 1884 when it was annexed by the City of Toronto. At that time Riverdale was called Riverside. The name was probably changed to Riverdale as a reference to the city park of the same name, that has long been a landmark in this area. Riverdale’s development was accelerated in 1918 with the building of Toronto’s largest bridge, the Prince Edward Viaduct.
Riverside has undergone a gentrification of sorts but it has still been able to maintain a gritty urban charm. Riverside includes some of Toronto’s more remarkable 19th-century buildings, now housing a plethora of shops and restaurants that have recently sprung up in the area. One of the best revivals from past centuries is the Broadview Hotel, one of my favourites in the area (along with the old post office, now library, at Queen & Saulter).
The Broadview Hotel was built in 1891 by wealthy entrepreneur Archibald Dingman. Having amassed a considerable fortune in the soap trade, Archibald was searching for a sound investment for his money. In the late 1880s, Toronto’s east end was humming. The city had annexed Riverside (Riverdale) in 1884 and was marching eastward – with Queen and Broadview right in its path. Archibald recognized a golden real estate opportunity and decided to erect an edifice in his name.
Dingman Hall cost him $25,000 to build at the time. Designed as a commercial centre, it was the tallest building east of the Don River for many years. Its grand, imposing Romanesque-style architecture and glamorous upper assembly halls made it an instant iconic landmark, and it became a prominent social gathering spot for an array of Torontonians – from politicians to athletic clubs to the Canadian Order of Odd Fellows.
In 1902, the ever-restless Mr. Dingman, having managed one of Toronto’s first electric streetcar companies, turned his sights west and moved to Alberta, where he financed the first commercial oil well. In 1907, he sold Dingman Hall to T.J. Edwards, who turned it into the New Broadview Hotel, renting rooms for $1.50 a night.
Over the years, The Broadview Hotel changed many hands and names. During the 1930s it was the Lincoln Hotel. By the 40s it had returned to its original name and, by the 70s, it had become a boarding house with a strip club on the ground floor. This was Jilly’s, which served as the east end’s most notorious landmark for almost three decades. Stories and myths abound, including one starring a live tiger that shared centre stage with one of the dancers! Over time, the east end’s gritty, working class roots have given way to gourmet food shops, restaurants, and stylish boutiques. In May 2014, Streetcar Developments purchased the hotel and the rest, as they say, is history.
Far from being in a suburb, the Broadview Lofts are just a couple of km from downtown. The DVP is next door, giving access to the Gardiner and 401. Streetcars can be found just to the north, on Queen. The lofts are also walking distance to many places, such as the Ralph Thornton Community Centre, Opera House, Jimmy Simpson Park / Rec Centre, East Chinatown at Broadview & Gerrard, and more. You could even wander northeast and check out De Grassi Street, made famous by the popular CBC Degrassi series of television shows for youth. While largely filmed elsewhere the vibe of the show originated with this area and many exterior shots were filmed in this neighbourhood.
NB: I went to elementary school with the actress who played Lucy and used to stop in at the Degrassi corner store on my way home from school.