The Massey Harris Lofts, constructed in 1885, were converted from the red brick office building that was designed by Edward James Lennox, one of Toronto’s leading architects (who would go on to design Old City Hall). The red brick office building was designated a heritage property by the City of Toronto in 2008 (after being listed in 1983). When the company that would eventually evolve into Varity Corp. vacated the lands in 1986, the majority of the industrial buildings were demolished with the exception of 915 King Street West. The area was rezoned as residential 10 years later.
The building was constructed as the administrative offices for the Massey Manufacturing Company, with additions after the firm became known as Massey-Harris Limited. Historical records indicate that a two-storey building was completed at the north end of the site in 1885, with the third floor and a three-storey south wing added in two stages before World War I.
The Massey-Harris Office Building is a representative example of a late 19th century commercial building that was constructed in stages, with the different sections united stylistically by the application of Classical details. You can really see the different stages of construction these days, now that the building stands alone and you can clearly side the sides. Of particular importance are the series of bay windows on the original building, and the sculptural detailing above the main entrance and on the large pediment on the north side.
The Massey-Harris history starts the wilds of southern Ontario, just before the middle of the 19th century. Daniel Massey was 49 in 1847 when he turned over operation of his successful farm to his 21-year-old son, Hart. To thresh his wheat, Massey visited Watertown, N.Y., and brought back a crude threshing machine and a horse power. It was likely the acquisition of this thresher that spurred the elder Massey’s interest in labor-saving farm machinery (some accounts characterize it as more of an obsession). Determined to become a manufacturer, he took a partner, R.F. Vaughan, who owned a small foundry and machine shop, but who was starving for capital. The two men began to manufacture simple implements such as plows, harrows, cultivators and rollers using iron castings and wood. The new company prospered, with Massey buying out his partner after only a year. In 1849, he moved the plant to larger quarters in nearby Newcastle, Ontario, on the main road into Toronto.
By 1851, business was so brisk that Massey brought his son, Hart, into the business as factory superintendent. The Massey company was already building a reaper and Hart obtained rights to build the Ketchum mower as well. The business continued to grow. In 1855, Daniel Massey retired and Hart became the boss.
John Harris moved to western Ontario, not far from Brantford, in 1816. Mechanically inclined, Alanson ran a sawmill for 15 years before moving to Beamsville, a small town near the southwestern shore of Lake Ontario just east of Hamilton. In 1857, Harris bought a small factory to manufacture a wooden revolving hay rake that had been invented by his father, plus a few other simple farm implements. Soon Harris was able to buy a steam engine for the shop. He took his son, John, into the business in 1863. John Harris acquired the rights to the Kirby mower and reaper and before long the Harris firm was a strong competitor to Massey.
Both the Harris and Massey enterprises expanded rapidly and soon each made its presence felt. Incorporated as the Massey Manufacturing Company in 1870, nine years later the firm moved to a six-acre site in Toronto. Hundreds of workers were employed to produce agricultural implements that were shipped worldwide. Then Harris introduced a new design for a binder, which saw Harris begin to overtake Massey in the lucrative export market. That got Hart Massey’s attention and he made overtures to the Harris family. In spring 1891, after lengthy and very secret negotiations, the North American public and the implement industry were astonished by the announcement that Massey and Harris would henceforth be known as the Massey-Harris Co., Ltd.
Toronto was a major city back in those days. Not only was Gooderham the largest distiller in the world, but Massey-Harris was the largest producer and exporter of its type in the British Empire in the late 19th century. It was known as Massey-Ferguson (a name well-known to those of us who grew up in small towns) from 1958 until 1987 when the company was taken over by the Varity Corporation.
The original portion of the Massey-Harris Office Building facing onto King Street was designed by famed Toronto architect E. J. Lennox. Following an apprenticeship with architect William Irving and a short-lived partnership with Frederick McCaw, Lennox embarked on a solo career in 1881. His association with the Massey family began immediately, as Lennox prepared the plans for this office building and a residence for Hart Massey’s son, Charles, on Jarvis Street, as well as supervising the alterations to Hart Massey’s neighbouring house, Euclid Hall (which is now the Keg Mansion). Growing to become one of the largest practices in Canada, Lennox was selected to design Toronto’s third City Hall (now known as Old City Hall) in 1886. While this civic project lasted over a decade, during the 1890s Lennox accepted additional commissions from the Massey family, including the Fred Victor Mission (named for Hart Massey’s youngest son) and the Massey Mausoleum in Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
The south additions to the building were undertaken by George M. Miller, who established his architectural practice in Toronto in 1885. Like Lennox, Miller was known for his association with the Massey family, beginning with his work as a consultant on Massey Hall (originally known as Massey Music Hall) in 1894. During the next decade, Miller designed the City Dairy and Stables (1900 and 1909) on Spadina Crescent for Walter Massey, oversaw further modifications to Euclid Hall in 1900, and prepared plans for the Lillian Massey Household Sciences Building at Victoria College (1908-1912).
