Everything you have heard about the One Columbus Lofts is wrong. Well, historically at least. All the raves about how cool it is are still very much true. The One Columbus Lofts are what you see in the movies, this is what you imagine when you think “loft”.
And it could not be better situated, with two other great lofts across the street. There is the perennial favourite, the Robert Watson Lofts on Sorauren, with the old ball factory just to the south, now the Sorauren Lofts. It is hard to find this sort of density of loft conversions in Toronto, outside of the 4 on Carlaw Avenue.
At some point baseball gloves were probably made there, but it wasn’t by Rawlings. We all seem to have fallen for the standard story – that it was built in 1902 and that Rawlings had a ball glove factory there. Turns out, it was built in 1907-08 for Winnett & Wellinger Co. by the architect William Limbery Symons (who was known mainly for his many houses in Rosedale). Winnett & Wellinger Co. (and later the Wellinger & Dunn Leather Sports Goods company) made sporting equipment ranging from baseball gloves to athletic supports (many of which are collectible apparently, and for sale on eBay).
But even so, the old leather manufactory has all the jaw-dropping wood ceilings and beams, exposed brick and walls of big warehouse windows. Concrete floors with radiant heating and private elevator access. Residents experience true factory ambiance in this intimate ten-unit, five-storey brick building that was converted in 1996 by Jackson Goad Architects. The hard lofts in the One Columbus Lofts feature 10 to 14-foot ceilings, exposed brick walls, polished concrete floors, rustic wood ceilings and industrial steel beams. Some even have gas fireplaces.
With basically two lofts per floor (one on the lower, 3 on the 1st and 2 each on the upper 3 floors), the One Columbus Lofts are all large. The eastern side has units in the 1,500-1,600 square foot range, while the units on the western (rear) side are larger, in the 2,200-2,400sf range. Front units have no outdoor space, while the rear units have small balconies (the old freight elevator shaft on the west side of the factory was converted into a series of balconies). The two penthouses have private rooftop patios. Around half have parking, with room for one to three cars. Four lucky units have private garages, plus there is some surface parking.
Located off Sorauren Avenue, south of Dundas Street West, One Columbus Avenue is truly an authentic loft. The early residents arrived to a gritty neighbourhood that was a long way from gentrification. But the trendy areas of Queen and Dundas streets have migrated west and One Columbus is now walking distance to some of the coolest bars and restaurants in the city.
Originally, many of the lofts were sold as raw space, one of the last lofts done that way. Or, for an extra cost, the developer would finish it for you. Imagine getting 2,400 square feet of raw brick-and-beam loft space for only $259k! those were the days. Now the One Columbus Lofts are getting close to 10x that much – if one ever comes up for sale. The air is rarefied ’round these parts.
Interestingly, the lower level unit has a separate private entrance and retains the old 350 Sorauren address. As with many loft conversions, the One Columbus Lofts have no facilities to speak of. This pocket where Sorauren meets Columbus is loft heaven, though, with the gorgeous Robert Watson Lofts across the street and the awesome 347 Sorauren Lofts just south of it.
I have no idea where the story of Rawlings being in the building ever came from. The only sign on the building is the old Wellinger & Dunn Leather Sports Goods ghost sign at the top of the east side of the building. Even going back through the old insurance maps, there is nothing. The 1903 Goad’s map shows what appears to be 3 empty lots taking up the whole block between Columbus and College Street, fronting onto Sorauren. The 1910 Goad’s map certainly looks a lot more like what we see today, with one large building and some houses to the south.
What is interesting is that the original building owner, leather goods manufacturer Winnett & Wellinger, seems to have rented out parts of the building almost from the beginning. There are references to Martin Smith & Co. Dry Goods at 350 Sorauren in 1912, 1913 and 1915.