The Massey-Harris Office Building is the last surviving example from the complex of industrial buildings that the company developed on both sides of King Street West, west of Strachan Avenue. With its sculptural detailing, the building is local landmark and a reminder of the historical development of the area. Rather than try to reproduce it all here, check out this page at blogTO for a new photo essay on what King Street West used to look like not that long ago.
Located at 915 King Street West, the Massey Harris Lofts managed to retain more than 90% of the significant building’s traditional Georgian exterior. Preserved and restored, the interior contains 46 one-of-a-kind loft residences with ceilings ranging up to 17’6″. That total includes eight two-level penthouses on top of the building in an addition whose contemporary glass and aluminum façade elegantly blends the old and new. The lofts feature baths with all glass showers and radiant floor heating. A true loft conversion that is always highly desired.
In 2002 Canderel-Stoneridge started this massive project, including the redevelopment of acres of old Massey-Harris industrial lands surrounding the office building. From this we got more than just the Massey Harris Lofts – the DNA 1 & 2 buildings are part of the project, as well as the aptly-named Massey Harris Park.
While much of the original building’s interior had been gutted, key architectural and design elements were retained wherever possible. Some of these features include: exposed brick walls; wood beams; over-sized bay windows; and pillars with cornice trim. The company’s vaults with barrel-shaped ceilings will be converted to washrooms in the seven units in which they are located. Those have to be seen to be believed!
NB: The only other loft with such a feature is the old ball-bearing factory at 347 Sorauren. One of the lofts at the front of the building is the old office for the owner of the company. The bathroom in that unit is the old vault, complete with big metal door and all! And then there is the Boiler Factory Lofts at 189 Queen, where a big old wall-safe was turned into a closet. This is the beauty of converting old buildings, they are full of cool little surprises like this.
Many of the lofts that have been converted in Toronto in the past decade or two have been conversions of industrial factories and warehouses possessing little historical significance (as I well understand when I do my research and find that some have nothing, no history, no record). In contrast, 915 King Street West was the corporate headquarters of one of Canada’s most well-known companies (with history stretching from King Street West to Jarvis Street). This 1885 office building designed with classic detailing and styling (by E. J. Lennox no less, one of Toronto most famous architects!) that set it far above the surrounding factory buildings.
Unfortunately, as with many large manufacturing companies, the end was not a pleasant one. In the 1980s Massey-Ferguson and its new chairman and chief executive officer, Victor Rice, fought off collapse while the firm underwent three restructurings between 1981 and 1986. Renamed Varity Corporation in 1986, in surfaced from the remains of Massey-Ferguson. In 1991, the company officially moved to Buffalo (Williams-Butler House at 672 Delaware Avenue in the Millionaire Row area of Buffalo) and ceased to be a Canadian corporation. In 1994, in a deal worth $310-million in cash and stock, the farm equipment divisions of Varity were sold to the US-based AGCO Corporation who continue to use Massey-Ferguson as a product line today.
The Massey Harris Lofts offer residents loft living with an exclusive boutique atmosphere like no other in Toronto. The lofts range in size from 450 to 1,000 square feet and used award-winning interior design firm Cecconi Simone to design the building’s interiors.
The lofts are located right beside Massey Harris Park, constructed by landscape architects to reflect a rural oasis in an urban setting. The park has natural grasses, a variety of intersecting pathways and boardwalks, a bocce pitch, a small water park for kids, drinking fountain for dogs plus artistic features. Liberty Village with all its amenities is located directly to the south of the Massey Harris lofts and the location makes it easy to access shopping along West Queen West. The King streetcar runs in front of the building providing easy access to the Financial and Entertainment Districts.
They don’t come up for sale often, and when they do they sure sell fast!