In 1913 the Reliance Shoe Co., Limited moved in and seemed to lease a lot of the building. There is a note in a shoe industry publication from 1914 that reads “The Reliance Shoe Co., Limited, who occupy the top flat of the Winnett & Wellinger building, at 350 Sorauren avenue, Toronto, have considerably extended their plant by leasing the basement in the same building and fitting it up for a sole stock room. Some delay was experienced in the installation of a new motor, new machinery, electric wiring, etc., but the sole stock room is now complete and up-to-date in every respect and is under the management of Bert Lomas, who for years had charge of the sole stock room of the Solid Leather Shoe Co., Preston, Ont.” And then in 1920 when the lease expired, “the directors decided to purchase a building that would be large enough to take care of their future development and they moved out“.
Other mentions I found include Hosmer Stamping & Die Works, Ltd. in 1918 and Containers Limited in 1919. E. H. Woolley & Son were there in 1922, makes of Warner’s Safe Cure, some sort of a patent medicine for liver & kidney disease and “female complaints caused by deranged kidneys and liver”. Gotta watch out for them deranged livers… Parker Pens even rented space space in the building in 1923. Lastly, Stuart Wilson-Mills (the district manager of Wallace & Tiernan Ltd., manufacturers of chlorine and ammonia control apparatus) gives 350 Sorauren as his address in 1939, in a way that implies he lived there.
I found a photo from 1973 showing the Wellinger & Dunn Leather Sports Goods building, but then nothing after that. I don’t know when they left. Canadian federal trademark records show a hockey glove design going inactive in 1981. Another product name (Winnwell) expired in 1987. I also found MLS listings from 1987 and 1988 by a numbered company.
So I cannot figure out what went on there from 1973 to 1995, the trail grows cold at that point. There was an article in the Toronto Star that picks up in 1995, talking about artists and their studios in old factories on Sorauren. There were fights with the city over zoning and derelict landlords letting the buildings go to pot. The article is mainly about 347 Sorauren, but it does mention the tenants of 350 Sorauren being evicted. The landlords of both buildings were not keeping them up to code, they were dangerous fire traps according to the city. So 25 tenants at 350 Sorauren were evicted because of their bad landlord. I guess the building was bought cheap after that and converted. Same with 347 Sorauren, I assume those tenants also got turfed, which led to it being converted to lofts as well.
The old factories and warehouses on Sorauren Avenue were home to dozens of artists’ studios at one point. They were pretty undesirable places back then, but that was the point. The spaces were large and strange and rundown, but they were also fun and collective and rent was cheap. The same story as on Carlaw in the east end, and even up in The Junction. There used to be about 1,000 artists working – and often living – in the old industrial buildings that line Sorauren. Now, there are only about 30 left and they’re all in 251 Sorauren, just south of Wabash.
The rest of the artists left when the young families moved in after the park was built in 1995. The old TTC facility at the corner of Wabash and Sorauren was torn down and the park was created on the land. And now the area is popular again, with those who appreciate heritage buildings and love loft living.
And there is still the old linseed oil factory, sitting forlorn and pretty much forgotten, at the east end of Wabash Avenue, next to Sorauren Park. The old power house for the factory has been turned into the Fieldhouse, home to the local farmer’s market and some washrooms. Rumours swirl every few years about the future of the rest of the factory, yet nothing happens. It used to be quite the target for urban explorers (myself included) though I am not sure if anyone has been inside in years.
NB: We have Mayor Barabara Hall to thank for a lot of the lofts in Toronto. During her tenure in 1994-1997 industry had been fleeing to the suburbs or other countries for decades before the early-1990s recession dealt a near-knockout blow. Landlords, not permitted to lease to non-industrial tenants, were demolishing heritage buildings for parking because vacant lots are taxed at a lower rate. So a coalition including Hall, along with planner Paul Bedford, Jane Jacobs, urban designer Ken Greenberg, economist Gary Stamm and developer Bob Eisenberg helped push through the zoning changes that allowed for adaptive re-use of these lovely old buildings.
Fun Fact: Sorauren Avenue used to be called Poplar Grove in the 1800s. Columbus Avenue was also Columbus Street at one point.